GOP congressional debate
It’s Tiffany versus Church in substance-rich Wausau exchange
Seventh District special election primary congressional candidates state senator Tom Tiffany and retired Army Captain Jason Church had few disagreements during a Thursday debate at the Westwood Conference Center, Wausau, but alternatively took orthodox conservative or populist stances in stating otherwise similar right-wing views.
In the hour and one-half long debate, the two candidates emphasized support for President Donald Trump, slammed “socialist” proposals, including free college tuition and Medicare For All, warned that the Chinese were the nation’s biggest military threat, endorsed the sanctity of life and said they would bring the national debt under control.
The candidates were stylistically different in reaching these same conclusions. Tiffany, elected to the state assembly in 2010 and, later, in 2012, to the state senate, presented a buttondowned, if forceful brand of conservatism. Church, who lost both legs in an IED explosion while serving in Afghanistan, presented himself as a populist flame thrower, angrily blasting the Washington, D.C. “swamp” and branding the progressive left, including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “ridiculous.”
The difference between the candidates showed up most clearly in one dispute. This concerned whether the federal government should continue to pay contractors a prevailing wage under the labor union supported Davis-Bacon Act.
In a question over what to do with the federal government’s $23 trillion national debt, Church said there needed to be cuts to “ridiculous” mandatory spending, such as Medicare, which, if not reformed, would edge out national defense as a spending priority.
In response, Tiffany said he, too, was concerned about the national debt and deficit, adding that he supported President Trump in cutting the nation’s food stamp program.
Going further, however, Tiffany said he opposed the federal government paying a prevailing wage to contractors, noting that, in voting out the prevailing wage in Wisconsin, state and local governments have saved millions of dollars, which helped erase a Gov. Doyle $3 billion deficit. He accused Church of supporting the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage and, in turn, failing to support President Trump.
“I voted to repeal our Davis-Bacon law here in Wisconsin and we did it to save money for taxpayers,” he said. ”This is a distinct difference between me and my opponent in this race. I support the repeal of the Davis-Bacon law at the federal level. My opponent does not. It leads to higher costs for roads, bridges. If you are going to drain the swamp, you are going to have to do it with stuff like this. I stand with President Trump to drain the swamp and this is a perfect place to do it. My opponent is not with us in draining the swamp.”
Church, in response, said Tiffany was “ridiculous” and his comments were part of a “hit job” on his campaign.
He said he was foursquare aligned not just with Trump, but also resigned, former congressman Rep. Sean Duffy on the Davis-Bacon Act.
“President Trump and Sean Duffy both have supported these things for the exact same reason that I have,” he said. “I have gone around northern Wisconsin and I have listened to the families and communities up here. And these are things that, quite frankly, we need. Northern Wisconsin needs this. If you want to take your marching orders from people down in Madison and Milwaukee, please be my guest, but I will fight every single day for the people of northern Wisconsin. If want to say you’ll stand with President Trump, you better put your money where your mouth is on this one.”
On other issues:
_ Education. Asked about what the nation could do to improve lagging scores on standardized tests, Tiffany said a federal Department of Education was “duplicative” of state education departments, that he supported private school choice and, generally opposed to federal mandates, said he didn’t see why local schools couldn’t choose what foods to serve students at lunch without federal interference.
Church said he supported local control over education and opposed a federal government that entered “every nook and cranny of your life.” He said federal standards for education made no sense when the educational needs of Ladysmith were different from those in Los Angeles.
_ Pro-Life. Church said he recognized the value of life during his tour of duty in Afghanistan. He said “ideals of abortion” are pushed on high school and college students but, believing that life begins at conception, he disagrees with an “absolutely frightening” antilife agenda that endorses infanticide. He said he disagrees with federal support for Planned Parenthood. “This cannot continue,” he said. “We are simply subsidizing the killing of our own children.”
Tiffany said he, likewise, is Pro-Life and actually voted to end late-term abortions and to defund Planned Parenthood. “I think we need do what we can to win hearts and minds” on the issue of life, he said.
_ College debt. Tiffany said he opposed proposals by left wing politicians to cancel college student debt. “It’s an absurd proposal,” he said. “Students have to accept that responsibility and pay off student debt.” The candidate said many students would be wise to “stop the college mindset” and go for cheaper, two-year degrees at technical or trade schools. He noted he voted to freeze tuition at Wisconsin universities for eight years.
Church said he did not support progressives like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez encouraging students to go to college and, with federal loan guarantees, winding up with mountains of student debt. “You create the monster we are in right now,” he said. Church said he would vote to end federal guarantees of student loan debt.
_ Socialism. Church said socialist proposals in the United States were simply “a power grab” by some politicians that would lead to national ruin. “We must support President Trump to fight these socialist proposals which will wreck our economy, drain our resources and enrich the politicians who promised them,” he said.
Tiffany said socialism has failed every place it has been tried and that only liberty and freedom will deliver freedom. He said, in addition, that federal rules about wolf management showed the problems with government centralization. “We should be able to be able to regulate the wolf population here in Wisconsin,” he said. Tiffany said uncontrolled wolves hurt the livestock and dairy industries. “And we wonder why farms are going out of business in Wisconsin?” he asked.
_ Syria. Tiffany said he would not have voted to rebuke President Trump on his withdrawal of troops out of Syria, but, in a private moment, he would have told the president the United States has to honor its allies. “Heaven knows, Democrats are doing enough to embarrass him,” said Tiffany. “I do not see the need to pile on.”
Church said he supported the withdrawal of troops out of Syria. “I’ve been in these endless wars,” he said. “You are not going to change 2,000 years in 20.” He said the war in Syria was taking up resources better used to defend the nation against the threat posed by China, which he labeled “a growing threat, a monster.”
_ Health care. Church said he opposed socialist medicine given his experiences with the Veterans Administration as a wounded soldier. He said he supported price transparency in health care markets and purchase of insurance across state lines.
Tiffany said Medicare for All would soon turn into “Medicare for None.” He supported President Trump’s initiative on health care price transparency and letting states experiment with health care innovations.
The debate was sponsored by No Better Friend Corp., a conservative organization led by Kevin Nicholson. Debate moderator was Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gablemen. Questions were asked by representatives of leading state conservative organizations, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Institute for Liberty and Law and American Majority Wisconsin.
Jason Church, a Menomonie native, earned a four-year ROTC degree from UW-La Crosse and, as an Army second lieutenant, lost his legs in August 2012 in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. After his medical retirement as a captain, Church received a masters degree from Georgetown University and a law degree from UW-Madison. He has worked for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. He is engaged to his fiancé Bella Barbosa of Brazil.
Tom Tiffany graduated from Elwood High School and UW-River Falls. He worked as a dam tender for the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Co. and ran a cruise business on the Willow Flowage. He was elected to the Assembly in 2010 and the state senate in 2012. He has been married to Chris for 30 years and the couple has three daughters.