KENOSHA — Three Democratic candidates trying to succeed Peter Barca in Assembly District 64 squared off in their first and likely only forum on Wednesday before the April 2 primary. The winner will go on to face Republican Mark Stalker in a special general election on April 30.
Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Thaddeus “Tip” McGuire of Somers, community organizer Gina Walkington of Bristol and U.S. Air Force veteran and chauffeur Spencer Zimmerman of Janesville met on stage at the Gateway Technical College Kenosha campus.
Barca was appointed secretary of revenue by Gov. Tony Evers, so he stepped down, and Evers called a special election on April 30 to fill the vacant position.
The candidates spoke on multiple topics including eminent domain, healthcare and marijuana legalization.
Since the arrival of the Foxconn Technology Group development in Mount Pleasant, the issue of eminent domain and designating property as “blighted” has been a major issue in the area.
The planned expansion of Highway KR, and the taking of property for that expansion, has caused an uproar in the community, particularly among those that live along the road.
McGuire said he is “troubled” about people’s homes being labeled as “blighted” for the purposes of the project.
“There clearly needs to be additional protections in the law to avoid any abuse from governments that may be trying to lower the (value) of people’s housing,” McGuire said.
Walkington said she has been studying eminent domain laws since “Foxconn came to our backyard” and believes there needs to be some changes to the laws.
“I see the necessity at times for eminent domain and its reason for existing,” Walkington said. “But we have to take a look at tightening up the protections, tightening up the laws.”
Zimmerman said there are times when eminent domain is necessary.
“At the same time I believe certain projects need to utilize eminent domain because you couldn’t build our nation’s railroad, our nation’s highway system if we didn’t have eminent domain,” Zimmerman said. “We need to make sure we’re protecting people and compensating them if we’re going to be purchasing their property.”
As in recent federal elections, healthcare continues to be a major topic of debate, and the candidates discussed how the state and Evers should address it.
Walkington, who discovered and caught cervical cancer in the early stages, said healthcare is a deeply personal issue to her. She said she would like to see the state replace its funding levels for Planned Parenthood to where they were before former Governor Scott Walker took office.
“Those of us with pre-existing conditions, we have to maintain the coverage that we all need,” Walkington said. “Fully expanding Medicaid in our state is a critical first step, and I really hope it’s preserved.”
Zimmerman said he is against taking federal funds for Medicaid and more in favor of healthcare savings accounts.
“If we’re going to be drawing more and more money from the federal government and adding to the ever-skyrocketing national debt, I don’t think that’s a very good solution,” Zimmerman said. “I think we need to find other solutions that would bring down the cost of healthcare to make it more affordable.”
McGuire said when he was a law school student he was not able to afford health insurance and understands what it’s like to have a medical emergency, an allergic reaction, without insurance.
“I think it’s important that we do accept the federal Medicaid dollars to make sure more people have access to affordable healthcare,” McGuire said. “I think that’s an absolute necessity … but I also want to push to make sure we have more transparency in the pricing of drugs and transparency in the pricing of services through our hospital system.”
As the Evers administration explores the outcomes of the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana, the candidates gave their opinions on how they view the controversial topic.
Zimmerman said the state should allow medical marijuana and be able to tax it.
“It’s estimated that the legalization of medical marijuana would bring in $130 million a year in additional tax revenue,” Zimmerman said. “And right now we need to look at different possibilities of additional revenue so we can balance our budget.”
McGuire said he does support medical marijuana, particularly as a way to combat the opioid crisis.
“I think marijuana has substantially less risk than some of those other drugs,” McGuire said. “I believe that any loosening of marijuana laws, however, has to be accompanied by an increase in drug recognition expert training in law enforcement.”
Walkington said she supports the legalization of medicinal marijuana “and beyond.”
“We have this option (medical marijuana) that is safer and more affordable (than prescription drugs); we should absolutely be taking a look at it,” Walkington said.
Residency and rejections
Neither Zimerman nor Walkington live in the district and would have to move there if they were elected.
A fourth Democratic candidate, Pedro Rodriguez of Milwaukee, and Constitution Party Candidate Thomas Harland of Kenosha had sought to run for the seat, but their applications were rejected by the state Elections Board for reasons that were not clear as of Wednesday.