By Joe Bachman
The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Rapids held a special candidates forum on Monday night, pitting Wisconsin State Representative of the 24th District, Democratic incumbent Julie Lassa, against Republican challenger Patrick Testin.
The two tackled issues from groundwater safety, gerrymandering, and job creation in the area, to voter ID laws and negative campaign advertising. Surprisingly, the candidates did agree on multiple issues, from moving to a non-partisan Department of Natural Resources, to keeping veterans care in county control.
However, the harmony was short-lived, as the two soon split for the rest of the night, the first of which was the issue of voter ID laws. Lassa wants to make it easier for all Wisconsin residents to vote, and avoid disenfranchising them.
“Wisconsin has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation,” said Lassa. “The folks that are pushing the voter ID have not been able to prove that when voters are coming to the polls that they are using a false identity. — The Department of Corrections is not giving good information to felons, and when their voting rights are restored.”
Testin believes voter ID laws have served well, and would like to see them continue.
“I do support voter ID,” said Testin. “It protects our free elections, and when you show up to the polls it proves who you are, so your vote is protected. — When you look at the common sense reforms that have passed, the state has made it easier to vote.”
On the issue of protecting our lakes and groundwater, Testin looks to a more balanced approach.
“Agriculture does play a huge role in our state’s economy, primarily in our central sands region,” said Testin. “We also need to have that balance in our private well owners and our tourist industry. I think we need to start fresh next session and bring all of our stakeholders to the table.”
Lassa is strictly against putting more power over the region into corporate control.
“I believe that clean and plentiful groundwater is vital to our health industry and agriculture, and maintaining our lakes and streams,” said Lassa. “That is why I opposed efforts to privatize our water resources.”
One of the questions of the night was in regards to the negative advertising by Super-PACs and organizations that do not allegedly have any financial connection to the candidates they support.
“When we talk about dark money, we, as candidates, have no control over that,” said Testin, to an array of noticeable skepticism among the crowd in attendance. “I know a lot of you in the crowd disagree, but it’s illegal for us to be in communication with these groups.”
“No matter what the Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, or some Washington D.C. group that calls itself the Republican State Legislative Committee says, I fight hard for my people,” said Lassa. “I’m going to continue to do that in the state senate, and I hope when people see that, [negative flyers] they just throw it in the garbage — because they know who I am, they know what I stand for, and that I fight for them.”
The night continued with expected stances from both candidates, differing on the success of Governor Walker’s WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) to calling for a non-partisan way to redistrict boundaries to prevent gerrymandering. (Lassa is in favor of non-partisan redistricting, while Testin is open to the idea, but does not want to create a government agency for it.)
The issue of groundwater came up repeatedly, and both candidates didn’t hold back in their responses.
“I have opposed the Wysocki CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) in the Town of Saratoga because of the thirty-some high capacity wells that will be in that project which will have a potentially negative impact because of the geology that’s there,” said Lassa. “My opponent has taken tens and thousands of dollars from the Wysocki family, as well as individuals who are connected with that business.”
Testin wasn’t so negative towards the idea of mega-farms in the area.
“Just like any new development, they have a right to go through the permit process,” said Testin. “That’s why we have the proper safe channels in place through the DNR. If they don’t pose a significant threat to our groundwater and natural resources, then they do have the right to move forward through the permit process.”
The two wrapped up their forum by making a final appeal to the voters.
“One of the things I learned is that people want to be heard,” said Testin. “What’s more important to me than policy, is approach — and I promise to be an advocate for the entire 24th senate district, which is why I’m asking for your vote.”
“Being the state senator for this district is an honor, and it gives me the opportunity to serve people in our area,” said Lassa. “The people of the 24th district need a proven leader with the knowledge, experience and the ability to get things done — I will continue to be a strong and independent voice for the people of this district.”
Election day in America is Nov. 8.