By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Two candidates in the November election for the state’s 10th Senate District spoke on Wisconsin Public Radio about a variety of topics, including COVID-19, public education, healthcare and fair redistricting.
Democratic incumbent Senator Patty Schachtner of Somerset and Republican candidate Rob Stafsholt of New Richmond participated in a debate on the Wisconsin Public Radio show “The West Side” on WHWC (FM) 88.3 on October 16 hosted by Dean Kallenbach.
Stafsholt currently serves as the representative for the state’s 29th Assembly District but decided to run instead for the 10th Senate District.
The 10th Senate District includes the 28th, 29th and 30th Assembly Districts and includes parts of Burnett, Polk, St. Croix, Pierce and Dunn Counties.
Schachtner won a special election in 2018 to represent the 10th Senate District, serves as the St. Croix County medical examiner and has previously served on the Somerset school board and the Star Prairie Town Board.
Stafsholt has served two terms in the state Assembly and is a fourth-generation farmer and a business owner.
When asked why she is running to represent the 10th Senate District, Schachtner noted she is the first Democrat in 17 years to represent the 10th Senate District and that she has quite a lot of work left to do and wants her children and grandchildren to have good public schools, good healthcare and clean water.
Western Wisconsin needs a strong economy, and access to healthcare, good public education and maintaining natural resources all go toward strengthening the economy, she said.
Legislators must focus on all of their constituents, and bi-partisan work is important. The key is getting work done, Schachtner said.
When asked why he is running to represent the 10th Senate District, Stafsholt noted he is a fourth generation farmer with roots in St. Croix County.
Serving as a senator would allow him to give back to the area, and he would like to expand his experience as a farmer, business owner and father to a larger area, Stafsholt said.
One question for the candidates focused on which measures they would support for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has shown the cracks in society, and the lack of broadband Internet service for students and the workforce shows the state is not prepared, Stafsholt said.
Kallenbach noted that Wisconsin is among those states with the highest transmission rates of the coronavirus.
Governor Evers has called on the Republican-controlled state Senate and Assembly to come up with a plan for dealing with the pandemic, but so far, the response has been to file lawsuits against the governor, he said.
If the Republicans in the legislature do not like what the governor is trying to do to deal with the pandemic, then why not get back in session? Kallenbach asked.
A WisPolitics review recently found that Wisconsin’s Legislature, among all of the full-time state legislative bodies in the United States, has been the least active since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Wisconsin was in the top five of the states as of October 12 for cases by per capita.
“That’s a fair question,” Stafsholt said.
The lawsuits are not against any measures related to COVID-19, the lawsuits are against the unlawful over-reach of the governor, who should follow the law, he said, adding that he would be happy to work together and touted the COVID-relief bill the legislature passed last spring.
Another question focused on how the candidates support rural public schools.
Stafsholt said he has been a strong supporter in his two terms in the Assembly, pointed out that his mother was a teacher at the technical college in New Richmond, that he had attended UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls and that he represents UW-Stout in the Assembly.
Stafsholt noted he voted to increase public education spending by $500, voted for $44 million for rural broadband and voted for $100 million for special education.
Republicans have controlled the Legislature for the last decade, and a decade of decreases in public education spending have gotten us to where we are today, Schachtner said.
Education is an investment in our society and is not a tax liability, she said.
Investing in public education, rural broadband, healthcare and clean water will give young people a reason to stay in the area, Schachtner said, noting that the Legislature must be willing to invest in the future.
Republican policies “have put kids last” but now the majority party wants to invest in education, she said.
One caller asked how the candidates would respond to increasing property taxes.
State government policy, such as tax breaks and tax credits for businesses, and removal of local control, have a negative impact on local government, Schachtner said.
Schachtner pointed out that decreases in infrastructure programs make it difficult for local governments to maintain their roads.
When Schachtner served on the town board, people would ask how much it cost to plow the roads in the winter.
The answer is “we don’t know” because no one knows ahead of time how often the roads will have to be plowed in the winter. A township can be in the red on transportation spending before even doing any road maintenance, she said.
Stafsholt said he had been in Assembly for two terms and was not part of the last decade of Republican control of the legislature, so he did not really have anything to do with the issues Schachtner talked about.
One caller as well as several e-mail messages asked about expanding healthcare, protections for pre-existing conditions and accepting the federal Medicaid expansion.
Wisconsin has no gap in coverage for people in the 0 to 100 percent category of the federal poverty level, Stafsholt said.
The federal marketplace covers people who are in the 100 to 138 percent category of the federal poverty level. By accepting the Medicaid expansion, people would be taken out of the marketplace for private insurance and placed in a government-run program, he said.
Wisconsin can guarantee access to healthcare without expanding the government’s share, Stafsholt said.
“I’m not in favor of expanding Medicaid because I don’t think we need it in Wisconsin,” he said.
On paper, the argument seems to make sense, Schachtner said, adding that she works with people who suffer from no Medicaid expansion and knows what lack of access does to people.
Everyone needs coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, and 70 percent of Wisconsin residents want the state to take the money, she said.
“It’s our money going to other states,” Schachtner said.
New approaches to healthcare are needed, and prevention and treatment is more cost-effective, she said.
As a death investigator, Schachtner said she knows what it looks like when people die because they cannot afford their insulin or because they did not have some other healthcare they needed.
Putting a dollar amount on our most vulnerable is bad policy, Schachtner said.
One caller noted that Emerald Sky Dairy has had significant violations of manure spills that have affected water quality for ground water and surface water and wondered about the candidates’ responses to increased regulation.
When local control is taken away, it is difficult to respond to problems, and state policy does not advocate for local control, Schachtner said.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are the most regulated of all the farming practices, Stafsholt said.
Emerald Sky Dairy has had some problems. Most farmers follow the regulations, but if there is one that does not, Stafsholt said he had “no problem” with increasing penalties.
Kallenbach said the program had received several e-mails about redistricting and Governor Evers’ maps commission.
Stafsholt said it would be difficult to have a non-partisan panel to redistrict the legislative maps.
If the Republican legislature selects or Governor Evers selects, the panel would be skewed, he said.
The question is how to go about making a non-partisan panel, Stafsholt said.
“I’m open to discussion, but I don’t know how to do it,” he said.
Many of the counties in Wisconsin have passed referendum questions asking for fair redistricting, Schachtner said.
Schachtner noted she has written a fair maps bill because it is what constituents want.
“Bring it on,” she said.