Thompson says he is tried, true and to be trusted
Everybody knows him as ‘Tommy,’ former governor says
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
It’s been a long time since Tommy Thompson hit the campaign trail in Wisconsin, but the former governor says he is loving every minute of it — greeting people in a state where most people know him by his first name.
“All your readers know how much I love this state, and I love its people, and I love to get around and meet people,” Thompson said in a recent interview with this newspaper. “I’m what you call a retail individual that’s out there shaking hands and meeting people, and I want to tell you I haven’t worked this hard since the first time I ran for governor of the state of Wisconsin back in 1986.”
Thompson said he has been re-introducing himself to voters, though that really isn’t necessary because the vast majority of the people know him, and know him as ‘Tommy.’
“They trust me,” he said. “They believe in me. We’ve had a tremendous friendship for a long time, and I’m the only person that I know of ... that can run statewide and everybody knows me by my first name.
“I don’t have to use two names, I just use my first name, Tommy; everybody knows who I am. So, that tells you how closely identified I am to the state of Wisconsin.”
Turning the country around
Thompson said the fall elections are crucial to turning the nation around, and, once they are behind us, so is the task of getting the nation’s fiscal house in order.
“We have to make sure that we are able to balance the budget, and, as I did at the state level, I would introduce a balanced budget, and I would ask every federal agency — and I’m the only candidate that’s ever run a federal department, so I know what I’m talking about; none of the other candidates do — to cut 5 percent, but give the secretary of those departments the power to reorganize their departments. There are a lot of programs that are duplications and things that should have been done away with many years ago, but nobody ever gets rid of anything in Washington, D.C.”
Thompson says he would also bring home corporate profits that are now sitting offshore.
“There is over $2 trillion that are profits that companies who do business in other countries but are domiciled in the United States have there, and I’m on a board of one of those companies that has several hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said. “The reason they don’t, they have to pay a 35-percent penalty after they’ve already paid the taxes in that country. And so no company is going to bring back money from offshore, overseas, and pay a 35-percent penalty.
“So, the United States government is never going to get their hands on this money. So let’s be smart. Let’s waive the penalty and the taxes and allow a trillion dollars to come back home to businesses if they invest in people, plants, and machinery.”
That would provide a huge stimulus to the economy, Thompson said, but it would be controlled by private-sector companies investing in their companies, expanding those companies, and creating jobs and opportunity all across America.
A solid conservative record
Thompson said his record in Wisconsin was one of conservative reform, despite the way some have depicted it.
“I cut taxes 91 times,” he said. “... I eliminated the inheritance taxes, the gift taxes. I cut the income taxes three times. I also had the largest property tax cut, not once but twice ...
“What took place in 1993 is, I was successful to get a cap on teachers’ salaries, called the QEO, if you remember correctly. I also was able to put a revenue limit on schools, and then I was able to put a levy limit on municipalities.”
Thompson said increases in state spending for education during his terms were not really government growth because they paved the way for massive property-tax cuts.
“Then, in the election of 1994, the Republicans had not been in power since 1970, and I went around the state, recruited Republican candidates, and we all ran on the issue of picking up two-thirds of the cost of education, because by levitating the teachers’ salaries, putting revenue limits on it, we could drive the money directly through to property taxes,” Thompson said. “Property taxes were high in Wisconsin, and people were complaining about it. We lowered the property taxes by over $1.2 billion, not once, but twice, and that money went directly to property-tax relief across the state of Wisconsin.”
Conservatives in the Legislature then, such as Gov. Scott Walker and Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, supported the initiative, Thompson said.
“I’m telling you it was a tax cut asked by the people, voted by the people, and it reduced the property taxes by over $1.2 billion, not once but twice, and that is, to me, a tax cut, not government growth.”
And Thompson said spending increases in other sectors were solid investments.
“The growth was in two areas, picking up two-thirds of the cost of education so we could have property taxes (lowered) and building prisons and highways,” he said. “I did increase the prisons, because I wanted to take the bad guys off the streets and put them in jail, and ever since I’ve done that, crime has gone down in the state of Wisconsin.”
Likewise, investments in highway infrastructure were important, the former governor said.
“If you remember correctly, I built a four-lane highway across bloody 29, I built a four-lane highway on 51 and 53, helping everybody up in your area of the state, and also a four-lane highway going to Superior,” Thompson said. “That is where investments work. But I had increased the economy so we could invest in Wisconsin, and that helped to grow the economy, the roads helped to grow the economy, and that is where the difference is, and so by building prisons, taking over two-thirds of the cost of education, I will still argue were property-tax cuts, not expansions.”
Obamacare, entitlement reform
While all the GOP candidates support repeal of the federal health care law, Thompson said he is the only candidate with a plan to replace it.
“First off, 90-some percent of the cost of health care, which is 19 percent of the gross national product, goes into treating people after they get sick and spending billions of dollars to get them well,” he said. “I think that’s a wrong-headed approach. So what I would do is I would change that so that we would put more money into wellness and prevention and keep people well in the first place.
“If you own a car, and you put on so many miles, you change the oil and grease the car. You don’t wait until the engine blows up or burns up. You have preventative maintenance. “
The issue of chronic illnesses needs to be addressed as well, he said.
“We have to make sure that individuals have a stake in their own personal health through information, through companies that are offering health insurance to make sure that their employees stay healthy,” he said.
The third step, Thompson said, is to be able to purchase health insurance across state lines and, fourth, be able to personalize those health insurance policies so that individuals can determine themselves what kind of health care they want — what kind of deductibles and coverages they need.
“If you’re a single male, you shouldn’t be required to pick up maternity coverage,” Thompson said. “You should be able to make that determination yourself.”
Fifth, he said, people should be able to choose their own doctors and hospitals, rather than the government doing so.
“Sixth, you’ve got to be able to change the kind of defensive medicine that’s taking place right now,” he said. “Doctors have to practice defensive medicine so they don’t get sued. I use the example, if you’re ugly and you go in the hospital, and you come out ugly, you shouldn’t be able to sue because you’re not beautiful. You should be able to realize that you’re going to remain ugly and not blame the hospital for not coming out beautiful.”
Thompson said the way doctors are paid needs to be changed as well.
“Doctors get paid right now by procedures, so the only way doctors can get ahead is by doing more procedures,” he said. “That’s sort of an idiotic way. You’re encouraging more dollars spent on health care just so doctors can get paid well. That is the wrong-headed approach.”
Finally, he said, the nation needs to better manage the sickest population.
“About 1 percent of the population, these are the sickest individuals, usually classified as dual-eligibles — people that are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, and what we have to do there is we have to do a better job of managing them, because that 1 percent of the population is using up about 14 percent of the cost of health care,” Thompson said. “We can save billions of dollars by managing their care more directly, more individually, and more completely than what we’re doing right now and save billions.”
Thompson said he is a fan of Paul Ryan’s proposed Pathway to Prosperity budget, but said he has a few differences on the approach to Medicare.
“Where I differ from him on Medicare is, I would provide for individuals when they reach age 55 in the year 2020, to be able to make a determination if they want to stay in Medicare or go into a subsidized program to be able to purchase commercial health insurance using and having the same benefits as a person does that is currently in Medicare,” Thompson said. “The reason for that is that Medicare is going bankrupt, sometime between the year 2018 and the year 2022. It’s very soon. And what you have to do there is we have to make sure that we save Medicare, and the only way you can do it is having a subsidy kind of program, which I’m talking about, with those individuals that are going to reach 55 in the year 2020.”
Thompson stressed that his approach would not in any way change those individuals who are Medicare-eligible today or will be eligible in the next years until 2020, and nothing would change for those individuals and the people on Medicare today.
“But you’re going to have to do it, because the unfunded liabilities in Medicare today, and I’m probably the only one of the candidates that knows the full extent of the unfunded liabilities, is somewhere around $40-50 trillion.”
Social Security is a much easier fix, the former governor said.
“Social Security is not going broke until 2038 or 2039, and you will be able to find a way to maintain and continue the Social Security,” he said. “It is not nearly as dire of a financial problem as Medicare is.”
Beyond across-the-board agency cuts, Thompson said every program has to be reviewed.
“Our fiscal house is in such disarray that we are $16 trillion in debt,” he said. “Six trillion dollars has been accumulated since Barack Obama has been president, almost 60 percent. That’s more debt than was accumulated from the time George Washington was our first president until George H.W. Bush in 1988. It’s a huge growth, and what we have to do is we have to stop and analyze every single program, every single department in the federal government, and we’ve got to make the tough decisions, and those decisions are going to be based upon what America can afford and what America cannot afford.”
Thompson said the nation can no longer foist debt upon future generations — debt they’re not responsible for, did not ask for, but yet must pay for.
“That is unconscionable; it’s wrong-headed, and I’m going to do everything in my power as the next United States senator, the 51st senator to be elected from Wisconsin, to be able to make sure that we change that,” Thompson said.
Thompson said, if elected, he would not vote to raise the debt ceiling.
“I would not have raised the last debt ceiling, and I would not raise this one,” he said. “We have to realize, we’re taxed enough, we just spend too much. The only way you’re going to force the government to do what I just got done saying — look at every program, look at every department, and look at every expenditure — is to require the Congress to roll up their sleeves and make the tough decisions.
“I absolutely believe the only way to do that is to not raise the debt ceiling to increase spending, to allow spending, but to force every senator, every congressman or woman to be able to sit down and require them to analyze, examine and find ways so we can get our debt under control.”
The former governor says he has a plan to make America energy independent.
For one thing, Thompson said, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be opened for drilling.
“It’s about half the size of Wisconsin,” Thompson said. “Now, that would mean about Eau Claire to Milwaukee. And to put it in proper perspective, that would be like having a postage stamp on a football field, that’s the area that would be for drilling. And they said, ‘Well, you can’t do that because the caribou walk through it.’ I said, heck, caribou are smart enough to walk around. The environmentalists may not be, but the caribou certainly are, and you could start drilling up there.”
Thompson said he would vote to allow the Keystone Pipeline to be built to transport oil from Canada, and he would also focus on natural gas.
“We have enough natural gas in America as there’s oil in Saudi Arabia, and I would definitely, instead of shipping the billions upon billions upon billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia, which does not like us, I would be putting the money into finding ways that we can convert our semis and our buses over to natural gas,” Thompson said.
“We heat most of our houses with natural gas. It burns much cleaner than diesel. Instead of seeing semis going down the road having black smoke coming out, you would have a clean fuel that could be burned and power the needs and keep the billions of dollars that we ship to Saudi Arabia.”
On the issue of regulatory reform, Thompson said it was his effort as governor that gave the state Legislature review powers before regulations took effect, and he would work in the Senate to end excessive regulation.
“One of the biggest problems facing America is the excess rules and regulations that everybody has to adhere to,” he said. “I’m today at a company that is overburdened. It’s a recycling operation that’s overburdened with federal rules and regulations in order to do their business. We have got to get back to more common sense.”
Thompson cited the recent Frank-Dodd legislation, which he said includes so many massive degrees of rules and regulations on the financial industry that they cannot afford to issue loans.
“They jumped into it before really studying it, and they decided they were going to try and deal with the banking industry, and what they’ve done is made it worse,” he said. “And that’s what usually happens. So, let’s make sure that there’s a certain amount that has to get congressional approval, such as an impact of so many millions of dollars, and get that approval before (a rule) can go into effect.
“You would see a lot more rules and regulations using common sense than some bureaucrat sitting in the back room deciding that this would be good for the country or Mother Nature or whatever the case may be.”
Richard Moore may be reached at email@example.com
New candidate in town, Hovde pitches Tea Party message
Businessman wants to cut spending, reduce tax rates, end corporate welfare
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
He may be the new candidate on the block, but Eric Hovde’s message and money have propelled him to the forefront of the Republican race for the U.S. Senate, and that has attracted some fierce counterfire from his opponents.
“Once you get into the lead, which, you know, kind of happened about a month ago, you realize what happens in politics is that everybody starts attacking you, so I’ve become, as I’ll laughingly say, everybody’s piñata,” Hovde said. “I’ve had Mark Neumann have negative ads, plus his Washington, D.C., group, the Club for Growth, and I’ve had Gov. Thompson throw out one, and now, sadly, he’s formed some shadow group ... out of Washington, D.C., that’s coming in and launching a big negative campaign, making up, in some cases, just complete utter falsehoods and lies.”
Even the Democratic Party has been going after him, Hovde said, though the general election campaign has yet to start.
“So, as they say, I guess I’m everybody’s piñata right now,” he said.
That said, the attacks haven’t stopped Hovde from a sharp prosecution of the nation’s current policies. He continued his critique in an interview with this newspaper.
“First of all, we are truly heading to an economic collapse within another two to four years,” Hovde said. “I thought Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles of the Bowles-Simpson Commission said it best three weeks ago, being interviewed on CNBC. They said it is the most predictable crisis of our lifetime.”
And if the nation barrels off the cliff, Hovde said, it will have a devastating impact on American society.
“And, yet, Washington sits silently and does nothing about it,” he said. “So, I think there’s a number of things that we have to do. One: We have to rein in our spending. It is restricting the flow of investment concerning the private sector, and I ask everybody to put your own cap on as an investor. If you have a bunch of money, are you going to go out and make a big investment, build a factory, hire a bunch of employees if you think the federal government is going to fail in the next two to fours years?”
The answer is no, Hovde continued, because the investment is going to get wiped out.
“That’s what’s happening in Spain,” he said. “That’s what happening in Greece, Portugal. You can run right through the litany of the European countries. We have to change our spending habits and get control of our deficit to give confidence that the federal government will not hit the wall and go off this financial cliff.”
Because cutting spending will put a short-term weight on economic growth, Hovde said, real pro-growth policies must be enacted.
“First one, our tax code,” he said. “America right now spends an estimated $160 billion to $300 billion a year in tax preparation. It’s absurd. That’s 1 to almost 2 percent of GDP. For most Americans, it’s far too complicated. I’m considered a financial expert, and yet I need a lot of assistance preparing my taxes.”
Hovde said the tax code also dis-incentivizes companies from building factories in the United States.
“We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world at 35 percent,” he said. “Canada has a corporate tax rate below 20 percent. We have a higher rate than any socialist country, any Latin American country, any Asian country. Communist China has a 25 percent corporate tax rate.”
Capital, he said, moves based on two factors.
“One, the cost of production, so you’ve got labor, price of goods, all the rest, and tax environment,” Hovde said. “We have made ourselves the least-competitive environment for having capital investment in our country to build factories and hire employees. So, my belief is we need to lower our tax rate and get rid of all these corporate welfare programs where giant businesses can buy off politicians and distort our total tax code.”
Put yourself in a small technology company’s position, he continued.
“You’re trying to be the next Apple,” he said. “How do you compete when you’re being taxed at 35 percent, and Apple is being taxed at, last year, 9 percent? Or a small company competing against one of General Electric’s divisions, where there are years General Electric pays nothing in tax, and you’re paying 35 percent.
“It is small and medium-size businesses that create jobs. Giant companies fire as many people as they hire every year as they drive toward efficiency.”
Regulatory reform is also a critical element in Hovde’s approach.
“People forget that the very first thing that President Reagan did when he took office in his first year was push for deregulation,” Hovde said. “My father, who was the highest-ranking Republican official from Wisconsin in the Reagan Administration, his first task as an undersecretary was to go in front of Congress and explain how massive regulations —and I mean massive regulations — had just become absurd.
“It was 1981, and he was talking about it in regard to housing, how they had regulations on how gas-lit lamps had to be used in apartment complexes. I mean, you’re in 1981; there are no gas-lit lamps anymore.”
Today, Hovde said, 81,000 pages of regulations cost the private sector $1.8 trillion. According to a Gallup poll, Hovde said, 46 percent of small businesses said they were not hiring, period, because of excessive regulation.
“So, I think if we can reform our tax code, create a fair, simpler tax system, get our rates down across the board to make us competitive, and then at the same time deregulate our economy, I think we could see a real boom in the private sector and get our private-sector economy growing.,” Hovde said.
Like his opponents, Hovde stresses the need for entitlement reform, but there are points of departure. For example, he sees Social Security as more of a danger than does Tommy Thompson.
“We’ve been talking about it for 30 years, more than 30 years,” Hovde said. Why? Because in 1946, the baby boom generation was first born. It’s now 2012, which means they have turned 65, which means they start accessing all that money that they’ve put in there; it starts reversing.”
Hovde said Social Security will be cash-flow negative by 2015.
“What we need to do, in my view, is change the retirement age for everybody under the age of 50 by two years, everybody under the age of 40 by two more years, and everybody under the age of 30 by one more year,” he said. “Here’s the reality: Social Security was put in place in the mid-1930s by President Roosevelt. Retirement age was 65. Life expectancy was 62. So, on average, people died three years before they even received the benefits.”
That’s not true today, he said.
“In 2012, retirement age is 65. Life expectancy is 79. The math doesn’t work,” Hovde said. “I believe what we need to do is, means testing. That means somebody like me who has been economically successful in life and doesn’t need Social Security to live on in my retirement years, lose my Social Security.
“Now, I know some people may not like that. But folks, everybody has to make their sacrifice. It’s that simple.”
As for Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare, the first step is to completely repeal the federal health care law, Hovde said.
“The two sectors with the highest rates of inflation in our economy the last 30 years have been higher education and health care,” he said. “Why? Ever-increasing government involvement. Sixty cents on every dollar spent in our health-care sector comes from federal or state government. The more government’s involved, the more inflation we’ve had.”
And along with that is massive fraud, Hovde said.
It is estimated now that fraud could reach up to $1 trillion in the health-care sector, he said. Out of $100 billion spent on home health care in 2006 year, Hovde said, 68 percent of it was fraud, according to a GAO study.
“I always say, you know, our federal government never manages anything well,” he said. “Why do we think they’re going to manage what is now the second-largest sector in our economy? And as we get older, it will become the largest sector in our economy. So, I believe we need to move back and get people shopping for their health-care needs and their health insurance, just like they do for everything else in their life.”
Hovde said the health-care system is broken because it is not well managed.
“There’s no incentive to control cost,” he said. “So, we have to change the whole way we’re doing it. With Medicaid, we should make it just block-grant payments to states, and say, you figure it out, and you have to start focusing on controlling costs.”
Fundamentally, Hovde said, government needs to shrink out of its role in the health-care system. That said, he continued, the government can play an important role for those people that are economically struggling.
“We know there are two giant cost drivers in health care other than fraud,” Hovde said. “One is end-of-life care, and the other is chronic disease. So, for those people that are economically struggling, I think we can use the Premium Support Plan. Paul Ryan’s talked a lot about it. They could focus on those major events, catastrophic-care events in life.”
Hovde said all agency spending, as well as agency consolidation and elimination, should be on the table.
“Here’s my view on how to deal with our spending,” he said. “We have 1,300 different agencies in our federal government. I’d ask three basic questions. Question 1: Is the mission still relevant of this agency? Now, many people would laugh at that and say, of course, they’re relevant. Well, no, a lot of agencies are not relevant still today.
The second question is, are there multiple agencies dealing with this task?
“Well, our government is so littered with multiplication, so many agencies focused on the same thing,” he said. “As a community banker, I have to deal with three different regulatory agencies, sometimes a fourth, and quite often one’s telling me to do one thing, another is telling me to do the exact opposite. Or, here’s the best one of all: we have 47 different agencies of the federal government involved in job training. Now, as I often say, I’ve never seen the federal government do a good job in job training, period. Why do we need 47 different agencies involved?”
The last question to be asked, Hovde said, is, are the agencies doing their job in a cost-effective manner?
“I think we know the answer to that with all the scandals,” he said. “GSA was probably the most prominent scandal that came out. But it also revolves around the whole budgeting process. Government gets allocated money at the beginning of the year. They operate on a Sept. 30 fiscal year. And as they move throughout the year, if they are actually spending less money than planned into July, August and September, they don’t go, ‘Oh, let’s send the money back to taxpayers or pay down our debt.’
“What they do is go, ‘Oh, we’ve got extra money, let’s just go spend it all on, oh, new computers, even though we may have bought them two years ago, or a new automobile fleet, or a new this or a new that.’ There is no incentive to control spending.”
Hovde said politicians have been talking about energy independence for 40 years and still nothing happens. That has to change, he said.
“Last year, we had a $556 billion trade deficit, and 59 percent of that was tied to one commodity, oil,” Hovde said. “So, therefore, our trade deficit last year just for oil was $392 billion. And now that’s not just a trade deficit; that’s a current-account deficit. What does the current-account deficit mean? It means it’s a wealth transference from Americans to other foreign countries, and many of them not our friends in the Middle East.”
Hove said he finds it appalling that we’re in this position.
“If you’re the country of Japan and you have a big economy and no natural resources, you could maybe understand it, but we’re the United States of America,” he said. “We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. We have 270 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in our own ground. It’s cleaner. It’s more efficient. It’s more effective. We could run our entire economy for 100 years on natural gas. We have a trillion barrels of oil shale.”
North Dakota is booming right now, Hovde said, because they are fracking and drilling for oil shale and natural gas on private land.
“We have so restricted our lands, our private lands and our public lands,” he said. “I believe we have to free up drilling and fracking right here in our country, and my response to the environmentalists, because, you know, I love the outdoors, I’m an outdoors guy; I want a clean environment. But my response to them is, when they say, ‘Oh, this will hurt the environment,’ I say, are you kidding me? We live on a small globe called the planet Earth. We just had a pier wash up on our Oregon shores from the tsunami that happened in Japan.
“So, if you have an oil spill off of Nigeria, Russia, the Middle East where there’s no oversight, no environmental laws, eventually it’ll come over to our shores and wash ashore. So, if you’re going to have drilling and fracking, I would much rather have it done here in the United States where we have environmental laws, we have oversight, and where we can keep our wealth right here in this country and create an enormous economic boom, instead of sending American’s money overseas all the time.”
Hovde said policies of the Federal Reserve also affect gas prices.
“Last year, 61 percent of all treasury debt issued was bought by the Federal Reserve,” he said. “What is that? It’s money printing, and you can see it play out in all our basic necessities and basic commodities. Look at food prices, sugar, cocoa beans, coffee beans, wheat, corn; you can just look at all of them — what they’ve done since that was announced. Look at every base metal price — copper, tin, aluminum, nickel, and what they’ve done. Oil. When they expanded quantitative easing, oil was at $31 a barrel. By the end of it, it was $75 a barrel.
“When they announced QE2, it went from $75 a barrel to $110 a barrel. ... And the best way to show what quantitative easing is doing and how it’s devaluing the dollar is bench it against gold. Gold has always been the best way to price the currency. And gold has gone from $400 an ounce to $1,600 an ounce as they’ve done quantitative easing. So, guys, we have to deal with the Federal Reserve, as well.”
Finally. Hovde said, energy subsidies should end.
“It’s absurd,” he said. “That’s why I say we should get rid of all corporate welfare. What they put in is the drilling subsidy back onto it. The price of oil collapsed down to about $14 a barrel in the ’90s, and we were worried that it would destroy production. We have $92 a barrel of oil. You know, we’ve been above $20-something a barrel of oil for a long, long time. We’re at $92. They don’t need one red cent.”
Hovde said the federal role in education should be limited, and he said he would argue for dismantling the Department of Education.
“Why should we tax people in our local community, send their money to Washington, D.C., where Washington takes off a big chunk of money, and then bureaucrats tell us how to educate our kids in our community, just like how kids in Chicago or Miami or L.A. should be educated,” he said. “This is a complete case where it’s much better done at the community level and keeping the money here and not just spending it on a giant bureaucracy in Washington.”
Finally, Hovde said, voters should consider him because he has the experience to deal with the ongoing economic crisis.
“Look, we’re dealing with an economic crisis, and if you developed a brain tumor, what do you want? You want to go find the best brain surgeon,” he said. “We’re dealing with an economic crisis. I’ve spent my life in the private sector, building companies, turning around companies, and the global financial markets. I understand these issues inside and out.
“Secondly, you’ve got to look at the motivation, the heart of the man. I’m not in politics to spend the rest of my life. I would shudder at that thought. In fact, the first thing I signed was the term-limit pledge. I believe we need to get back to citizen legislators, people that view it as a service to go serve their country, work on their country’s behalf, put the country first, instead of their own political careers. That’s what I’m looking to do.”
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Tea Party support, Neumann makes late charge
Former congressman says he’s the true conservative in the GOP Senate race
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
The perceived rap on Mark Neumann is that he can’t win a statewide race, but that hasn’t hurt the former congressman’s grassroots support or his fundraising, and, with the endorsement of a major Tea Party group, he has been surging of late in the polls.
Neumann says that is because he is the true conservative in the race and because people understand he has the business experience and Washington knowledge needed to change things.
“I’ve been 30 years in business, so I’ve got the business background and experience,” Neumann said. “We’ve created hundreds of Wisconsin jobs, about 450 this year alone. So, I’ve got that experience behind me as we start this discussion.
“But I also have the experience of having served in Washington through four years in the United States House of Representatives, and while I was there, we solved a problem similar to the one we have today. When I went into Congress, we had massive deficits, growing debts, and we understood that we needed to balance the federal budget, and that that, in fact, would lead to a growing economy.”
Today, Neumann said, the federal government is borrowing $1.3 trillion out of the private sector every year.
“I would like your readers to think about it for a second,” he continued. “If the government does not borrow that $1.3 trillion out of the private sector, that money is now available in the private sector for businesses and entrepreneurs to borrow, to use to go and expand their business and create jobs.
“So, if we can balance the federal budget, it will lead us to, by cutting government spending, it will lead to more money available in the private sector, and that money will be put to work for purposes of job growth and economic development.”
That’s not an abstract theory, Neumann said.
“It is something we did before when I was in Washington for those four years,” he said. “When I came out of D.C., we had a boom in the economy. We inherited a mess like we have today, and when I came out, our economy was booming because we had balanced the budget by cutting spending, we had cut taxes, (and) then the economy created jobs.”
Neumann said the Federal Reserve Board needs to be audited, and he said he opposes new stimulus by the board.
“The federal government should not be in the business of doing these things to our economy,” Neumann said. “It doesn’t work. When the federal government spends less and balances the budget, there’s more money available in the private sector. The opposite is also true. When we try to solve our economic problems in America by government intervention, and that’s really what you’re talking about here, you’re taking away the free-market system.
“The free-market system has to be allowed to work, and the government has to get out of the way.”
Entitlement reform, health care
Neumann praised Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed Pathway to Prosperity plan.
“Paul Ryan has done a phenomenal job of calling to the attention of this nation that many of the programs, entitlement programs, that many people rely on are not sustainable, long-term events,” he said.
As for Medicare, Neumann said President Barack Obama had taken $500 million out of the system for the new health care law.
“So for Medicare, the first step to restoring Medicare is eliminating the Obamacare bill, because that will put $500 billion immediately back to the ... system,” he said. “Social Security is in a crisis mode today, and the reason it is in crisis mode is because the money that was supposed to be set aside to preserve and protect Social Security in a trust fund has, in fact, been spent on other government programs.
“The problem we have is that when we need to go to that trust fund to get the money back, it’s been spent, and there’s nothing there but IOUs or non-negotiable Treasury Bonds, and we are in debt up to our eyeballs.”
Neumann said there is $2.6 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund and that it will grow over the next 10 years to $3.6 trillion.
“Then the problem is that they have to be able to pay that debt back in order to actually start and maintain the Social Security system,” he said. “So, in our budget plan, if you take a good look at it, we not only balance it in five years, we look past the five-year point and we lay out a plan to pay off America’s debt over a 30-year period of time, much as a homeowner would pay off a 30-year mortgage.
“The significance of that is part of the debt we’d repay is the Social Security Trust Fund.”
As for Obamacare, Neumann said he is the only candidate in the race who actually generated 25,000 signatures on petitions to overturn the law.
“We want to get the doctors and the patients back in charge of medicine again, as opposed to the federal government,” he said. “So, step one is, let’s get the government out, and let’s get the doctors and the patients practicing best medical practices to start in the right direction.”
Neumann said he would vote to place caps on unintentional malpractice insurance claims, and he would allow employers and people to shop for insurance across state lines to increase cost-effectiveness. He also supports the expansion of Health Savings Accounts, which he said he has used in his own business,
“We’ve found in our business — and what we do is we provide a $3,000 deductible policy for our folks, to our employees, and then we deposit $3,000 into a bank account that’s their money,” Neumann said. “So what that does is, when they go to a doctor or think about going to the doctor, that re-instills the free-market system, because they are asking themselves, am I willing to spend my own money to go and have a procedure done?”
Neumann said he is opposed to energy subsidies that favor certain industries over others.
“Subsidies are a removal of the free-market system,” he said. “So, let me start on an energy policy and where I would go. I would like to see an energy policy that in five years from today we are not buying any oil from any country that hates us. First off, I certainly would have built a pipeline, and I would hope that by the time Mitt Romney is president, we can still get that pipeline built from Canada to import that oil here to the U.S., instead of over to China.”
Neumann said he would encourage drilling as much as possible, and he would like to look at the rules and regulations that are slowing drilling, both on-shore and offshore.
“We see going on in North Dakota a dramatic change in how we obtain energy, and the resources there are not phenomenally great,” he said. “So, I would go down the road of, how do we make sure that we are much more self sufficient five years from today, and I would want the free-market system to work, as opposed to government intervening and picking the winners and the losers.”
Neumann says if the free market is allowed to work, America can become self-sufficient.
“We’re finding that natural gas is much more cost-effective to power virtually everything, vehicles for example, than oil is,” he said. “And I think over the course of time, we will see that, because it is so much more cost-effective, if we allow the market to work, that you’ll see a dramatic change in how we power our vehicles.”
Neumann said he has identified more than 150 line items where federal spending can be cut, and education is one of them.
“Education should not be run by the federal government,” he said. “It should be run by the local folks, the parents and the community, and parents should have an opportunity to switch (where) they send their kids to school, whether it be a choice or a charter school.”
Neumann says he has hands-on experience with 1,600 kids in a school system that is made up of choice and charter schools.
“We have five schools — we’ll have seven next year — and those schools are located in every case next door to or very close to a failing public school, and what we’ve found is that we can provide an education to these kids next to the failing public schools that out-performs national averages on standardized testing and, equally important, we’re doing it at about half the cost of public education,” Neumann said. “I want to see as many different opportunities that we can possibly have for parents to make the choice of which school they go to based on what’s best for them. If it’s a public school, that’s great. I have absolutely nothing against public schools. I was a public school teacher.”
As for federal involvement in education, though, Neumann said he very much believes in the Constitution.
“I see nothing in the Constitution that empowers the federal government to be involved in education,” he said.
Neumann says he supports legislation that would require an affirmative vote by Congress before a regulation can be enacted.
“When you look at these rules and regulations, and I again refer to the Constitution, it just seems to me that they’ve got many rules and regulations in place that they have no authority, under the Constitution, to put in place,” Neumann said. “So, I would be one that looks very hard at rolling it back.
“I’m the only candidate in this race that has had hands-on experience in the business world creating Wisconsin jobs and has had to deal on the front lines with these rules and regulations that you’re talking about. We are in home building. We also do the land development where we build our houses. And I deal with all sorts of different things, everywhere from the Army Corps of Engineers to the EPA to all of the governing bodies at various levels.”
Frankly, he said, it’s a nightmare.
“If they would just tell us what they wanted to do,” he said. “We care about the environment. We want to do it the right way. But because there are so many different government rules and regulations, it’s just disastrous. We’ve also been involved with banking to the extent that we’re homebuilders, a client that borrows from a bank, and we, of course, borrow it on our business. The banking nightmare, the additional rules and regulations — I’ve seen what it has done to our bank and our banking relationships, and it’s disastrous.”
Simply put, he said, the federal government needs to be reeled in.
“It is way too big, and it’s too out of control,” he said. “We need to have a smaller government that is more focused on people taking personal responsibility for themselves and their lives.”
When it comes to taxes, Neumann supports simpler, fairer and lower rates.
“I would close loopholes and use the revenues generated by closing those loopholes to lower the rates across the board for everyone,” Neumann said. “Our tax system, like much of government, is so far out of control today that it just needs to be changed dramatically to a point where people can understand what they’re paying in taxes again.”
When anybody proposes a tax change, Neumann said he would look at a lot of different ideas, but he would want to know if, at the end of the day, after the change has been implemented, does the federal government have more of the people’s money or do people have more of their own money.
“If a tax-code change results in the federal government having more of the people’s money or more revenue, I will oppose it,” Neumann said. “So, that’s kind of the starting point for me. Does it raise taxes?”
Neumann said he is very concerned about surrendering the nation’s sovereignty to the United Nations.
“Agenda 21 is something that is being pushed on us, and I would fight back against it in every way, shape, or form,” he said. “One of the reasons we got the Tea Party endorsement that we did is they understand that I’m very committed to our Constitution, and I’m very opposed to things like Agenda 21, which is the involvement of the U.N. in telling us what to do.
“We are a nation governed by our Constitution, not governed by the United Nations, and we should not be involved in having the United Nations tell us what to do.”
Neumann also said he is committed to Second Amendment rights.
“The Second Amendment to our Constitution guarantees us the right to bear arms, and I would be very reluctant to do anything that violates our Constitution,” he said. “I’m answering a lot of these with the Constitution, but, after all, the first step in my vision to turn America around is restoring our federal government to the principles that were given to us by our Founding Fathers in that Constitution. So, a lot of what I do returns back to the Constitution.”
In asking voters to support him, Neumann again stresses his business experience.
“I go back to the resume, I think it’s the most important reason,” he said. “I’ve spent 30 years creating jobs in Wisconsin, meeting a payroll, creating jobs for plumbers and electricians and roofers, all the people involved with building a house.
“Along with that 30 years experience, much like Ron Johnson, in the private sector here in Wisconsin, I was in Congress for four years. We faced massive deficits and a declining economy when I went in, in the 1990s, much like we have today. We fought every day of the week, but when I left four years later, we had a balanced budget, we had cut taxes, and our economy was restored.”
Richard Moore may be reached at email@example.com.
Fitzgerald says he’s the battle-tested Republican
Speaker wants to shake up the status quo
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
He’s lagged in fundraising and in the polls, but U.S. Senate candidate and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald says he’s the battle-tested candidate, having stood tough while leading the Assembly during last year’s collective bargaining reforms.
“When you look at this primary, there’s four of us running, and I know the other three guys are all very good guys,” Fitzgerald said. “I think the difference with me is that what you see is what you get.
“I’ve just been through a lot in the past year and a half, and you know, I’m a battle-tested conservative, and I think people know that I’m going to stay the course when I say I’m going to stay the course.”
Along with his brother, then-Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and Gov. Scott Walker, Fitzgerald said he made the tough decision to change the system.
“We were the three guys that sat in that room and said, ‘You know what, we can’t just go along with the status quo anymore; we’re going to have to make some bold and significant changes here, and we know it’s going to be very difficult and very hard, but in the end, we’re going to get this state back on the right track.’”
Fitzgerald said it was a difficult decision to give up his legislative seat and the powerful position of speaker.
“I believe I have the most skin in the game by giving up my job to run for this United States Senate seat, but, you know, it means that much to me,” he said. “I ran for the Legislature to try to get this state back on the right track, and now I think it’s time to get our country back on the right track.
“So, if you’re looking for somebody to go out there and be a part of the U.S. Senate club, I’m probably not the guy for you. But, if you’re looking for somebody to go out there and fight the way I just fought to get Wisconsin back on the right track, then I’m going to need your support.”
Fitzgerald says he opposes another round of stimulus action by the Federal Reserve Board and would focus on cutting tax rates.
“Quantitative easing, I think, is the absolute wrong direction to go right now, because we’re not really getting to the crux of the problem, and what the problem is that we’ve seen in a global market now, and especially with the United States, is that we’re no longer competitive in that global market,” Fitzgerald said. “When you look at tax rates, we’re now the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world at 35 percent. It’s very tough to grow an economy when you have high tax rates.”
Regulatory reform is another necessity, he said.
“There has been so much uncertainty when it comes to the Obama administration, especially what he has been able to do through the executive orders, that it really has put a burden — and I think I saw this as speaker of the state Assembly, as well — when it came to businesses in Wisconsin that were looking to expand or grow, that uncertainty that’s out there really is hurting our economy.”
Fitzgerald said entitlement reform was absolutely crucial, and he likened federal reform to the collective bargaining reforms undertaken in Wisconsin.
“I think you have to look at entitlement reform on a national level,” he said. “That’s how you get to balancing a budget. It’s unsustainable, the course we’re on right now, and when you really look at it, and look at Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and the interest on our debt, by the middle of the next decade, every dollar coming into the federal government will have to go for just those four programs.”
Adding the new federal health care law into the mix — what Fitzgerald calls the largest entitlement ever — and it’s all unsustainable, he says.
“When you look at Medicare and when you look at Social Security, I think you just have to tell people the truth, and that’s the real thing that we did here in Wisconsin,” he said. “You know, you have to have the political courage to take on some of these third-rail issues that are out there.”
Without such reform, Fitzgerald said, the United States will before too long resemble Europe.
“I think you have to make those tough choices,” Fitzgerald said. “People from my generation, to tell you the truth, a lot of us don’t believe Social Security will be there when we retire, so if you have to look at an age fix or, you know, from 65 to 67, you have to make these programs solvent again. We can’t just keep going back to the taxpayers and saying, ‘You know what? We need to raise taxes again; we need to, just ask you to do more because we know that we’re heading for that financial and economic cliff’”
Reforming entitlements is the key to getting this country back on the right track again, he said.
From a Medicare perspective, bringing consumerism back into the health care field is what we need to do,” Fitzgerald said. “In the state of Wisconsin here, we finally got health savings accounts passed this last go-round, which really is a different mentality, because it brings consumerism back into health care. I don’t believe that I want the government or an insurance company making health-care decisions for me, and I just don’t believe in the use-it or lose-it mentality that I have insurance.”
Instead, he added, people should be in control of their own heath care and their own budgets.
“Say you have an employer that would take and have that family plan and put that $1,200 a month into your account, that account is now yours, if you switch jobs or whatever, you have the choice of that, and it puts you in charge,” he said.
The big problem in health care is not access, Fitzgerald said, but cost.
Fitzgerald said the health care law needs to be replaced with a market-driven approach.
“You don’t want a government top-down approach to health care,” he said. “ I think we see this even here in Wisconsin. Badger Care got started a number of years ago and was first put in place to have children who didn’t have insurance coverage, and then it went to the parents of those children, so on and so forth, now, moving to adults that are in their parents’ home.”
The point is, he said, all government systems just keep growing, no matter what, and that’s what scares him about the health care law.
“It’d be an entitlement that keeps growing and growing, and I really think you have to replace it with market-driven approaches, with wellness approaches that are going to really drive the cost down on health care, because that’s what people are looking for,” he said. “They’re looking to have affordable health care and be able to make their own choices.”
The national debt
Overall, Fitzgerald said, the national debt must be capped.
“The real debt problem we have is that 40 cents on almost every dollar of our debt in this country is from foreign countries, primarily China, and probably Russia quite a bit, and there’s going to be a point in time where those countries are going to say, ‘You know what, we don’t know if we want to hold your debt anymore,’” Fitzgerald said. “I can tell you, when they say, ‘OK, we’re going to flood that bond market, and we don’t want this debt anymore,’ that is going to drive interest rates in this country to the roof and put us at a real disadvantage.”
There’s only one way to take care of debt, Fitzgerald said, and that is through spending cuts.
“We don’t have a taxing problem in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We have a spending problem. And when you look at the figures that are coming out — $1.4 trillion deficit spending by President Obama in this last year — we’re heading toward that cliff, that if we don’t get on it soon, it’s going to be too late to get back.
“Credit card spending is out of control. If we don’t cut up that credit card soon, this country, within two or three years, could be on the brink of what’s going on over in Europe.”
Fitzgerald said he will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.
“I think that’s part of the problem of kicking that can down the road,” he said. “We did it here at the state level, and, I’ll tell you, Republicans and Democrats were both guilty of it when it came to budgets. We didn’t want to make those tough choices, because we knew politically it was going to be tough to make those.
“I think that kind of a debt ceiling argument is the same way, that we said, ‘All right, we’re $3.6 billion in the hole, we’re going to balance this budget, and we’re going to do it without raising taxes.’”
He said the same argument is true for the debt ceiling.
“If you just keep going back and making the easy choice of, let’s raise that debt ceiling each time, I don’t think you’re getting to the crux of the problem, and I don’t think you can turn this around,” Fitzgerald said. “And let’s face it, I mean this is all about putting confidence back in the market for consumers and for people ... and I think that’s the real problem that we’re seeing, and such policies that have been put in place, like Dodd-Frank and tightening up the credit market. There is no confidence out there in people who really want to grow our economy right now.”
Fitzgerald said regulatory reform is a serious subject, and, again, he drew upon his own experience in the Wisconsin Legislature.
“I’m very familiar with this, because being in the Legislature and serving while (Democrat) Jim Doyle was governor, boy, talk about a guy who got around the Legislature by using his executive powers,” he said. “I think we’re seeing the same with the Obama administration. So, you know what? You have to rein that in. You have to argue the separation of powers here that both Congress and the Legislature both should have a say-so in what goes on.”
Fitzgerald said he believes Democrats in Congress and on the state level are taking their regulatory orders from extreme environmental groups.
“A perfect example was the mining legislation we had here,” he said. “I think you could tie that into the national issue of the Keystone Oil pipeline. Here, we’re talking about two projects that were going to create, ... a thousand jobs, a billion-and-a-half dollars of economic activity, and yet every Democrat in the state voted against that because they wanted to side with the people, the environmentalists, that were driving the regulatory on certain projects.”
It’s the same with the Keystone Pipeline, he said.
“These are thousands of union jobs that you would think Democrats would be behind, but I think that’s the fight that we have here,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it also leads us into the energy debate that we’re having right now. You’ve got a state like North Dakota that has natural gas and oil and is drilling and virtually sees no unemployment right now, and a state that is bleeding with economic activity that, you know, we have to start taking the right steps.
“I’m not saying we’re not safe environmentally, but there’s a line you have to walk there, and, unfortunately, I think it has been shifted too far to the environmental groups right now for us to really have any economic activity and really show some job growth.”
Simplying the tax code
Fitzgerald believes the tax code is too complex.
“I think we should take the corporate tax rate to about 25 percent, a flat tax rate,” he said. “I think when it comes to individuals, if you make anywhere from 0-$50,000 as an individual, you have a flat tax rate of 10 percent. If you are a married couple, 0-$100,000, you have a flat tax rate of 10 percent. Anybody above that, I’d use a flat tax rate of 25 percent. “
Eliminating loopholes, combined with his flat tax idea, would put more money in the coffers, he said.
“That’s the problem with our tax code,” Fitzgerald said. “I think you got to the crux of it, that there are too many special interests that have gotten exemptions over the year for certain things, and it really shifts that tax burden around. ... Wouldn’t it be nice to just get a postcard, fill it out, and turn in your taxes and be able to do it in 10 minutes?”
On education, Fitzgerald believes in competition and choice, and he said he has worked through the years to expand the voucher program in Wisconsin.
“Obviously, school-choice movement here in Wisconsin has been a very strong movement,” he said. I’ve been a big part of that. You know, we lifted the caps here in Wisconsin, we expanded school choice this year down into the Racine area. You know, I think competition is good in education, and when we look at it from a federal level, I always think education is better done at the local level, and probably could be better done controlled from more of a tax-amendment perspective of state’s rights from the state level.”
School choice has expanded educational opportunities for the disadvantaged, he said.
“We’ve seen it work here in the state of Wisconsin, especially when it comes to graduation rates and then going on to college,” Fitzgerald said. “So, you know, it really has let a lot of kids, primarily from the inner city of Milwaukee, have a chance to get out of a school system that has been failing them for years.
“You know, often people think that throwing money at the problem is the answer, but it really isn’t. It’s really about changing the whole structure of it, and I think school choice has helped with that.”
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
12th State Senate
‘Lack of focus’ in Madison prompts Theo’s run
Tomahawk Dem on Tuesday’s primary ballot
By Joe VanDeLaarschot
of The Lakeland Times
Tomahawk resident Lisa Theo said the “bickering” and “lack of focus” in Madison prompted her to run for Wisconsin’s open 12th Senate District seat.
Theo and fellow Democrat Susan Sommer will square off in Tuesday’s primary election. They are looking to replace Democrat Jim Holperin of Conover, who is not running for re-election. The winner will face state Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, in the November general election.
Theo, an instructor in the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Geography and Geology Department, said she believes she’s the best candidate for the job because of her well-rounded background.
“I am a wife, mother, a sister, a daughter, so I have all of those things pulling me in different directions, but they are also the things that are reminding me that there are things that need to change in our political system right now,” Theo said. “Like many people, I’m a little disappointed in the way people are acting in Madison and in Washington right now.
“(There’s) a lot of bickering — not getting a lot done to help those that are struggling right now. There’s a lack of focus on jobs and real legislation that could make a difference with people. That compelled me to run. People are struggling right now.”
Varied life experiences
She’s taught for 12 years, first at UW-Eau Claire and then Stevens Point.
“Before that, I was a manager of women’s clothing stores for about seven years. I was also in food service,” Theo said. “I’ve also started two home businesses, one of which was when I could not find good child care. I started my own home child-care business, and I know there’s many families out there that are struggling with that same issue of where to find good, responsible, safe child care.
In her other business, she added, “I designed original wedding attire and constructed it as well.”
“That was a wonderful job for me to have when my children were young and I could stay with them and work around their schedules,” she said.
Act 10 impact
When the Legislature approved the controversial Act 10, which eliminated most collective bargaining for most public employees, it hurt more than it helped, she said.
“Looking back now, I don’t see the positives that were touted by the governor and the Republican Party,” she said. “What I have seen are people who are looking for second jobs to help sustain their standard of living or to just pay their basic expenses. What we need right now are people who are growing the economy and to do that they have to have disposable income.
“What has happened with ACT 10 is that we have reduced people’s wages fundamentally, and they are not putting money into our restaurants and into our small businesses and growing the economy.”
State pension fund
Given the growing cost of public-employee pension obligations in Wisconsin, some people are suggesting the state implement a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan for new employees, rather than the current defined-benefit plan.
“My opinion is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, and boy, this one sure ain’t broke,” she said. “I mean the fact that these reports show that (the state’s pension system is) one of the strongest, if not the strongest one, in the nation says we’re doing something right here, and if we switch over to an optional or a 401(k)-based program, we’re going to weaken that whole structure. It’s going to be too much of a risk.”
A boost for the state’s economy
Theo said one of the first things she will do in the Senate to help create jobs is work to increase the number of small-business loans that are issued.
“I have a friend who would be considered quite wealthy who told me he is having trouble getting a loan from a bank to start a new business,” she said. “He could start it himself right now but he’s going through the traditional method. If our wealthy and our people with really good credit ratings cannot get loans from our banks right now, something is wrong. We have to fix this, so opening up more small-business loans is going to be the first thing I’m going to advocate for ...”
Theo said Wisconsin leaders also need to look to the past to develop successful programs that put people back to work.
“Another thing we might want to do is think a little more creatively like we did back in the ’30s by creating the CCC and Works Progress Administration,” she said. “They knew back then that we had to get taxpayers back in the system and you know making that investment up front, knowing that money would be coming back to us by putting that money back into our communities is critical.”
State mining laws
Theo believes Wisconsin has “fabulous mining laws right now.”
Theo said she’s not opposed to all mining, but that it should be done in the most environmentally responsible way possible. She opposed Republican efforts in March to streamline mine permitting. The new law was sought by an iron ore-mining company that wanted to establish an open-pit mine in Iron and Ashland counties. The legislation failed, and the company has since said it is no longer interested in the site.
“There’s nothing wrong with the laws we have right now,” Theo said. “There’s no reason we have to do this so quickly if that risk is still there. Our laws say right now that you have to prove that a similar mine has operated safely for 10 years and has been closed for 10 years and then you can get a permit. We don’t need to move forward until they can prove that.
“I’m a little disappointed in my county board members in Oneida County by their looking at the town of Lynne site for mining right now. Have these mining companies right now prove to us that they followed those laws. Right now, they’re not admitting to any of this, and the reason is because they are waiting until the end of this election cycle, hoping we get new people in so they can change the law. That’s wrong.”
Deer management and DNR
Theo said she read the executive summary but not the entire deer-management report issued by deer czar James Kroll.
“The key thing we need to do for all of our wildlife resources is to make sure we have an independent, functioning DNR,” she said. “What we’ve done over the past couple of years by appointing the DNR secretary by the governor means that he’s going to give it to his political cronies — people that don’t have expertise in the area and that is wrong.
“We need to make sure the DNR is independent of our government and can really do what’s best for our wildlife, our citizens and the state.”
Theo said Tiffany was a little “reactionary” when, immediately after the report was issued, he called for the elimination of the DNR’s big-game management unit.
“I think that’s laughable, compared to how he’s been a rubber stamp for everything the governor has done in the last 18 months,” Theo said. “I think it’s just interesting that he chooses now as he’s running for the state Senate to step aside from the governor. That’s the first time he’s stepped away from the lockstep of the governor’s actions.”
Affordable Care Act
Theo said it’s irresponsible for Walker not to implement the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“It’s especially irresponsible at a time like this when people are hurting — if they’re struggling to find decent jobs, struggling to feed their families, wondering if they’re going to have a roof over their heads,” she said. “The last thing they need to worry about is whether or not they can afford to go to the doctor if they’re sick or injured. I think it’s horrifically irresponsible and I think he should rethink this immediately or be forced to rethink this.”
Most important issue
Job creation, she said, is the key to an economically healthy Northwoods.
“We’re not going to get out of this economic slowdown, until we get people putting more money back into the economy,” Theo said. “That’s how our capitalist system works, and this is a global issue right now. We’re not going to fix it overnight, but we have to start by getting workers out there, and that goes back to small-business loans and making sure we have broadband (Internet access) up here in the Northwoods.
“We can entice those who have a little bit more money to invest to come up here,” she added. “Even on our weekends — or people who come for a couple of weeks in the summer — if some of those business leaders don’t have access to their smart phones and computers everyday, they’re not going to want to stay up here. It’s not going to be extended stays.”
Another problem, she said, is that legislators from Madison and Milwaukee don’t understand the issues or challenges faced by the people of the Northwoods.
“We’re ignored,” Theo said. “If you live north of Highway 29, they just don’t care.”
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at email@example.com.
Mining controversy spurs Sommer's run
Rhinelander native opposes streamlined mine permitting
By Joe VanDeLaarschot
of The Lakeland Times
Susan Sommer of Phelps decided to run for Wisconsin’s 12th Senate District seat during the recent debate over mining legislation that ultimately failed in the state Legislature.
Sommer, who’s running in Tuesday’s Democratic primary against Lisa Theo of Tomahawk, said other issues also are important to her, but an attempt by Republicans in March to pass legislation that would streamline mine permitting prompted her to run for an elected office for the first time in her life.
“I’ve never done anything political and didn’t move back to Wisconsin with the intention to run for office,” said Sommer, a 1978 Rhinelander High School graduate. “I started researching (mining) in May 2011. It was interesting to me from the perspective of being an attorney — as far as the process of trying to change a law.
“I was also interested because I got to know the Penokee Range (in Iron and Ashland counties) and it is really quite an amazing place.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will face state Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, in the November general election. The seat currently is held by Democrat Jim Holperin of Conover, who is not seeking re-election.
Sommer said she became “disheartened” shen she saw the Assembly vote “strictly along party lines” on the mining issue.
“I believe it was a purely political agenda and a push by an out-of-state mining company to change our mining laws,” Sommer said. “I decided I needed to do something about it and run for office. In particular, I watched Tom Tiffany introduce the Assembly version of the mining bill in the Joint Finance Committee and I believe most of what he informed the committee about was inaccurate. That concerns me and that’s another reason why I am running.”
Sommer is an attorney and currently works for the law firm of O’Brien, Anderson, Burgy and Garbowicz in Eagle River.
She worked for 17 years, from 1987 to 2004, as an assistant district attorney – 10 years in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office and then seven years in the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office.
In 2004, Sommer became an AmeriCorps member specifically to build houses with Habitat for Humanity and worked for a Habitat affiliate in South Carolina for four years as an assistant construction supervisor.
“I knew nothing about building houses; now I know how to build a house from the ground up,” Sommer said.
She met and married the construction supervisor, and they moved back to Phelps in 2008.
“I had always vacationed with my family up north for at least one week or two weeks during the summer in the Phelps-Eagle River area. I grew up in Rhinelander. We came back in 2008 because I’ve always felt the north was my home. My husband graciously agreed to move to Wisconsin with me, despite never having lived here.”
Sommer’s husband is a master carpenter.
Position on mining
Sommer said she supports “responsible mining” but will not support open-pit mining in Wisconsin. Such mining currently occurs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and in Minnesota.
“It would be foolish to say I’m completely against mining because we all depend on everything that comes from the mines,” Sommer said.
She said she does not support an open pit mine on the Penokee Range for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s a significant watershed for that part of the state.
“It flows directly through the Bad River Reservation, and so it is important to those tribal members and enters into Lake Superior which is one of the most pristine, fresh waterbody lakes in the world,” Sommer said. “There have been a lot of studies that have been done on exactly what damage will be done to the watershed from such a mine because there is pyrite in the overburden that has to be removed, and when it’s exposed to air and water, you get acid mine drainage.”
Sommer said she also is concerned about the possibility of mining in the town of Lynne in Oneida County.
“The Oneida County Board I know is trying to get bids out on that,” she said. “That is actually going to be a sulphur-producing mine because the main mineral they want to mine is zinc, but there are also possibilities for gold and copper in that area, and that is a very pristine area in the Willow Flowage.”
Sommer said the state’s current mining laws are “very strong, effective legislation.”
“I base that due to the review I’ve been doing on it since May of 2011,” Sommer said. “I’m not convinced it needs to be changed, and the change right now is to separate iron mining from any other type of metallic mining. I don’t know that that’s necessary. I understand why people want to explore that option, but I do not understand why we would do it because a mining company from out of state demands that we do it.”
Sommer said underground mining of iron ore might be the best way to allow for mining in northern Wisconsin.
“The Gogebic Range was heavily mined underground from the late 1800s to about 1960, and people up there will tell you that their water is very pristine as a result of the underground mining; it wasn’t affected by that,” Sommer said. “So perhaps that’s a possibility for mining taconite up there.”
Sommer said she supports restoring collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin.
“It’s extremely disappointing to me that the governor and the administration in this last legislative session went about demolishing collective bargaining in Wisconsin (through the passage of Act 10). Whether you agree with the end result or not, the method was despicable. And I do not agree with the end result. I think everyone has the right to collectively bargain.”
Education in Wisconsin
Sommer said that when she examines what Act 10 did to education, “It is absolutely frightening, and I believe it’s essential that we restore funding for education.”
Sommer supports a school-funding plan proposed by state school Superintendent Tony Evers. She said the plan would have a positive impact on schools and education in the 12th District.
“Here in District 12, (schools) don’t receive aid in large part because of the high property values, and the reality is that we have families here that are low income, even poverty-level families,” Sommer said. “So there is a discrepancy caused by the funding program.
“It was encouraging for me to see under the fair-funding program that Superintendent Evers is proposing that each child would have $3,000 applied per student under that funding formula, which is a lot more than (is currently applied). So that would help our northern schools in District 12, and there would be some type of a guideline or a percentage factor factored in that would have to do with poverty so that it is not just based on property taxes.”
State retirement fund
Sommer would not support changes in the state’s public-employee retirement system to make it more like the defined-contribution plans found in the private sector.
“A recent report rated it the best in the country so why would we want to make changes?” Sommer said. “I think a great idea, and a really interesting and exciting approach, would be a Wisconsin Retirement sister system for private-sector employees, and to run it similar to our Wisconsin Retirement System for our public employees and allow people that particular option. I think that would be more effective than the 401(k) and it would certainly help people who don’t have anything now.”
Sommer noted that not everyone today can save as they could in the past.
“That’s just a reality of who we are as human beings,” she said. “That would be great if we could all do that, but we can’t do that, and what in the world are we going to do for those who are baby boomers when they start to retire and need more medical care and don’t have the funds to pay for it — don’t have the funds to live on in retirement?”
How to boost state’s economy
To create jobs in Wisconsin she supports revisiting the Clean Energy Jobs bill proposed but not passed by the Legislature in 2010.
In addition to job creation, she said, it would make Wisconsin a leader in the country in recognizing the realities of climate change and global warming.
“(Supporters of the bill) mentioned by the year 2025 there would be 15,000 jobs created, and the ways those would be created would be in construction and manufacturing because we would be working toward clean and renewable energy sources in recognition of the fact that our fossil fuel sources are finite,” Sommer said. “We would also be cutting down on greenhouse gases produced by our state. That’s an exciting proposition and I think we need to revisit it.”
Deer and the DNR
Sommer said she grew up hunting birds in Wisconsin; her father and brother, she added, are ardent deer hunters so she has an understanding of the state’s hunting tradition. She said too many people have rushed to judgment using the recently completed study of Wisconsin’s deer management practices by James Kroll of Texas.
“I haven’t gotten through the body of it yet because its 136 pages long,” she said. “I think that the DNR needs to have the time to review the report. My opinion is based on my reading the executive summary and conclusion.”
She criticized Tiffany, who quickly called for major changes in DNR management.
“I did not reach the same conclusion Rep. Tiffany did,” she said. “His immediate response, I believe the day the report came out, was to immediately call for the dismemberment of the big game unit and a shakeup of the DNR management.
“I did not get that out of what I read of the report. In fact, the report made it clear that all of us, deer hunters, DNR management, everybody in the state need to work together to take a look at the deer-management practices.”
Sommer said the report was meant to help the DNR.
“So let’s let the DNR do the work,” she said. “I’m still very concerned that we hired somebody from out of state to come to our state to tell us how to manage our deer population. I’m glad that Cathy Stepp, the secretary of the DNR, recognizes that she has an extremely capable staff and they need to take the time to review the report to make the determination on how the deer herd needs to be managed.”
Affordable Care Act
Sommer said it’s “absolutely ridiculous” that Gov. Scott Walker has chosen not to implement changes required in the nation’s Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“So, in other words, he’s going to do nothing and then in 2014 the federal government is going to step in and tell us in Wisconsin how it has to be done,” Sommer said. “Now, why we would wait around for them to tell us what to do is beyond me when we have the opportunity to do it right?
The Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction to recognizing that health is an inalienable right — that we all here have a right to affordable health care. It is not a privilege. It’s a recognition of our humanity.”
Sommer said that in addition to working to implement the law, she she will push for the addition of a public health insurance option.
“That was something that had originally been part of the Affordable Care Act and then got excluded from it, but it’s an important option, because not only will we have this private health insurance exchange, but we will have a public health insurance option run perhaps through BadgerCare that will cost us even less than a private health insurance exchange,” she said. “You will get great health care for less money and people who are middle income, low-middle income and those of us who are disenfranchised will have an even better chance at what is our inalienable right to our health.”
Most important district issue
Sommer said that being able to live in the Northwoods and stay in the Northwoods is important to many families, and for that to be possible, more jobs need to be created. Education, she added, is key to job creation.
“Our economy is strong and is stronger, and our democracy stays strong only if we have an educated citizenry, and public education is a right that all of our children are entitled to, and with a good education you can get good employment,” she said. “A lot of the people here in the 12th state Senate District are committed to living here because of how beautiful it is. The things that you can do outdoors here in the Northwoods you can’t do other places. The quality of life you have here in the Northwoods you can’t do in other parts of the state or in other parts of the country.”
And jobs, she added, will enable more people to enjoy that quality of life.
“So many of us live here with less,” she said. “Some of us struggle to get by. Bringing jobs to this area, ensuring that our children have an excellent education are two of the most important goals facing this district.”
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
34th Assembly District
Four candidates in primaries for 34th Assembly seat
By Kyle Rogers
of The Northwoods River News
Starting next year, there will be new representation for the state’s 34th Assembly District, which encompasses all or parts of Oneida, Vilas, Forest and Florence counties.
Rep. Dan Meyer, R-Eagle River, announced in February that he would not seek re-election to a seventh two-year term.
Two candidates from each party will square off in Tuesday’s primary election. The winners, plus independent candidates Todd Albano and Kevin Fitzpatrick, will be on the November general election ballot.
The Democratic candidates are Roberta Retrum and Merlin Van Buren.
Retrum is an Eagle River resident who retired to the Northwoods with her husband about five years ago after living in Janesville for 30 years. Before retiring, Retrum worked as an accountant and currently serves as the treasurer for the Vilas County Democratic Party.
Van Buren lost to Meyer two years ago. The 51-year-old has lived with his family in the Northwoods for the last 16 years. He works in the purchasing department for Drs. Foster and Smith and serves on the Rhinelander School Board.
In the Republican Party primary, Rob Swearingen faces off against Alex Young.
Swearingen, a Rhinelander native, and his wife, Amy, have owned the Al-Gen Dinner Club for nearly two decades. He declared for the seat in April, citing the work he has done in Madison while representing the Tavern League of Wisconsin.
Young is a Milwaukee native who moved to the Northwoods with his family when he was in sixth-grade. The 1999 Rhinelander High School graduate has served on the city council since 2004.
All four candidates were asked by The Northwoods River News to respond to eight questions. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Now that Act 10 has been in place for more than a year, has it turned out to be good public policy? Would you support any legislative effort to roll back any part of it?
Roberta Retrum (D): Act 10 divided our state because Republicans wanted to limit public input and refused to listen to the people. We should eliminate the 39 new positions created for the governor’s political appointees. Collective bargaining should be restored for things like workplace conditions.
Merlin Van Buren (D): Act 10 has been one of the most divisive pieces of legislation this state has ever seen. It has divided the state, communities and even families. In a time of economic crisis, we need to come together to solve our problems instead of being torn apart.
I agree with public employees paying part of the cost of insurance and retirement. Just taking that step would have had uniform agreement across the state. Taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees was an unnecessary and purely political move.
Rob Swearingen (R): Indications to date show that the budget reforms in Act 10 have saved Wisconsin more than $1 billion. Here in the 34th Assembly District, the Northland Pines School District has saved more than $1.3 million through higher contributions to pension and health care.
In addition, Nicolet Area Technical College is showing a savings in excess of $900,000. Without these tools, these savings could not have been realized, and I would not support rolling back budget reforms.
Alex Young (R): I believe the goals of Act 10 are good policy, and in talking with folks around the area, I think most people agree. There obviously was political backlash, but there are quite a few folks who agree with the end result while perhaps not agreeing with the speed and decisive nature with which it was brought about.
Certainly, in my personal experience having served over eight years on the Rhinelander City Council, I believe municipalities such as Rhinelander will continue to treat their employees fairly and the sky has not fallen, but the changes did provide much-needed flexibility for local governments.
2. What specific policy initiative or initiatives would you support to boost the state economy?
Retrum: We need to work with different stakeholders, such as technical colleges, to match workers with open positions.
We need to restore Republican cuts to technical schools, where job-training programs prepare people for the work force. We need to ensure business incentives are tied to job creation, something that is not part of the current Republican budget.
Van Buren: Restore some of the money cut from education. Education develops the workers we need now and in the future.
Technical college funding helps people to get jobs now. K-12 and university funding creates the workers we need for the future.
Make more venture capital/low-interest loans available to new start-up companies.
Make high speed Internet available to all areas of the Northwoods.
Swearingen: Clearly, jobs in the Northwoods are a top priority. There is an initiative called “Wisconsin Workers Win” (W-3) that looks very promising and has my attention.
The pilot program allows unemployment claimants to receive short-term, on-the-job training. I would be interested in evaluating the program ultimately to see if we can expand it to the Northwoods.
Also, I look forward to working closely with the Department of Tourism on protecting funding and grant monies that will promote hospitality and tourism in the Northwoods.
Young: I think a renewed focus on small business growth and assistance would benefit many Northwoods entrepreneurs and help us grow our own jobs up here.
Substantial reform of the regulatory burden placed on small business is also critical, as much of that compliance burden disproportionately impacts small business to the detriment of the marketplace. We need a voice for fair, free, and efficient markets for small Wisconsin and Northwoods businesses to remain competitive.
3. Would you support streamlining the state’s mining laws to allow for the construction of an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin?
Retrum: Republicans refused to consider bipartisan compromise that would have created jobs and protected natural resources.
Van Buren: To quote Aldo Leopold: “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
Are we willing to sacrifice this beautiful area of the state, removing hilltops, filling in valleys and wetlands, risking large watershed areas, all in the name of creating a few jobs for a short period of time? Done properly we can mine areas. Streamlining and cutting regulations is not the answer.
Swearingen: Absolutely. I believe that we missed a huge opportunity to create jobs in Wisconsin during the last legislative session. We had the potential to add quality family-supporting jobs right here in the 34th District.
I would support mining as a top priority early in the 2013 session. If Minnesota and Michigan can mine responsibly, so can Wisconsin.
Young: The bottom line is that iron mining done responsibly and safely would be a huge boon, and the jobs and economic impact are sorely needed. Many iron mines operated safely throughout the Gogebic from the 1880s through the 1960s.
Recently, some sulfide mining proposals have been more controversial. Sulfur extracted during sulfide mining can release acid and contaminate water. The differences between these distinct forms of mining are significant enough to regulate them differently. So, I support safe iron mining jobs in Wisconsin.
4. Given the results of the report on the state deer herd conducted by deer czar James Kroll, what changes, if any, need to be made in the DNR?
Retrum: The deer-czar report told us what we already know — that Wisconsin has a great deer-hunting tradition and we need to invest in it; we didn’t need to pay a Texas professor $125,000 to tell us that.
Many recommendations were common sense, like saying the DNR should work more closely with hunters and landowners to get their input.
Van Buren: First of all, we should not be calling for the firings of employees within the DNR. Let DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp do her job. She should make that decision.
The part of the report I liked the best is for the DNR to work in conjunction with the local hunters. We need to open up more dialogue between hunters and the DNR, working together to make the changes that need to be made.
Swearingen: I am encouraged by some aspects of the report. Re-aligning of the staff at the DNR, especially in the big game unit, might be something that should be seriously considered if internal efforts to improve stall or are unsuccessful within a reasonable amount of time.
Unfortunately, the report continues to reflect the disconnect between the DNR and sportsman. For example, I disagree with the report recommendation to increase fees for antlerless permits. The higher fees will only discourage new or young hunters from taking up the sport.
Young: I’ve been a lifelong deer hunter since the first time sitting with my grandpa. I’ve bowhunted for about a decade also. Deer hunting is such a tradition that we got let out of school to go. I’ve hunted plenty of private land but recently spent more time hunting public land.
I’ve read Dr. Kroll’s report, although the statistical math is not my forte. He presents solid points for consideration. Often, the DNR is seen as an adversary for its enforcement and should be more proactive, rather than reactive. Dialogue and cooperation between the DNR, hunters and landowners who wish to do a better job of managing their deer herds and managing for multiple uses is a good start.
I know many folks who have informal arrangements with neighbors as an attempt at wildlife management, and more technical assistance and advice for folks attempting to improve these resources would help, rather than more enforcement and regulation.
5. Would you support a reduction in the state income tax?
Retrum: We need to restore tax fairness. The Republican budget gives $2.36 billion in tax breaks to corporations and special interests over the next decade.
The budget also raises taxes on seniors and low-income working families with cuts to Homestead and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Van Buren: I would like to see a simplification of the state income tax. The government should not be favoring some businesses over others. Eliminate deductions and write-offs.
If we take that step, we will need to reduce the tax rate, so we do not have a tax increase. This would help to ensure that all businesses and individuals pay their fair share in taxes.
Swearingen: If I truly believed the state could afford it, I’d love to lower all forms of taxes — income, property, sales, etc. Realistically, I don’t see that happening in the short-term. My goal right now is to hold the line on tax increases.
Young: Taxation certainly does make a difference in people’s decisions — hence, the many examples we know of retirees and businesses migrating to more tax-friendly climates.
In general, while zero taxes would be great, taxation is somewhat of a necessary evil, but taxes should be enacted intelligently and minimally. I think taxes on consumption rather than taxes on production tend to make broader economic sense and can be done without being overly regressive.
The income tax is essentially a tax on being productive. So, I would support a reduction in the income tax.
6. Do you support Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) until after the general election?
Retrum: Walker is playing politics instead of doing what’s right for our citizens. Thousands need coverage now and can’t afford to wait until some indefinite point in the future.
His decision follows a pattern of Republicans standing with insurance companies, not consumers.
Van Buren: I do not support the decision to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. We need to get the health exchanges set up as quickly as possible. This will help our small businesses to be able to compare different insurance companies easily and choose the best one for them and their employees.
This competition will help create real savings for our small businesses.
Swearingen: Yes, I believe Obamacare is bad public policy that will drive up health care rates for the insured. According to a recent study, nearly 60 percent of individuals in Wisconsin who buy their own insurance will see a 30 percent increase in premiums as a result of Obamacare.
Gov. Walker has made a sound decision to delay implementation until after November.
Young: I am not a lawyer, and so from a legal standpoint I would have to defer to Attorney General (J.B.) Van Hollen’s interpretations regarding how and when the state must begin implementing the law.
However, from a practical standpoint, if you view the outcome of the November elections as potentially precipitating a policy change that would reverse some or all of the Affordable Care Act, then it may make financial sense to save the cost of implementation if it is all for naught. I disagree personally with many provisions of the ACA, but ultimately the law is the law and changing federal law is an issue for our congressional delegation and president to determine and not for state government.
7. What is the most important issue facing residents of the Northwoods?
Retrum: Public schools are struggling because Republicans slashed their funding by $1.6 billion and increased voucher school funding to nearly $300 million.
Students in the Northwoods and all over Wisconsin deserve a quality education. They shouldn’t suffer because Republicans gave a bunch of money to unaccountable voucher schools in southeastern Wisconsin.
Van Buren: The economy and jobs. Tax cuts do not create jobs. Go to my website merlinvanburen.com if you want to learn more about how they do not create jobs.
Jobs are created by demand for goods and services. That demand is created by the middle class. We need to take steps to strengthen the middle class: fair wages, fair tax rates for all, training/education to prepare us for the jobs that are available.
Swearingen: Jobs. If elected, the first question I would ask about pending legislation would be: Will this help create jobs?
In addition, we need to keep the lid on government spending so the private sector job creators can be assured of stability. The government can’t create jobs. However, it is the responsibility of our elected officials to make sure the environment is right for job creation.
I am encouraged by recent reports like the one in CEO magazine ranking Wisconsin No. 20 (previously No. 41 under Gov. Doyle) as one of the best states for business. Wisconsin is heading in the right direction.
Young: Economic times have placed a lot of stress on folks in our area and I’ve seen it personally.
Much of our small business is based on tourism, which is highly dependent on economic conditions, and the recent uncertainty has burdened many businesses and individuals in our area.
Economic issues often bear a causal relationship with social problems, and it has been tough in the Northwoods. A rising tide floats all boats, and so it is with improving prospects and prosperity for our area: We will all benefit.
8. Given the growing cost of public-employee pension obligations, would you favor switching new employees to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan, rather than the traditional defined benefit plan?
Retrum: Wisconsin has one of the best retirement systems in the country — and the only one that’s fully funded as of 2010 — according to a recent Pew Center study.
Our retirement system is a model for the nation. Republicans shouldn’t damage it by experimenting with it.
Van Buren: Since you are asking this question, I am going to assume you have not read the latest study on the public-employee pension program.
The study was conducted in accordance with Act 32. The study found the program is stable and fully funded. The cost to taxpayers has decreased. The study recommended no changes be made to the current program.
Swearingen: A recent state study examined the possibility of the 401(k)-style plan as an option for new employees. Ultimately they recommended against any switch of that nature.
I support the current pension structure for public-sector employees. As I am sure you are aware, the current pension fund is fiscally sound and nearly fully-funded. Through excellent management, Wisconsin has avoided the pension pitfalls of other states like California and Illinois.
Young: Certainly, defined benefit plans are a rarity in the private sector now, and maintaining parity between private and public sector wages and benefits is something that should be continually reviewed.
Recent studies have shown that Wisconsin’s pension system is very healthy and with the changes brought about regarding contribution splits, I think the status quo is working and should remain while continuing to be reviewed for changes periodically.
We certainly don’t want to follow in the footsteps of so many other states that have grossly mismanaged their employee pension funds.
Kyle Rogers may be reached at email@example.com.
Oneida County District Attorney
Schiek stresses experience in district attorney bid
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
Rhinelander attorney Michael Schiek says if he is elected Oneida County district attorney this fall, his new position will be a welcome extension to the work he already does, in an office that is already exceptionally well run.
Schiek, of the Rhinelander law firm O’Melia, Schiek and McEldowney, faces Oneida County assistant corporation counsel Mike Fugle in Tuesday’s GOP primary.
“I’ve had an opportunity to work with a lot of different prosecutors, a lot of different assistant district attorneys,” Schiek said. “I’ve seen the way that Oneida County runs their office, and I’m very happy with that. I think it’s probably one of the best I’ve ever practiced in.
“I think they’ve got a good set-up, they have very good personnel, they have fantastic attorneys working in the office, and so for me it would be kind of an extension of what’s been going on so far.”
Schiek says he brings a wealth of experience to the table.
“I think that I’m certainly qualified,” he said. “I’ve been practicing now for 10 years, a little bit over. When I became involved in the law firm, the public defender’s office provided me an opportunity to become involved in criminal defense work immediately. I had to go through a qualification process and go to some seminars and some continuing legal education programs, but it was a very quick way to start having cases assigned to me.”
Schiek says he had been through 14 or 15 jury trials, some of them significant cases.
“In the eyes of the defendant, they are all very serous cases, from felonies, homicides, down to theft cases that don’t mean a whole lot but obviously are very important, so that type of experience, working with a lot of different district attorney’s offices, working with a lot of different district attorneys in the Oneida County’s District Attorney’s office, qualifies me,” Schiek said.
Sometimes, he says, the best you can do is negotiate a case, and that requires a good reputation with prosecutors so that you can deal with them on a weekly basis,
“A lot of times, it’s just trying to get the best resolution you can for your client,” he said. “I think I’ve been able to do that. So, working as a prosecutor, I think you can identify what the problem is, if it’s a substance abuse, something like that, that you can try to work through, obviously a defense attorney, and see if there is something you can work out. I’ve got vast experience with different D.A.s, all types of cases, jury trials, so I think I can handle all of that.”
While all types of cases are important, Schiek says cases such as sexual assaults, domestic abuse-type cases, controlled substances, and prescription medications would be high priority.
“I’ve seen even a change since I started in the last 10 years, of how that’s picked up,” he said. “I still think they’re very important, and when I go negotiate and talk with district attorney’s offices, I handle those a little bit differently. Those would take priority. Those are victim crimes where, you know, somebody has, their life has been changed, and those, obviously, are very important. Not that there are any victimless crimes, but I think there are some that are certainly higher up than some other ones.”
Prosecutors play an important role in shaping the sentences of those they prosecute, and Schiek says coming up with a sentencing recommendation is a case-by-case situation.
Negotiation is important, and victims must be included in the process, he said. Plea agreements are an essential part of the process as well.
“Plea negotiations, they have to be reached,” he said. “... as a prosecutor, I would have to look at the evidence. Do I have a strong case? Is there enough photographs, witness statements, surveillance cameras? Do we have enough to prove the case.
“I think, as a prosecutor, before you charge a case, you have to ensure that that is the case. ... Plea agreements come in when your client knows that you don’t have a valid affirmative defense. If you went to trial on this, you’re going to lose. Why do you want to waste the court’s time? Why do you want to waste witness time? Why do you want to waste county taxpayer dollars? Why do you want to do that?”
Again, he says, such agreement are necessary, though sometimes it’s important to send a message.
“It’s a negotiated plea,” he said. “Sometimes the D.A.’s office says this is as far as I’m going; there’s nothing that you can tell me, and this is as far as it’s going to go, because I have to make a point. People that do this, this is what’s going to happen to them. So, I think it’s very important to, not unclog the system, but just to let things run smoothly, because if you didn’t offer something on every case, then there would be trials every single day. So, I think it’s a very important part of the process.”
That said, Schiek said he would not be soft on crime.
“I want Oneida County to be a place where people want to come back, and they know that if they do something, they can’t get away with it,” he said. “In that sense, I guess I would be tough on crime, because if somebody, I don’t know what crime I can think of right now, but if somebody steals something, – I get a lot of those retail theft cases (where) they steal a sandwich or something like that — is there a way that I can work that case out, where the person is 18, 19 years old, so I want to at least not ruin the rest of his life. He doesn’t need a criminal conviction for retail theft carrying with him. Maybe he’s going to college. Maybe he wants to go in the military, something like that.”
Those kinds of situations are handled differently than more serious offenses, Schiek said.
“Can I get away with that with a deferred-prosecution agreement?” he said. “Make him do some community service, maybe write a letter of apology, something like that, still pay a fine, in six months, nine months, 12 months, you can make it as long as you like, and handle it that way.”
But a harder line needs to be taken on serious offenses, Schiek said.
“If there are people that commit serious crimes, victim crimes, where there are substantial batteries, there’s domestic-abuse situations, threats, that stuff is handled, I think, in a completely different way,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s your first offense or if you’ve been in the system for a while, those need to be handled completely different. Those are violent crimes.”
Schiek says he supports transparency in government, and, as the point person on open records and open meetings violations, he said he would pursue such cases just as he would any other violation.
“If I get information on any criminal complaint, whether or not it’s a sexual assault or one of these open-records violations — to be honest with you, I’ve never dealt with one of those in my experience — but, if I have evidence that somebody is intentionally doing this, and ... if that’s something that I think I could prove, then I would certainly take a look at it and say, should I prosecute this or not?
“Certainly, if there’s a crime that has been allegedly committed, and I look at it, and I can find evidence to support it, then that, to me, would just be any other crime.”
And what about officials he might be working with?
“If it’s people that I work with, I don’t look at it has only prosecuting people that I want to prosecute and not prosecute other people,” he said. “I mean, if somebody breaks the law, then I think it certainly has to come across the district attorney’s desk, and they need to make a decision, and whatever decision they decide to make, I guess, if it wasn’t popular with your publication or with the public, they certainly should have to give a reason why they did something and why they didn’t decide to charge. I think I would do that. I would look at it. If it’s a crime, it’s a crime.”
Schiek says he is wary of political partisanship in the district attorney’s office, and was surprised it was a partisan position.
“I was surprised when I filled out my paperwork to submit to the Government Accountability Board down in Madison that they required choosing a party before you could even hit the send button,” Schiek said “I chose Republican. I’m running as a Republican. Historically, that’s just the way I’ve voted.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think that the D.A.’s position should be a partisan race. It doesn’t make any difference to me if somebody is a Democrat or somebody is a Republican or somebody is an independent or if somebody is a libertarian. I don’t prosecute the people based upon their political ideas or what political party they belong to. It, again, goes along the same lines as, if somebody commits a crime, how am I going to know if they’re politically affiliated with one or the other? To me, that doesn’t come into play.”
Schiek says he’s not afraid of prosecuting law enforcement officers if they have committed an offense — just like anybody else — and, while he would consider law enforcement opinions in making a sentencing recommendation, that would not be the sole factor in making a recommendation.
“I think it’s a factor that has to be considered,” Schiek said. “I know a lot of times when I have defended cases, they say, well, let me get back to the officer and see what they think. If the defendant treated the officer with a great deal of disrespect and was uncooperative, a lot of times they say, you know, it’s not fair to give this person a deal.
“The ultimate responsibility falls on the DA’s position. You can take that into consideration, and I would take it into consideration, but I wouldn’t let that ... be the factor that either breaks a good negotiation or doesn’t. If I can talk to the officer and say, ‘You know, here’s what we’re thinking of doing, I’m just trying to get your input on this so that you’re involved with the case,’ because I think you still want the trust of the officers.
“When they arrest somebody, and they’ve done a crime, then you need to back them up, as well, the good cops, and prosecute and sentence somebody appropriately. I do think it’s a factor, and I think it’s important, but it’s not going to make or break a case.”
In the end, Schiek says he wants to help make the community a better place, and the district attorney’s position is an important way to do that.
“I grew up in Rhinelander, went to high school there,” he said. “Then, obviously I went away and went to college, graduated from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I joined the Marines and served four years, honorably discharged. Then, I went to law school over in St. Paul/Minneapolis at Hamline University, so I was away for a few years, but I basically grew up in Rhinelander.”
And, he says, he moved back for a reason.
“It’s because I like northern Wisconsin,” he said. “I like the outdoors. I like everything that it has to offer. With a family, obviously I have a vested interest. I want to see this to be a safe community.
“I have 10 years of defense work, criminal defense work, and our law firm, through Jeff Jackomino, does prosecute the town of Three Lakes, just the municipal citations. So, there’s been a very, very small amount of stuff that I have actually prosecuted on behalf of Jeff, just for whatever reason if he couldn’t make it to court. So, the seed is there. I know what goes on in prosecutions. I’ve dealt with 12 different counties, and all different types of district attorneys.
“The experience, the commitment, the excitement to want to do this job, I think that makes me a prime candidate. There is something to serving the community, but I basically want to see this to be a nice place to raise your family and grow up.”
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fugle touts defense, prosecution experience in D.A. race
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
There’s a simple and straightforward reason Michael Fugle, the Oneida County assistant corporation counsel, wants to serve as district attorney: It involves just the kind of law he likes to practice, and he thinks his skills will serve Oneida County well.
Fugle will face Rhinelander attorney Michael Schiek in Tuesday’s GOP primary.
Fugle graduated from law school in 2002, and practiced in a criminal-defense capacity in Milwaukee for six years. Now, in his role in the corporation counsel’s office, he primarily prosecutes cases related to children in need of protective services, whether it is a parent-focused problem or a juvenile who has demonstrated some type of need.
Those cases, important as they are, don’t involve many trials, Fugle says.
“I like criminal law, and I like litigating,” Fugle said. “I enjoy what I do, but I don’t do as many trials, and I certainly don’t do any motion hearings and that sort of stuff, which is what makes the law interesting and enjoyable for me. So, that’s my motivation for seeking the office, because it’s what I really like to do.”
That said, Fugle believes his most recent county experience, combined with his criminal-defense experience in Milwaukee, makes him an ideal candidate.
“Having been prosecuting cases for the past four years, having done criminal-defense work for six prior to that, I think I have a good understanding of the system in terms of the entire system itself,” he said. “I think that my skills would benefit Oneida County. You know, certainly, there’s a promotion involved, in a way if you will.”
It’s in his nature, he said, to take on more responsibility.
“Certainly, the D.A. position is a great deal of responsibility,” Fugle said. “Not only is it being responsible for how cases are processed in the county, setting the policy for that ... there’s also an office staff to manage, and I like managing people.
“So, the ability to do criminal prosecution and the ability to manage people are the two things that really motivate me to the position.”
While Fugle says all cases are important, those involving children are expecially noteworthy.
“Some of this comes from what I’ve been doing recently,” he said. “As a criminal-defense attorney, I wouldn’t do child sex cases, and I wouldn’t defend child porn cases, because I wouldn’t have done a good job for my clients, because I find that type of stuff despicable.
“There seems to have been a rise recently, at least in terms of law enforcement locating these folks and bringing them to the system. ... I’m not saying that having your house broken into isn’t damaging, either, because that certainly is, and … in many ways, that’s a violation of your personal security.
“To me, it’s not as if in Milwaukee, where you’re going to focus on a gang or drug unit in a certain area. I don’t think we necessarily have that. There’s certainly a drug problem up here. In some ways, I hate to say I would focus on this, because it may to some extent be taken as the exclusion of other things.”
The most important thing, Fugle says, is to have a safe community.
“The reason that I applied for the job in Rhinelander is I didn’t like living in Milwaukee anymore,” he said. “It wasn’t the place where I wanted to raise my family, and that’s why we moved up here, and I want this to be a place where … you can raise your kids and have them be safe.
“Rhinelander is still a town, like Minocqua, where, your kids can go to the park, and, if you aren’t there 24/7 watching over them, you feel a measure of safety and security, and that’s important.”
When it comes to shaping and making a sentencing recommendation, Fugle says several factors are involved.
“It’s the need to protect the public, deterrence of the person, and to some extent, the character of the offender, and those are the Gallion factors, and I think those are important, because if someone steals from your business, there has to be a consequence for that,” he said. “In terms of how strong a message you send, if someone steals $100,000 from a business, does that person go to prison? I have to say, I don’t know.”
You have to talk to the victim, Fugle said, and also decide whether it makes sense to avoid a prison sentence if restitution is possible.
“You certainly have to talk to the victim, you have to look at restitution, because it may be great to have this person go to prison for three years, and that’s going to send a message to everyone, but if they’re going to have the ability to repay that business and that business is going to be able to recoup the money, that may be an important factor in terms of how that case is ultimately disposed of,” Fugle said.
Fugle noted one case in which a person stole between $35,000 and $50,000.
“If someone is going to get off without some type of prison term in that, there’d have to be some real mitigating factors, and you have to have a victim on board,” he said. “Because otherwise, you certainly don’t want people to think, well gee, with the D.A. and the judges, I can just do whatever I want.”
Fugle said plea bargaining is a necessary and important part of the system.
“It depends on what the plea bargaining is,” he said. “Is it reaching an equitable and just resolution that is going to deter that person from future criminal activity?
“Part of the plea bargain and how you bargain a case depends on the strength of your case; it depends on what the character of the offender is, and it depends on the needs of the victim. So, would I plea bargain cases? Absolutely. Would I plea bargain them the way they’ve been done in the past? I would have to have more specific facts and better understanding of the case.”
And is there too much plea bargaining?
“If you can find, and now I say this as a litigator, if you can find a resolution without a trial that is an equitable resolution and especially from your perspective, then that’s acceptable,” Fugle said. “I mean, you have a case where you could charge, say, four crimes based on one incident. For some offenders, it’s going to be necessary to charge those four crimes, and it’s going to be necessary to push for jail or prison. For other people, it may not be necessary to do that.”
While punishment is an important component of sentencing, Fugle said, another important element is reducing recidivism.
“You’re going to always have people who are on the installment plan, which is life in prison, just a little bit at a time, and those are the people who … they’ve earned the right to get longer sentences,” he said. “Then you’ve got the first-time offenders, and I think you have to look at what they’ve done and where they are situated and how the victim approaches it in terms of determining what you’re going to charge and what you’re ultimately going to accept.
“I don’t think you necessarily charge four things so you can get two convictions. If you can get two convictions, and those are the two that are going to be appropriate to resolve this, then charge the two.”
Fugle said he believes in transparency and would investigate any potential open-records or open-meetings laws violations.
“If there is a violation, it has to be investigated,” he said. “There certainly are civil remedies to that, and I don’t think it’s something to be swept under the rug, and I obviously have some experience with open records in the office I work in. We have a law that says that people have access to records. We have a law that says that there are certain exceptions to the release of those records.
“If the law isn’t obeyed, then there has to be an appropriate investigation, and if there’s been a violation, charges have to be filed.”
And that includes all officials, even those who might work for the county.
“If there’s a violation of the law, and if charges are appropriate, they have to be filed,” he said. “You can’t not file charges because you like John or Jimmy.”
Fugle said he would not hesitate to prosecute law enforcement officers if they commit violations.
“I hate to say that there should be heightened scrutiny in terms of criminal charges (against law enforcement), but I think you need to be very careful to allow something like that to not be dealt with, and I don’t want to say harsher, but I think you have to put a really close eye on what’s happened there.
“We’ve got a lot of great cops in Oneida County, but all it takes is one bad apple, and I think that you need to make sure that you stop that bad apple as soon as possible.”
Fugle said law enforcement recommendations are just one factor in determining a sentencing recommendation.
“I think it’s important to consider everyone, but I think as D.A. you need to drive the bus,” he said. “The system isn’t going to work if law enforcement gets to make the call, and the system is not going to work if the victim is always making the call. I think you need to listen to the players, but you can’t just say, ‘Oh well, if law enforcement says so, then that’s what I’m going to do, because that’s not law enforcement’s role.”
Fugle takes a cautious approach when its comes to political partisanship and the district attorney’s office.
“We’ve got a First Amendment right to say our peace,” he said. “I think, as district attorney, you need to be careful where you’d inject yourself in the political arena. We all have political beliefs, and I certainly hope that, while I recognize that some people are wrong, that people have strong political opinions about things.
“You know, I tend not to get involved in the partisan aspect of it, and I note that the D.A.’s office, up until a couple election cycles ago, was a nonpartisan office. Be that as it may, I wouldn’t be interjecting myself into that process.”
In the end, Fugle urged voters to vote for him because he believes he has a more comprehensive view of the system.
“I’ve done both prosecution and defense,” he said. “I think that I have a fuller view of the system. I understand what it is to build a case, but I also understand what it is to try and defend someone, and so I know I have the ability to look at a case from both sides, which is important in terms of proving your case.
“It’s great to know what you want to do, but what is going to make you successful is knowing what the other guy’s going to want to do. That way, you don’t get surprised in court ... Not that I’m omniscient or would think of everything, but I think certainly, the ability to approach it from both ways gives me an advantage.”
Fugle also observed that he has extensive experience managing people, having once managed a resort in Colorado.
“I’m not saying that the D.A.’s office is mismanaged, but I’ve always been able to improve ... employee morale, employee relations and efficiency,” he said. “I think, for that reason, I have the experience (and) the management ability to handle that aspect of the job. I think, for those reasons, I’m the best candidate for the job.”
Richard Moore may be reached at email@example.com.