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May 12 election will fill vacant 7th District Congressional seat

May 12 election will fill vacant 7th District Congressional seat May 12 election will fill vacant 7th District Congressional seat

Voters in Wisconsin’s Seventh Congressional District will go the polls on May 12 to elect a replacement for Rep. Sean Duffy, who resigned his position in August 2019.

The Republican candidate is Minocqua resident Sen. Tom Tiffany, a former Wisconsin Valley Improvement Corp. dam tender and Wilderness Cruise small business owner who has served in the state legislature for 10 years.

His Democratic opponent, Tricia Zunker, Wausau, is an online law professor, a justice on the Ho Chunk Supreme Court and now serves as Wausau School Board president.

Tiffany, endorsed by President Donald Trump, is a self-described conservative who supported Gov. Scott Walker’s priorities, including a proposed-but-withdrawn Gogebic Taconite mine straddling Iron and Ashland Counties. He said the congressional race is a choice between “freedom or socialism” and that, as a veteran state legislator, he has the needed experience to bring back the U.S. economy hurt by COVID-19.

Zunker, a left-leaning, pro-environment candidate endorsed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has, as a school board member, championed getting rid of Indian mascot names in Wisconsin schools. Not accepting corporate donations, Zunker said she would make the federal government work for small businesses and farmers, ending the influence of big pharmaceutical companies.

Both candidates were asked identical questions within the past week. Their answers follow.

Northcentral Wisconsin is depopulating as fewer people are needed in basic industries, including agriculture, fishing and forestry. Does the federal government have a role in reversing this trend?

Zunker said the Seventh District needs good paying jobs to retain its population and she supports raising the current $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage. She said the federal government should also help fund child care.

She supports broadband expansion across northern Wisconsin, stating that the current system is “unacceptable.” She said a regional public transportation system across Northwoods counties would help promote jobs and opportunity.

“You should be able to go from Green Bay to the Twin Cities or from Ashland to Wausau,” she said.

Tiffany said he supports, in general, a smaller federal government, but endorses expanding opportunity across the Northwoods by delivering greater broadband access. He said he supports using federal Connect America Fund monies more wisely. He supports, too, tougher regulations to require landline telephone companies, like Frontier, to provide reliable service.

Tiffany said he would push for programs to increase harvest of timber in the Chequamegon/Nicolet federal forest, saying that local saw mills could use more raw material.

The Big Eau Pleine Reservoir is an example where federal policies criss-cross and people get hurt. USDA, for example, pays farmers to grow erosion-prone, conventional row crops in western Marathon County but the EPA has labeled the Big Eau Pleine as impaired and now demands Wisconsin reduce algae-producing phosphorus in the reservoir. In the end, residents in local villages and cities must pay higher sewer bills to meet tougher phosphorus standards. How do you deal with this mess?

Tiffany said the USDA should provide farmers with the flexibility to grow crops other than corn and soybeans in order to minimize soil erosion. The senator could not say, however, which alternative crops he’s talking about. He said he disagreed with Gov. Jim Doyle’s decision to adopt numerical phosphorus standards making Wisconsin “an island in the Upper Midwest.”

Zunker said she opposes large, factory farms polluting surface waters.

“We absolutely need to protect the environment,” she said. The candidate said she also opposed test drilling for a sulfide mine in Oneida County because, again, she feared a developed mine would pollute local waters.

The federal government will spend trillions to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and borrow for most of the expenditure. What is the best way the federal government can handle COVID-19?

Zunker said the federal government programs to deal with COVID-19 have been too timid. She said health care workers needed testing and personal protective equipment and small businesses need relief.

“We shouldn’t just provide a Band-Aid for small businesses,” she said. Zunker said, too, the country needs an improved health care system to deal with a global pandemic.

“I am ready to take on Big Pharma,” she said.

Tiffany said he supports the federal CARES Act and its extension, but ruled out payments to states, like Illinois, who are in budget trouble due to their own “bad choices.”

He said he supports Wisconsin taking a regional approach to reopening business. This means that multiple counties or states should join together to end lockdowns, he said. He said Gov. Tony Evers’ shotgun approach to reopening businesses needed to be replaced by a “much more targeted approach.”

The federal government spends billions to keep dairy farmers afloat but without any national strategy or policy. What should the federal government do with the dairy industry?

Tiffany said the dairy industry this year had been “ready to turn the corner” after six tough years but now faces worse problems due to COVID-19. He said he supports the USDA spending $19 billion to support lagging commodities prices, including the price of milk.

“Congress needs to act so we help these dairy farmers,” he said.

Zunker said U.S. trade policy has to start working on behalf of America’s farmers, not punishing them. She said the federal government should help farmers and fund mental health care for suicidal producers. She acknowledged she is not an expert in dairy policy, but indicated a willingness to support supply management as advocated by the Farmer’s Union.

What should the federal government do to enhance health care in the United States?

Zunker said she supports a “robust” public option as an enhancement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because “we need to do better in America” when it comes to providing health care access. She said she is willing to pursue a moderate approach to health care.

“We have to work across the aisle,” she said.

Tiffany said he favors requiring hospitals and insurance companies be more transparent with medical pricing so consumers have the information to make choices.

He charged Zunker with supporting Medicare for All. When told she supported a more moderate ACA public option, Tiffany said that did not matter.

“It’s a distinction without a difference,” he said.

Tom Tiffany

Tricia Zunker