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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Two candidates in the November election for the state’s 67th Assembly District spoke on Wisconsin Public Radio about a variety of topics, including police reform, gun control, COVID-19 and fair redistricting.
Incumbent Representative Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer) and challenger Dr. Chris Kapsner (D-Boyceville) participated in a debate on the Wisconsin Public Radio show “The West Side” on WHWC (FM) 88.3 August 28 hosted by Dean Kallenbach.
The 67th Assembly District includes the Towns of Colfax, Elk Mound, Grant, Hay River, Otter Creek, Red Cedar, Sand Creek, Sheridan, Sherman, Spring Brook, Tainter and Wilson; the Villages of Colfax, Elk Mound, Ridgeland and Wheeler; and parts of Barron County and Chippewa County.
Dr. Kapsner, who owns a farm in the Town of Sheridan north of Boyceville, is an emergency room physician associated with Western Wisconsin Health in Baldwin and Abbot-Northwestern in Minneapolis.
Rep. Summerfield, who is running for this third term in the Wisconsin Assembly, is from Bloomer and works at the family businesses, Two Acres Supper Club and Chippewa Valley Land Title.
Dr. Kapsner ran for the position of senator in the 23rd Senate District two years ago and lost to Republican Senator Kathy Bernier. Kallenbach asked what had inspired Kapsner to run for representative of the 67th Assembly District.
Dr. Kapsner said when he was growing up, he had attended grade school in Boyceville, and then his father had taken a job in the Twin Cities.
At that time, Boyceville had a grocery store and many family farms, he said.
The economy must be regenerated in the rural parts of the state, Dr. Kapsner said, adding that he wants his four children to be successful and not have to move to Minnesota.
Health care, education, clean air and water and rural broadband are all important issues that will help young people be able to stay in the area. Improved health care and an emphasis on education, clean air and water and rural broadband would have helped for faster recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic too, he said.
As an emergency room physician, Dr. Kapsner said he loves his job and helps patients on the worst day of their lives. He also sees their struggles with homelessness, addiction and mental health along with problems created by fragmented care and expensive medication.
People run out of their insulin and then come to the emergency room and “it is all preventable,” he said.
“We can do better. We deserve better. It’s a major motivating factor,” Dr. Kapsner said.
Rep. Summerfield said he was born and raised in Bloomer, attended UW-Stout, and has “connections to the community that run deep” as his reasons for running for a third term as representative of the 67th Assembly District.
Summerfield described himself as a “responsive legislator” who returns telephone calls right away and who gives out the number of his cellular telephone.
As representative of the 67th Assembly District, Summerfield said he has accomplished investments in broadband expansion and $1 billion into K-12 education.
In healthcare, the state legislature worked to make sure pre-existing conditions are covered, and the legislature also worked with technical colleges to help with a workforce shortage, he said.
As representative of the 67th Assembly District, Summerfield said he had been working hard since the COVID-19 pandemic began to help school districts figure out how to prepare for opening school this fall.
Rep. Summerfield said he is willing to talk to anyone, and even if people do not agree with him, they know he will listen to them.
After the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Governor Evers called for a special session of the legislature on police accountability that included a variety of proposals, such as de-escalation training for police officers, a ban on no-knock search warrants and a ban on chokeholds, Kallenbach said.
As it turned out, the special session was called to order and adjourned in less than a minute.
The issue is bigger than the legislature can address in a week. Law enforcement groups, social groups and faith-based groups need to work together on proposals, Rep. Summerfield said.
There is concern among law enforcement officials that some of the proposals would “hamstring” police officers, he said.
A no-knock warrant requires a special approval by a judge, and they are used with drug dealers. If police officers knock on a warrant, this gives the drug dealers five to 10 seconds to grab their weapons and puts officers in deadly situations, Rep. Summerfield said.
Concerning de-escalation tactics, local police officials say they are already doing education and training, and local officials also say they do not use chokeholds. In 2011, a law was passed that when officers are involved in a shooting, outside agencies investigate rather than the agency where the officer is employed, he said.
People in the community need to be protected, and Kenosha has been devastated by the protests, Rep. Summerfield said, adding that he was disappointed the governor had waited a day or two to call the National Guard to duty in Kenosha.
People should be allowed to have peaceful protests, but they should not be allowed to wreck downtown areas, he said, also noting that downtown Madison has had problems as well during protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd May 25 in Minnesota when a police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
COVID-19 has been devastating for businesses and now the businesses also have the costs of dealing with riots. Peaceful protests must be allowed, but citizens must be protected from vandalism too, Rep. Summerfield said.
Assembly Speaker Robyn Vos is calling for a task force on public safety and police procedures. Does Vos have a point that police accountability measures must be a more deliberate process with a Speaker’s task force on racial disparities, educational opportunities, public safety and police policies? Kallenbach asked.
These are all challenging issues, Dr. Kapsner said.
Emergency room personnel struggle with patients who are violent, and tools are needed to help deal with various situations, he said.
Police officers are our neighbors. One police officer recently responded to a call about domestic violence where a man was armed with a gun. He was able to talk him down, and police officers need the tools to de-escalate situations and protect our communities, Dr. Kapsner said.
Everyone must work together to solve the problems together, and all must be held accountable, he said.
For medical staff, there are performance improvement plans to help people who are not doing well, and if they continue to fail, then they are let go from their positions. Police officers must be supported and there must be common sense solutions, Dr. Kapsner said, adding that he plans to work with all members of the Assembly.
During the Kenosha protests, a 17-year-old with an AR-15 killed two people and wounded a third person and acted as a member of a militia. Is there a need for new gun control measures in Wisconsin? Kallenbach asked.
Gun control is a complicated and emotional issue. People in rural Wisconsin are comfortable with guns, Dr. Kapsner said, noting that one of his earliest memories was shooting a .22 with his dad.
People in rural Wisconsin see guns as tools that must be used safely, he said.
Dr. Kapsner said he wants the state Legislature to look at the cause of gun violence and suicide.
We must do our best to keep guns away from people who should not have them, he said.
People in Wisconsin agree we must support and enforce existing gun control laws and we must also keep guns away from people who should not have them, Dr. Kapsner said.
The governor called for a special session in November to deal with gun control. The session was called to order and adjourned in less than a minute with no action, Kallenbach said.
The legislature has already done work on making straw purchases of guns a felony, Rep. Summerfield said.
A straw purchase is a purchase wherein an agent agrees to acquire a good or service for someone who is unable or unwilling to purchase the good or service themselves.
The problem is not with law-abiding citizens. Criminals and drug dealers will find ways to get guns, and we must focus on mental health issues with more mental health beds in the area, he said.
The legislature included more money in the budget for new mental health beds for Western Wisconsin so people do not have to be committed three hours away in Winnebago or Mendota. From Chippewa Falls, it is a three-hour trip, and from Superior, it is a 10-hour trip for law enforcement to transport for care and for families to visit, Rep. Summerfield said.
Gov. Evers vetoed the measure out of the budget, and there is now another bill before the Assembly. More mental health beds is a priority for the area and while it will not cure the problems with mental health, “it will be a great tool,” he said.
Concerning the legislature’s response to mental health, “there’s lots of talk but little action,” Dr. Kapsner said.
The Republicans failed to support Medicaid expansion which would have increased reimbursement rates and helped with investments in mental health and drug treatment programs, Dr. Kapsner said, adding that the refusal to accept Medicaid expansion has already cost Wisconsin taxpayers $1 billion.
One caller from Chippewa County noted that as chair of the Medicaid reform and oversight committee, Rep. Summerfield had not held a public hearing on Medicaid expansion.
There was not enough support among fellow committee members, Rep. Summerfield said.
Putting people on the state’s fiscal rolls might be okay in the short term but will have negative consequences in the long term. Wisconsin already covers 100 percent of the poverty level, he said.
The budget included many millions more for rural critical care hospitals, family care and nursing homes. There has never been this big an increase in nursing home reimbursement, Rep. Summerfield said.
In the past, people would go to a nursing home for three or four years and be private pay. Now, they stay in home care for a while, and by the time they reach the nursing home, they have exhausted their resources. The budget also included more money for personal care workers, he said.
The Legislature expanded tele-health opportunities because tele-health was not included in state statutes. People were experiencing reimbursement problems but now they can more easily be reimbursed for tele-health services, Rep. Summerfield said.
Kallenbach asked Dr. Kapsner for any insights on Medicaid and insurance.
Dr. Kapsner said again that he sees “lots of talk and little action” and that what has been done is like “sprinkling crumbs on a starving animal.”
The Republicans have failed to support Medicaid expansion. People are sick, hurt and dying because they cannot afford their medication. The legislature must be held accountable. Health care is needed in rural Wisconsin to address addiction and mental health problems, he said.
Everyone “needs tools to live their best life,” Dr. Kapsner said.
Health care is complicated, and we need great healthcare and not mediocre healthcare, he said.
Case numbers of COVID-19 are increasing, and several e-mail messages to the West Side indicated the writers did not believe the Republican leaders have prepared for the pandemic crisis, Kallenbach said.
Healthcare, broadband and education need real investments and not tax cuts for the wealthy and global corporations, Dr. Kapsner said.
School boards started asking for help in June on how to deal with re-opening schools in the fall, but nothing was done except a shrug of the shoulders and to wish school districts good luck, he said.
Denial is not a strategy to deal with a pandemic. There are issues with Personal Protective Equipment supply chains and testing supplies. Small class sizes, more teachers and more staff are needed to keep schools open safely. We need the ability to test and isolate, Dr. Kapsner said.
“The good news is we will get through this,” he said, adding that common sense measures such as wearing masks in public and social distancing will help.
Republicans and Democrats must come together to embrace common sense best practices, evidence and facts, Dr. Kapsner said.
Rep. Summerfield said he had reached out to school districts in June and held many Zoom meetings about opening schools in the fall for either hybrid school sessions or in-person instruction.
Kallenbach asked each candidate about the unique challenges facing rural Wisconsin.
As an ER doctor, Kapsner said he sees lots of time-sensitive emergencies such as heart attack, stroke and trauma, so more investment is needed for local hospitals, EMS, Medicaid expansion and tele-health.
Broadband also is huge to help create opportunities for the rural economy, he said.
Wisconsin is ranked third for critical access hospitals in rural areas. While Wisconsin is already doing good things, it can always do better, Rep Summerfield said.
Regarding rural broadband, Bloomer Telephone received a grant to expand service to Colfax. The challenge in rural areas is that it is expensive to install fiber optics, he said, noting that he has been a co-sponsor for tax exemptions for telecoms similar to what cable companies receive.
While the tax exemption might only provide $50,000 to the company, the money can be used for reinvestment, Rep. Summerfield said.
The Bloomer Telephone Company received a grant for $282,500 toward a $718,000 project.
The governor has appointed a commission for bipartisan fair redistricting of the legislative maps, Kallenbach said, and asked for the candidates’ ideas on fair redistricting.
The legislature is going to do what the legislature has always done. The assembly will approve the maps, and the governor will either veto or sign the legislation, Rep. Summerfield said.
Fair maps are needed for a fair fight, Dr. Kapsner said.
Republicans have all the advantage because they have built their maps to have the advantage in their districts, he said.
Unfair district maps hurt democracy and water down the voices of the voters. Rep. Summerfield listens to his constituents but he does not do as they ask because he does not have to, Dr. Kapsner said, adding that he would like a fair fight because fair is good for democracy, and everyone should have a fair opportunity.