KENOSHA — Candidates for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District squared off Tuesday night on the Carthage College campus to make their pitches to voters ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm election.
The Journal Times, the Kenosha News and Carthage College sponsored the event.
About 300 people attended the forum at the A.F. Siebert Chapel to hear Democrat Randy Bryce, Republican Bryan Steil and Independent Ken Yorgan express their views on health care, immigration, taxes and education.
While for much of the debate Steil, Bryce and Yorgan talked about how they, if elected, would govern differently, each of them started off agreeing on the issue of climate change, specifically the role humans play in impacting the environment.
Republicans nationwide have been attacked on the issue of climate change but Steil, a Janesville resident and member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, took a position some voters may not have expected.
“I believe that climate change is real and I believe humans are a key component in that,” Steil said, adding that Bryce’s policies would increase the cost of energy. “We can protect the environment, in particular we need to bring India and China to the table for what they’re doing on environmental degradation.”
Bryce, a Caledonia resident and ironworker, said the country needs to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
“We need to use renewable energy and we can do it by the year 2035,” Bryce said. “We wrote the book on how to put wind turbines up. Ironworkers are doing fantastic things with solar panels as well. It’s the right thing to do as far as creating jobs. It’s the right thing to do for our children.”
Yorgan, a chiropractor and Racine resident, said he’s been an advocate for solar energy for 50 years.
“I don’t think the argument should be whether we are responsible or not responsible, I think the discussion should be: There are things we can do and we ought to do them,” Yorgan said.
But that was as far as the bipartisan agreement went.
Candidates views on education
The candidates were asked about the cost of higher education and how to reduce student loan debt.
Bryce said he supports free public and technical colleges for students to help relieve some of that debt burden.
“It’s the one loan that you can’t discharge into bankruptcy, and you also can’t renegotiate it like you can a car or a house,” Bryce said. “I’m fully in favor to right now, renegotiate these loans because a higher education shouldn’t be the reason you’re in debt for your entire life.”
Yorgan agreed with Bryce’s points and added there should be free tuition for students who maintain a certain grade-point average.
“I would also like to see an expansion of trades education and vocational education,” Yorgan said. “These are things that kind of pass by the wayside … there’s a need in the skilled trades.”
A member of the UW Board of Regents, Steil touted the board’s decision to freeze tuition in the UW System.
“If you have a student from your family and you make less than the median wage in the State of Wisconsin, $56,000, and you get accepted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, what is your tuition and fees? Zero,” Steil said. “That’s the badger promise, a combination of state, federal government and private donors making sure that education is affordable and accessible to students who need it most.”
Candidates views on immigration
Immigration has been a major issue, particularly in Racine, as several residents have been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the summer.
On the issue of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Yorgan said the program is about to expire “so that’s not a grave concern of mine.”
“As far as immigration is concerned, I believe that we should bring in as many as we can handle,” Yorgan said. “I don’t want to flood the country with immigrants, obviously, but I think there’s room for more.”
Steil pointed his finger at both Republicans and Democrats for failure to fix the immigration system, but agrees with President Donald Trump that a wall along the southern border should be part of the solution.
“Step one is we need to secure the border and I think the wall is a component to that,” Steil said. “I think we need to make sure there’s a path for (DACA recipients) to become right with the law ... our legal immigration structure, I think, fails to take into account our workforce needs here in the United States.”
Bryce called the wall “a silly idea” and he criticized the Trump administration’s policy on asylum seekers.
“I spent time in Honduras when I was in the Army, that place now is the most dangerous place in the world,” Bryce said. “When we have people coming up, trying to seek refuge and they’re not welcome in the United States, this country is turning into something it was not meant to be.”
Candidate views on health care
Health care in general, and the Affordable Care Act in particular, continue to be major issues in the campaign.
Yorgan advocated to abolish health insurance and replacing it with a “health care financing plan.”
“If we eliminate a lot of the overhead that’s involved in traditional insurance plans, there would be a tremendous savings,” Yorgan said. “Now there are people who claim to be conservatives who say this is a government takeover of health care. It’s not. It’s the people’s response to a corporate takeover of health care.”
Steil said the Affordable Care Act has failed but he is in favor of protecting people with pre-existing conditions.
“What we need to do is put patients and doctors at the center of the decision making process to lower costs and improve quality, in particular you can look to (health savings accounts) and other options,” Steil said.
Bryce said health care is the No. 1 issue for him and that he supports Medicare for all citizens.
“Healthy people have to pay more and more on their premiums or deductibles even if you don’t use it, that’s unacceptable,” Bryce said. “People shouldn’t have to make life-and-death decisions just because they can’t afford access to a doctor.”