Candidates for assembly, state senate square off at forum

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Thirteen candidates took to the stage at Chippewa Valley Technical College on Thursday to tell voters why they should be elected or re-elected.

The event, hosted by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, came less than a month before all 99 seats in Wisconsin’s state assembly and 17 out of the 33 state senate seats will be decided.

This will include a battle for the 91st assembly district - comprising most of the city of Eau Claire. Republican Echo Reardon and Democrat Jodi Emerson are each hoping to succeed Democrat Dana Wachs, who vacated it for a run for governor.

One of the topics for discussion dealt with Foxconn’s move into Wisconsin and asking what the legislature's role in assuring the deal approved last year is fulfilled.

"Right now, Foxconn is slated to bring 150 to 200 high, new, good-paying jobs to our area,” Reardon said Thursday. “The thing is they get no tax incentive until a shovel is put in the ground or a job is created. So it is a pay-as-you-go."

"Those of you who lived in Eau Claire for a while will remember what it was like when Uniroyal closed, how our town felt like it bottomed out, because we lost the largest employer,” Emerson said. “What's going to happen when Foxconn goes out from the Racine area? It's going to bottom out that town once again and they've already been through with the automotive industry

One item which actually saw generally bipartisan support – the UW Board of Regents' endorsement for a new $250 million science building at UW-Eau Claire. This will be part of upcoming talks for the state legislature.

“Science is not cheap. A quarter-of-a-billion dollars will not be an easy lift,” Republican Warren Petryk, who is seeking re-election to the 93rd assembly district, said. “So, I hope to put my experience and my longtime relationships with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work, when I go back, and make this project a reality for our region.”

Petryk’s opponent, Democrat Charlie Warner, said: “The 93rd district, as vast and broad as it is, has students that go to Eau Claire, that go to Stout, that go to River Falls. Now, my science students out there will have a place to go right down the road and everyone is going to benefit from that.”

One issue seeing some of the strongest back-and-forth responses dealt with funding for Wisconsin's roads and asking the candidates what the state transportation funding look like in the future. The latest Marquette Law School poll showed 63 percent of likely voters view the quality of roads and highways where they live as either fair or poor.

The question brought local examples of infrastructure issues including the partial collapse and eventual tearing down of the paint creek bridge in the town of Lafayette back in May. It was seen as an example for what's wrong, but also saw at least one quick rebuke to that claim.

"The bridge over Paint Creek in my district literally collapsed. Literally fell in and it can't be replaced for at least a year,” Democrat Wendy Sue Johnson, running for the 68th assembly seat against Republican Jesse James, said. “There is no reason that we should have bridges collapsing and the truth is there is money being spent in the southeast corner of the state."

The 68th assembly district seat is currently held by Republican Kathy Bernier, who’s running for the 23rd State Senate against Democrat Chris Kapsner.

"Paint Creek didn't fall down because something the State of Wisconsin for the DOT did or did not do. They kept changing the engineering and pushing it off,” Bernier said. “Fortunately, we were able to save the day and DOT helped and we waived some dollars and I was endorsed by that town chairman."

Also participating Thursday night were candidates for the 31st State Senate – Republican Mel Pittman, Democrat Jeff Smith, and Green Party Aaron Elaine Camacho – as well as for the 67th Assembly – Democrat Wren Keturi and incumbent Republican Rob Summerfield.