Sparks fly at Monday congressional debate
Zunker labels Tiffany’s attack ad as “repugnant”
A congressional debate on Monday night between state senator Tom Tiffany, a Republican, and Tricia Zunker, a Democrat, got sparky when the Wausau school board president accused him of endangering her life by running a “repugnant” attack ad. During the debate hosted by Wiscon-sin Public Radio, Tiffany answered a question about sexual assault charges laid to both President Donald Trump and his challenger Joe Biden.
“I always treat women with respect and I believe everyone should do that,” he said.
Zunker, a solo parent, said Tiffany approved an attack video ad that could potentially put her life at risk and thus put her 9-year-old son in jeopardy of “becoming an orphan.”
She called the ad “lies” and sarcastically said a fuller discussion about Tiffany’s moral behavior towards women would yield “an interesting conversation.”
The ad, paid for by both the Tiffany campaign and the Republican Party of Wisconsin, charges that Zunker is the “leader of a far left group that advocates late term abortion,” that she supports “releasing violent prisoners into the community during a pandemic” and that she is a “radical liberal that would give free health care to illegal immigrants.”
Besides this exchange, the two debaters generally stayed true to the campaign script they have followed in the months leading to next week’s special election on Tuesday, May 12.
In a question about federal COVID-19 relief, Zunker claimed that Tiffany flipped flop on the CARES bill, saying the state legislator initially opposed the legislation. She said the CARES act failed to go far enough, notably not fully funding aid to small business employers and small and medium-sized farmers. Zunker said the bill needed to provide paid sick leave for essential business workers faced with dealing with the coronavirus.
Tiffany responded he opposed the CARES Act provision that would require small business owners fund paid leave for sick em- ployees. He said, as a former Wilderness Cruise small business owner, such a mandate “would have buried us.” He said the needs of sick employees were better served through state unemployment compensation systems.
Tiffany entertained the notion that China needed to be punished for bringing the coronavirus to the United States. “We need to hold China accountable for what they unleashed on the world,” he said.
The candidates split on health care. Tiffany, taking the conservative line, said American health care needed choice, competition and price transparency. Federal government intervention was not needed, he said. Zunker, a center-left candidate, said she supported including a public option into the Affordable Care Act. She said that making health care affordable for working people was her top priority as a candidate.
The pair sparred over whether Tiffany supports government mandates to guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions can purchase health insurance. Zunker said Tiffany opposed such a mandate. The state senator said he had voted as a state legislator in favor of covering people with pre-existing conditions.
Tiffany said Democrats like Zunker favored Medicare For All but, given the cost of the program, this initiative would wind up being “Medicare for None.”
Zunker said Tiffany was but a “rubber stamp for Trump” who “wanted to destroy the Affordable Care Act.”
Concerning farm policy, both Tiffany and Zunker said they wanted to help struggling agricultural producers through the current crisis by getting a seat on the House Agricultural Committee and making sure farmers get the federal aid they need. Zunker said she specifically wanted to help small to medium dairy farmers and ginseng producers. Tiffany said he supported dairy producers but also the Wisconsin forest industry.
Asked about tourism during the pandemic, Tiffany said a regional approach to opening up the state for business was appropriate. He said people would act responsibly if Safer at Home rules are relaxed. Zunker said “the coronavirus does not stop at a county line” and worried about overwhelming northern Wisconsin hospitals with COVID-19 cases. “Bringing risk to northern Wisconsin is reckless,” she said. “We need to listen to the experts, the scientists.”
The candidates were asked about how they felt about non-citizen immigrant labor in Wisconsin and how these people should obtain health care. Tiffany said the home country of immigrants should provide the health care for these workers. Zunker disagreed, saying this point of view was “cruel, inhumane, defies logic and hurts business.” She said that sick non-citizen immigrant workers “absolutely should have health care.”
Concerning gun control, Tiffany said he proudly supported the Second Amendment and had an A+ rating by the National Rifle Association. Zunker said she also supports the Second Amendment but would vote for universal background checks. Tiffany called that position “code for confiscation.”
Tiffany said he supported local control of environmental regulation, especially when it comes to mining. Zunker said she wanted to protect the northern Wisconsin environment and opposed a proposed sulfide mine in Oneida County. Tiffany noted a local county committee voted 5-0 in favor of beginning the project. Zunker noted the committee failed to heed the numerous people who testifi ed against the project.
Tiffany said he supported President Trump’s trade policies. He said the USMCA trade deal has helped the state’s farmers. He said the president’s tough dealings with China helped Minnesota taconite workers living in Superior. Zunker said Trump’s trade deals had hurt both Wisconsin farmers and manufacturers.
Concerning climate change, Zunker supported creation of “green clean jobs” in northern Wisconsin to reverse climate trends. Tiffany, on the other hand, said a proposed Green New Deal would put farmers out of business. He said creation of hydro power on the Wisconsin River did help with climate change. “Let’s do the right thing for the environment,” he said.