Three candidates - Republican Tom Tiffany, Democrat Susan Sommer, and Libertarian Paul Ehlers - all sat down with The Lakeland Times to talk issues and to address readers about why they should be elected.
In Senate race, Tiffany points
to a record of accomplishments
Hazelhurst lawmaker says he would continue
to pursue deregulation, rule reforms
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
In his bid to win the state Senate District 12 seat on Nov. 6, Republican nominee and state Rep. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst is pointing to what he calls a solid track record of reform in his two years in the Assembly, which he says has put the state on the right track to prosperity.
“In 2010, I made three commitments to the voters, to pass a legitimately balanced budget, so we don’t have to raise taxes, and reform the Department of Natural Resources,” Tiffany told The Lakeland Times in an interview last week. “We’ve accomplished all three of those to a certain extent.”
Now, he says, with the state pointed in the right direction, there’s still more work to do to get to the goal.
“We need to continue to pass legitimately balanced budgets,” Tiffany said. “We went from bonding in this state from about $5 billion 10 years ago to where it’s about $13 billion. We still have a significant overhang, even though we’re showing in this budget that we have a small surplus. In context, it’s a small surplus in terms of the debt that this state carries. So, we need to continue to pass legitimately balanced budgets so we don’t have to raise taxes.”
In addition to not raising taxes, Tiffany wants to pursue tax relief.
“Hopefully we can get the budget in such a shape that we can accomplish that,” he said. “But I think we build on those things and have additional tax and regulatory reform. The business climate has gotten better in Wisconsin. We can do better yet, and we legislators really need to do the hard work of making changes to existing law and rule to enhance the business climate here in the state of Wisconsin, and I think we can do that.”
If all that is done, he says, and is accompanied by changes at the federal level, especially in terms of utilizing natural resources, in energy policy, and in forest and mineral wealth, the state will be in excellent shape,
“I think Wisconsin is poised to take off,” Tiffany said.
With many experts predicting a global recession next year, and with conflicting reports about the U.S. economy dominating headlines, Tiffany said a pro-growth economy was important, and he outlined the foundation of such an economy.
“I thought the first thing that we needed to start with was to have a balanced budget, and that’s why I made it number one on my list in 2010 when running for election to the state Assembly, and it appears we’re accomplishing that,” he said. “The latest numbers from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows us running a slight surplus at this point. So, you have to start by having your budget in balance, because if you’re running deficits, today’s deficits become tomorrow’s tax increases, and we cannot be raising taxes on people in this economy, or, I would say, in any economy.”
Leaving more money in people’s pockets is going to encourage economic growth, Tiffany said. Nonetheless, he added, accelerating job growth in the state depends not only on state budget reform but on lifting or ameliorating federal policies that inhibit job creation.
“Whether you’re talking about Obamacare (or other policies), there’s a lot of employers that are very fearful of hiring additional people,” Tiffany said. “You look at the federal energy policy that we have. You look at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest here with the policies that have come down from the U.S. Forest Service limiting harvest, literally hundreds if not thousands of jobs lying on the forest floor here in Northern Wisconsin.... It will require additional reforms, though, both at the state and federal levels.”
If possible, Tiffany said, he would like to see tax cuts in the next budget.
“I’d like to see what the budget numbers look like after, you know, as we get further into this biennial budget, and if it shows that we can decrease taxes on people, I’ll be fully supportive of that,” he said. “I just saw a survey from the Tax Foundation that we’re ranked 43rd in the country, so we’re certainly in the top 10 (highest-taxed states) yet, and I’d sure like to see us get out of the top 10 tax states here in the United States.”
Tax reductions could also become more likely with continued efforts to cut government spending, he said.
“We need to go into the state agencies and make sure that the money that is being spent in Madison is being spent wisely,” Tiffany said. “We’ve got a 60, what is it, about a $60-billion biennial budget. There’s certainly plenty of money in Madison to be able to deliver the services that the people in the state of Wisconsin expect, and we definitely need to root out waste and fraud. It is a problem in a number of programs. We need to do a better job of that.”
Tiffany was noncommittal on abolishing the state income tax, saying he would wait for the report of a legislative study committee now looking into such a proposition.
“I want to see the results of the study that come out and see what options we have, how we would accomplish that,” he said. “Any tax that we can reduce, if we can do that, I favor leaving more money in people’s pockets. We also have to balance the budget, and I want to see how that fits in the context of the budget.”
Deregulation and rule reform
Tiffany said deregulation would remain one of his top priorities if he is elected.
“I think one of the key issues going into this next session of the Legislature is to streamline regulation,” he said. “I think there’s not a lot of argument about, oftentimes, about the standards that are in place, it’s how we accomplish that. And that’'s one of the things that we tried to do with the chapter 30 (navigable waters) changes. You know, where the Department of Natural Resources has 30 days to give someone an answer. That’s what we’re looking for, is greater certainty by someone that’s an applicant that they’re going to get an answer, and they’re going to get it promptly. I think that’s something that we need to follow through in both the governor’s office but also in the Legislature to make sure that these processes are streamlined, where we uphold the strong standards that we have here in Wisconsin and we want to keep, but they’re done in a more timely fashion.”
Reform of administrative rules is also important, Tiffany said.
“The Administrative Rule Reform bill (Act 21), of which I was sole author in the state Legislature, the special session bill that the governor called for, I think that’s a bill that we have to make sure is implemented properly by the agencies, because it requires full economic analysis on all administrative rules, and we need the agencies to follow through with that.”
There have been instances, he said, when agencies would conduct a review and claim there would be no cost to the people, when it fact the review was flawed. He cited the rewrite of NR115, the shoreland zoning rule, as an example.
“Act 21 is a very powerful tool for business, for local units of government, and utilities,” Tiffany said. “We stated that right in there, in Act 21, that all of those entities need to be considered when they’re doing this economic analysis. One of the messages I’m going to take to the people of northern Wisconsin if elected to the State Senate is to talk to these local units of government, talk to businesses, and say…you need to really watch these administrative rules and give your input into the cost of an administrative rule change, because Act 21 gives you the ability to do that.”
Following Act 21, Tiffany said he wants to see the Legislature take a more active role in reviewing proposed administrative rules.
“I think we needed to put (Act 21) in place to begin with, and now I’m going to take a look at seeing if we can get the support within the Legislature for us to be more active, the Legislature being more active in reviewing administrative rules, and I sure hope it happens at the federal level, because they desperately need it at the federal level,” he said.
Tiffany said it was a problem when agencies act as the Legislature.
“We really have to come back to that proper checks and balances, both at the state level and the federal level,” he said. “We’re elected for a reason, and we need to make sure that we’re the law-writing body, not the agencies.”
Tiffany supported a Republican iron mining bill last year that was defeated, and he said he continues to support iron mining in northeastern Wisconsin.
“Well, what I would like to see is for that iron mining bill that we debated and that lost by one vote in the state Senate, and it’s part of the reason why I ran for this seat, is I would like to see that come back here in 2013,” he said. “I mean, there is very good reason to separate iron ore mining out of our existing mining statutes. Current mining statutes cover all types of mining. Iron mining is fundamentally different. It uses a mechanical process versus a chemical process, and so there is very good reason to separate that out.”
Tiffany said he’s also hopeful a bill will be passed in 2013.
“It is rare that you get a company that is willing to invest $1.5 billion,” he said of Gogebic Taconite’s planed investment last year. “I mean, it’s a once in a generation opportunity. And we can do this safely. The bill that we had this past session just combined good strong environmental protection. You know, once again, we weren’t going to sacrifice environmental standards, we were just going to have an appropriate permitting process so that the applicant has certainty, so that they know they’re going to get an answer.”
Can the Senate get an iron mining bill passed? Tiffany thinks so.
“I believe that we can come to an agreement to get this done,” he said. “Now, quite honestly, it hinges on how many votes do we have in the state Senate? I believe the Assembly is there. I mean, we showed that in this past session when that bill passed. What was it, like 59 to 39, something like that in the Assembly, and it lost by one vote in the Senate. It’s quite clear we’re going to need to get to 18 votes in the state Senate in order to be able to pass that. I really think that’s the next step in advancing mining here in Wisconsin. I really think that iron ore mining is fundamentally different than sulfide mining. We should be able to do this.”
But Tiffany said an alternative bill authored by state Sens. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Jauch would not be acceptable because it retained a longer-than-necessary permitting timeline.
“I'm not sure you’re going to see any applications when you’ve got a four-to-five year permitting process,” Tiffany said. “I thought the Ironwood newspaper said it very clearly about Sen. Jauch in his bill, when they said he is the chief obstructionist. Now, that’s the Ironwood Daily Globe’s words, not mine. They called him the chief obstructionist. I mean, it’s very clear that they do not, they have not combined the certainty in the permitting process that’s needed to get an answer for a company.”
Tiffany said mining applicants for the project, or similar ones, would have to pony up in the neighborhood of $25-$30 million before they would receive any benefit.
“There’s huge upfront cost to this,” he said. “All they’re asking for is certainty, and they should be able to get it. You know, and I just think that, you know, for your listeners and readers out there, you look at…they did this for decades up in the Ironwood-Hurley area without the environmental protections that we have now. Go look at those tailings piles right next to the Montreal River. They’re right on the banks of the Montreal River. The Montreal River is in great shape. You look at Lake Wazee down in Black River Falls. You know, they had that Jackson County mine down there. They’ve made that into a park now. It’s a scuba diving mecca in the Midwest. Scuba divers go there all the time. It’s the deepest lake now in the state of Wisconsin, about 400 feet deep, and it has crystal clear water in it. That’s before we had the strong environmental protections we have.”
So the bottom line is, Tiffany said, mining is doable, and it dovetails into a broader issue: Are we going to utilize our natural resources in an environmentally sound manner, or not?
“Because what was very evident when we were debating this issue earlier this year, is that the environmental left has control of the Democratic Party at this point,” Tiffany said. “When I have blue collar Democrats coming to me, including people in leadership and their unions, expressing disgust that that bill did not pass, it’s clear that the environmental left, they own the party at this point, and it’s very unfortunate, and you’re seeing that across the country. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Keystone pipeline, whatever the issue is, when it comes to natural resources, unless it’s on private land, you’re not able to access it because they refuse to allow it, and that’s where our prosperity is tied up in this country.”
In another related issue, Tiffany says federal forest lands should be locally managed because the federal government is not managing them properly.
“It became very evident (in my last Senate run) talking to local people up here that the lack of harvests on our national forest lands are really costing us,” he said. “Best example is, go up to Action Floors in Mercer. Quite a number of people that work there live in the 12th Senate District, in places like Arbor Vitae, Manitowish Waters. They employ about 100 people. In 1988, they located there because they knew they’d have a secure source of hardwood to be able to produce the high-end flooring that they produce, and…very successful company.”
Now, Tiffany said, the company imports 40 percent of its wood from Canada.
“Forty percent comes from Canada, while you have twice as much mortality on the national forest lands as there is harvest,” he said. “I mean, it’s ridiculous. It is a travesty that this is going on. So, what we proposed, since the United States Forest Service and their leadership in Washington, D.C., refuse to manage this properly, then what we proposed, and when I say we, I mean Sen. Tom Casperson from the Upper Peninsula and I, who have done a couple hearings on this, who’ve really been trying to advance this issue in terms of consciousness with the public.”
The two propose that a pilot project be set up by the federal government allowing counties in Wisconsin and Michigan to be able to manage these national forest lands on a pilot basis for about 10 years.
“And let’s compare then who manages these better, who manages them better for multiple use,” Tiffany said. “Because right now, they are not being managed properly, and it’s costing us dearly in northern Wisconsin.”
Tiffany says he supports Act 10 collective bargaining reforms passed last year and would vote the same way – for them – if court decisions force the Legislature to reconsider the law, or portions of it.
“Once again, it’s unfortunate (about the latest court decision blocking the law),” he said. “We’ve talked about agency people who believe that they’re the Legislature sometimes. Here we have a Dane County judge who believes he’s the Legislature, and it’s very unfortunate.”
Tiffany said Act 10 reforms had clearly worked.
“If you look at the Assembly District that I represent, Tomahawk saved a half- million dollars on their health insurance, and that’s a pretty interesting story,” he said. “Tomahawk refinanced their long-term bonding for their school. As a result of the Act 10 changes, they were able to save $500,000 on health insurance for their employees, and they added that to another $200,000 out of their budget and went back and renegotiated their bonds for the next 10 years. They’re saving $200,000 a year as a result of that renegotiation of their bonds, and they were able to do that by showing that they have their budget in order.”
And, Tiffany said, savings were occurring across the state, especially on health insurance.
“Now that you’ve got competitive bidding going on out there, it’s made a big difference across the state of Wisconsin, saved the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “And I would point you over also to local newspapers, other than yours, that have done articles on this, like the Three Lakes and Northland Pines school districts, and their administrators are talking about how this has really given us the flexibility to manage our operations as we choose to and as we best know how to. And you’re going to see property tax reductions in those two school districts as a result of the Act 10 changes, and this would not have happened without the Act 10 changes.”
There are benefits beyond just the savings, Tiffany said.
“It’s also allowing our local units of government to manage their enterprises as they best know how to,” he said. “Their hands aren’t tied the way they used to be.
Tiffany did not say whether he would support going beyond reforms for public sector unions to embrace Right-to-Work laws, but he did make clear it was not at the top of his list in any case.
“I think there’s some work to be done in regard to that to let the public know what that (Right to Work) means,” he said. “So, I think there’s education that needs to be done with the public in regard to that issue before we take it out. I would say this, also, that I think there are higher priorities at this point in terms of reforms of state government than Right to Work at this point. I think there’s things that are more immediate that we can accomplish in terms of fiscal responsibility, regulatory reform, that can be done that are immediate that need to be dealt with.”
Civil service reform, guns
Tiffany said there might be some need to reform the state’s civil-service system, which critics say protect partisan activists who purse their own agendas.
“I have to get more information on all the details of how our civil service system is set up in Wisconsin,” he said. “I’m certainly familiar with it generally speaking. Yes, it may need some reforms. What those are, I can’t say at this point, but I do think that there are some reforms that are needed.”
Tiffany said it is already helpful that agencies are instituting merit-pay systems, and he said there needs to be a cultural change in the entire system.
“It’s not just the Department of Natural Resources, either,” Tiffany said. “It’s very much cultural in Madison, and we have to change the culture of our agencies and how they interact with the people in the state of Wisconsin, the people they serve. Now, there are a lot of good civil servants out there, a lot of people that do a good, honest job, but there certainly are some bad actors, and we’ve got to figure out a way to make sure that those people who are not serving the people of the state of Wisconsin the way they should, they need to either reform how they’re going about doing their jobs or they need to leave state government.”
Tiffany said he is a longtime advocate for Second Amendment rights.
“I voted for concealed carry,” he said. “I voted for Castle Doctrine. The gun case law I voted for. I voted for the sporting heritage bill, trying to get more young sportsmen involved with hunting, fishing, and trapping. I think my record is pretty clear, and I’ve always been very consistent on those issues, endorsed by the NRA going back to 2008, once again this year endorsed by them, but, more importantly, you know, I think the people of northern Wisconsin, hunters, fishers, trappers, they know where I stand on these issues, and I’m very supportive of them.”
On open records, as he has in the past, Tiffany lauded his legislative office’s open records policy – except for minor, nonbusiness emails his office keeps all open records – but once again the representative refused to commit to end the Legislature’s exemption from the public records’ retention law.
Republicans have refused to support legislation allowing them to dispense with public records any time they want. Tiffany said only that he would look into such a measure.
“I have an open records policy in my office,” he said. “You can look at my records anytime. I’ll take a look at it (ending the exemption) in 2013. I think, yeah, people care about that. There’s an understanding in these offices that you have to be accountable for that stuff. What I’m doing is making a list of legislation that I’m considering introducing here in 2013, and set priorities – won’t be able to get everything that I want – but I’ll set priorities of the things that I want to see get done. I’ll add this to the list that I’ll consider.”
Tiffany also addressed a case before the state Supreme Court in which the state Department of Natural Resources is seeking to extend its regulatory authority above the ordinary high water mark for the first time. He said he would consider legislative action if the high court grants such authority.
“We may have to take corrective action if that happens,” he said. “Clearly, this is a violation of the Public Trust Doctrine. The Legislature granted that when? Decades ago. Clearly this exceeds navigability, and so it’s exceeding what the Legislature intended.”
Tiffany said assistant attorney general JoAnne Kloppenburg, long an advocate for environmental activism, was handling the case for the state.
“She clearly is handling this improperly, and it has the ability to have a huge expansion into non-navigable areas, onto private property,” he said. “This is the – what would you call it? – the mother lode for some of those folks in Madison who would love to have greater control over private property. It really opens the door and could have very harmful effects. Could have very harmful effects on economic development here in the state of Wisconsin, as they encroach further and further onto private property. So, I’m sure hopeful that the Supreme Court reverses the lower courts on this, but we’ll see what they do.”
The Hazelhurst lawmaker also addressed the Hwy. 51 reconstruction project and public unhappiness with the state Department of Transportation, saying reform was needed, and he again pointed to the culture of state bureaucracies.
“There are reforms that we need to do with all the state agencies,” Tiffany said. “On my literature piece in 2010, I put reform of the Department of Natural Resources. I mean, it isn’t just the Department of Natural Resources that we need to put additional reforms in place. But a lot of this is also cultural. We as a Legislature over the last few decades have, I think, been a bit passive. A bit passive in regard to overseeing the state agencies. We need to, both the governor’s office and the Legislature, we need to be more aggressive in making sure they are carrying out the will of the people. That’s one of the things in terms of an overarching principle that I’ll follow through, if elected to the state Senate.”
Finally, Tiffany said he supported legislation requiring a photo identification card to vote, as well as ending Election Day registration.
“It should be a priority to have voter ID, and the people across the state of Wisconsin agree with us on that, that in order to have fair and honest elections, that there should be photo ID,” he said. “I mean, people are very supportive of that, and I will…if it’s struck down (the law has been struck down in lower courts and is under appeal), then we need to rewrite it and make sure it gets put in place. And I do support ending same-day registration.”
Tiffany said it all boiled down to accountability.
“Voting is a right, and as part of a right, we want to encourage every person possible to vote here in this state of Wisconsin, but they also need to cast an honest ballot,” he said. “It goes back to taking responsibility for the liberties that we enjoy in this country. And, I think one of the fundamental responsibilities of a citizen is to prove that they actually can legally vote in that municipality in that state in which they reside.”
Sommer says she’s an independent thinker, not party line
Democratic candidate for Senate supports restoring
collective bargaining for public workers
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
Susan Sommer, the Democratic candidate for the 12th District state Senate seat, has a straightforward message for voters – in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, she says, it doesn’t matter what political party one belongs to because the issues here cross party lines and require independent thinking.
And that, she says, is why she is best suited for the seat, because she is an independent thinker who researches on her own and then works to build consensus.
“The reason that people should vote for me is because you work hard to become an informed voter, and it’s easy to do,” Sommer told The Lakeland Times. “... Please become an informed voter, and I’m confident when you do, you will realize that what’s important to all of us here in the 12th state Senate District truly has nothing to do with whether you’re a member of a political party or aren’t a member of a political party. We were talking about education. We all want the best education for our children. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, a Green, undecided, or Independent. You talk about healthcare, too. My husband and I know what it’s like in the private sector to struggle with trying to afford healthcare. It doesn't matter what party you’re a member of or if you’re an independent or an undecided.
“You talk about the beauty of our land and our resources here. For example, what they did in the town of Lynne, standing up and saying together, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, undecideds, we don’t want this (mining) to happen out here. You need to hear our voice. Our issues up here truly cross party lines and have nothing to do with party lines.”
All that given, Sommer says, what the Northwoods needs in the Senate is someone like herself, a person who is an independent thinker, who wants to work hard to research issues, and to sit down and talk with everybody in consensus.
“I don't have a party agenda,” Sommer said. “I know I feel strongly about certain issues, and I believe there are moral issues that face us that we all feel strongly about, but I’m not going to do something because a party tells me I need to do it. I want to sit down thoughtfully with people, gather all the information that I can, ..... and make decisions based on informed information so that we can all have the best possible result for our 12th state Senate District and ultimately for the state of Wisconsin, this place that we love and that we call home.”
The economy and the budget
When it comes to spurring economic growth while trying to balance the budget, Sommer says the state needs to put education investments ahead of corporate tax breaks.
“I think we have to look at what our priorities are when we are balancing the budget,” Sommer said. “I know there was some talk by the current administration that we need to give corporations tax breaks because then that will encourage them to create jobs in Wisconsin. I don’t think that the last two years has borne out that proposition. I think what’s really important is to make sure our priorities are reflected in the budget, and one of those priorities is to strengthen funding for education.”
Education, Sommer says, is truly the bedrock of job creation and of the economy, not to mention of the strength behind the nation’s democracy.
“(Nicolet Technical College) is a great example when you’re asking about job growth and the economy,” she said. “The 16 technical colleges in the state of Wisconsin work very closely with industry, and our Nicolet Technical College, which we’re so blessed to have here in northern Wisconsin, works very closely with local industries.”
For example, she said, Print Pack and the paper mill in Tomahawk work with the college to offer different courses tailored to train and educate people specifically to do jobs in those industries and firms.
“So, when I say that education is critical to job growth and to the strengthening of the economy, this is a wonderful example of how that works,” she said. “Here in northern Wisconsin, we also have a great opportunity to bring job growth here through small businesses, as well, and one of the ways that smaller communities are trying to do that…(is) to bring broadband to the area, specifically to help small businesses grow.”
Sommer cited a nonprofit incubator program in Vilas County, which partnered with the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation to bring broadband into a building and encouraged small business to apply for space within the building.
“They have more applicants than they actually have positions available, and right now I know of two small businesses that are taking advantage of it,” she said. “They can come and stay for two years at a much lower rent. They can make use of their Internet access.”
Success breeds success, Sommer said.
“And obviously when small businesses progress and become more successful, they can encourage other people to become employees for their small businesses, so I think broadband is key, too, especially here in the 12th state Senate District,” she said.
As for job-creation policies on a broader scale, Sommer says she has a lot to learn, but corporate tax breaks concern her.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert, because I'm not,” she said. “I know how to balance a personal budget. I couldn’t begin to tell you until I get down into the Senate and have the opportunity to research it how you do that for the state budget. But what I found concerning is that the tax breaks for the corporations, $2.3 billion over the next 10 years, are for existing corporations, and that money is lost revenue to the state of Wisconsin. So I don’t think it’s accurate to say that by making those particular tax cuts, we’re going to end up with additional job creation in the state, and that’s why I say it’s a matter of priorities. Rather than losing that revenue, we need to return it to what I see to be key, which is our education system.”
While some in the state have proposed eliminating the state income tax, Sommer said she needed to study the issue more, though she said the question would be how to replace the lost revenue that is needed for public infrastructure.
When asked, Sommer did not say whether she would vote to raise taxes; instead, she said, her focus would be to make sure the tax structure is fair, which she said she did not necessarily think it was. She also questioned tax breaks to specific companies and industries.
“(I)f you’re going to give tax breaks, for example, to particular corporations, you need to make sure that you’re giving tax breaks to everybody equally, all businesses equally, because then…otherwise, what you’re doing is, the government’s betting on certain companies doing better than other companies, which isn’t…Well, it’s neither realistic nor a fair way to approach business when you’re trying to encourage it in our state,” she said.
Regulatory reform, administrative rules
With regard to regulatory reform, Sommer said the first question to ask is not how to reform but whether reform is needed.
“So, when we discuss regulations and how they affect industries coming into the state, I think we really have to get down to the nitty gritty of what is it exactly that’s preventing small businesses from starting up,” she said. “You talk about loopholes. Well, what are those hoops that they have to jump through that are too difficult or maybe not necessary? What are the hoops that larger companies might have to jump through, like a mining company, for example, that really aren’t necessary? Is that, in fact, true, that we have hoops that are unnecessarily difficult? I think we have to examine that first before we just say that as a fact without knowing the reality behind it.”
As for administrative rules and legislative oversight, Sommer said she respected bureaucratic expertise to an extent, but that increasing legislative oversight perhaps made sense.
“Well, there’s a purpose for the administrative rules, the way that it’s set up, because I would assume the purpose is because an agency like the Department of Natural Resources, with all of their work in that particular area, with all of the experience their employees have in that area, would know better than legislators who are supposed to try to understand everything and can’t know every one subject well enough,that they could promulgate rules that would make sense to enact laws,” she said.
That said, Sommer continued, perhaps more legislative oversight was needed.
“Should the senators and representatives be working harder?” she asked. “Do they have too much on their plate? You were talking about how it (rule review) goes from…has to go to a committee and onto another body before the, you know, the Legislature has to come together again before they make their rules, but that’s actually what we’re elected to do....”
Sommer did criticize Act 21, which endowed the governor with more rule authority. Her opponent, Republican Tom Tiffany, was the author of that legislation.
“It says, he (the governor) has to look at those rules before they even get to the Legislature for review, and that he can basically say yea or nay to the rules,” Sommer said. “I don’t agree with that particular decision, because I don’t think…that’s taking away local control, because your state Senator now doesn’t have that initial say so, your local representatives don’t have that initial say so.”
Sommer says she supports responsible mining, and she says the state’s current laws are sufficient to determine what’s responsible and what’s not, rather than creating separate iron ore mining legislation. She also said the proposed iron mine in the Penokee range raises a lot of questions.
“I support responsible mining,” she said. “I think anybody has to in recognition of how we. as a society, choose to live our lives and how the world chooses to live, and the need that it has for the minerals to permit us to drive around in our vehicles, to have the quality of life that we have certainly have here in the United States.”
With respect to the Penokee range, Sommer said, the area has already been heavily mined.
“What’s left now is taconite, which does not have the same percentage of iron in it as the iron ore that was mined earlier,” Sommer said. “First question we have to ask ourselves is, whether there’s actually an ore body there. Now, the definition of an ore body is a mineral that can be mined profitably. We know there’s taconite there. We know that one of the mining companies back in the ’70s even took core samples, which are floating around somewhere, whether Gogebic Taconite, the out-of-state company that came in and demanded we change our mining laws has those or not, they’ve never disclosed.... I’d be curious to know whether they know if there actually is a profitable mineral deposit in that range, or is this something that the company strictly came in here to try to get our laws changed.”
Another question would be, Sommer said, can you mine underground there profitably for the taconite that exists in that range, instead of the planned open-pit mine?
“Now, the reason that that might be an option to consider is because when you’re talking about an open pit mine on the Penokee range, that’s a huge footprint,” she said. “That gets rid of the timber that’s already there that could be used for the timber industry, because that will all be gone. It will have to be taken away. You have no sustainable forestry practices up there. Once that whole range, potentially 22 miles long, is stripped, it’s going down at least 1,000 feet, so it’s going to be leaving this huge open gap, which will be filled in, according to what the mining company said at a number of hearings I’ve been to, filled in with the overburden as they move along.”
That overburden, she said, is known to contain pyrite, a sulfide-producing mineral when it’s exposed to air and water, and that could create acid mine drainage and threaten the watershed on the Penokee range.
“That’s a second question,” she said. “Do we really want to do an open-pit mine up there, and have we considered the possibility of an underground mine instead? I think that all comes down to this idea of an ore body being profitable to mine.”
As for legislation, she supports the current statutes.
“I believe Wisconsin has an incredibly responsible mining law right now,” she said. “I looked at AB 426, Senate Bill 488, which was the proposal to change our mining laws (last year), and that is not a responsible piece of legislation. It’s irresponsible.”
Sommer said there were several reasons she saw it as irresponsible.
For one thing, she said, it weakens the state’s environmental controls, while other mining companies have no problem with the current law.
“We have companies in Wisconsin right now looking at our possible eight ore bodies around, at least the northern part of the state, without any complaint to our government about…you need to change your mining laws,” she said. “They’re willing to start the process. So, why was there this big push to divide out iron mining? Was it truly because of the permitting process?”
Comparing current permitting timelines to nearby states, she said, they’re basically all about the same, in the long run.
“They may have different time periods for different procedures, but ultimately in the long run they all take about the same amount of time,” Sommer said.
Last year’s iron mining legislation also redefined a sulfide ore body, she said.
“Why does it redefine a sulfide ore body for purposes of iron mining?” she asked. “I believe because there’s a recognition of the fact that there is sulfide-producing pyrite rock in the overburden, and if they didn’t redefine it and say that it doesn’t apply to iron ore mining, we’d run into this problem of a sulfide-producing mineral.”
She said the mining legislation also did not permit the Department of Natural Resources to issue a stop order.
“So, if there’s pollution going on right now under our current mining law, the DNR can go up to the company and say stop, you'’you’ve got to stop right now,” Sommer said. “We’ve observed this damage to the environment, this pollution, you must stop. Under this particular mining legislation, the proposed bill, the DNR would have to go to the Department of Justice to seek an injunction. The Department of Justice would have to go to court to get a court order to get an injunction. Not as direct a process as an automatic stop order. It permits the filling of shore lands. It permits extraordinary use of high-capacity wells taking water out of our groundwater, which is going to affect local folks up there with their own private wells, which will eventually affect the Bad River Tribe, as well, because of the groundwater that comes from the Penokee Range that they use.”
The law would also presume that a significant adverse impact to wetlands is necessary.
“It totally flips on its head the way we look at things now in the state of Wisconsin,” Sommer said. “Our public rights to clean air and clean water outweigh the public benefit, and a mine can’t be permitted if the public rights are going to be harmed by the public benefit. This law, proposed law, switches that around. The public benefits outweigh the public rights.”
On another resource issue, Sommer said she did not believe that counties should manage national forests, as Tiffany has proposed.
“I’m not really sure if that’s the question to ask, whether locally we’d be able to do a better job of it,” Sommer said. “I guess you’d have to decide on how you define what a better job is. But I think that the three-tiered system is an important one with the National Forest Service, because they have different goals in mind, which include the aesthetic aspect of it, as well as everybody being able to make use of the national forests, compared to the state forest goals, which are different, and the county forest goals, which are often sustainable forestry management and making use financially of your timber product. .... I think right now, although maybe there could be some truth that those national forest lands need to be managed better or differently, I don’t see that the state should or the counties should or could get involved in that.”
Sommer says she believes collective bargaining is a right rather than a privilege, and she would work to restore bargaining for public employees.
“My core belief is that everybody has the right to collectively bargain,” she said. “How do we get back to that for our public employees? Well, we need to figure out a way to do it. You talk about balancing a budget. You can switch things around. You can give tax breaks that we talked about earlier to certain groups, so then you're short revenue somewhere else, so then you come up with what’s often been described as the governor’s toolkit for municipalities and local townships, which was Act 10, to try to make up for the monies that have been slashed, for example, in education, that were slashed to our local communities, so then somehow they had to be able to make up for that, and they were given this wonderful toolkit that is called Act 10, getting rid of collective bargaining.”
Sommer said public workers had been demoralized not only by cuts in funds for necessary public works but also by the collective bargaining law.
“I’ve talked to people who’ve worked in the highway departments,” she said. “Our local highway funds were cut as it was to be able to, to help us maintain our roads, which are so important for business and industries, and if we want people, even our tourism industry, to succeed up here, we've got to have good roads. So, not only are our funds cut in this last legislative cycle for our roads repair, but now our good folks who go out and maintain our roads have been demoralized and diminished and wonder if they’re even valued because of their collective bargaining rights being taken away, and I don’t understand, first of all, how you can even take rights away from people when they’re inherent rights, but that’s what happened.”
Sommer says she supports Second Amendment rights.
“I’m a hunter, I’m a fisherman, fisherwoman, fly fishing, and I own guns,” Sommer said. “I’ve got a shotgun and two handguns. I do those things, because I grew up in northern Wisconsin, and I was really lucky to have a dad who took me out to do those things.”
As the oldest of three children, Sommer said she was able to go out right away with her dad and brother and learn about hunting and firearm safety.
“And that’s why I still have guns at home, because I value them,” she said. “I like the sport of hunting. Bird hunting is what I like to do. I’m entirely supportive of the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. It’s integral to who we are as a country. It’s certainly a huge part of who we are in the 12th state Senate District.”
Sommer said she did not like the wolf hunt legislation that was passed, and did not personally support the state’s wolf hunt.
“That legislation was rushed through,” she said. “It was I don’t think thoughtfully done, and one of the main points that I’ll use as an example on that is the hunting with the dogs, and that’s not done anywhere in the 50 United States. For whatever reason, that was added into that particular bill.”
Courts later issued an injunction against using dogs in the wolf hunt, she acknowledged.
That said, her personal opposition did not necessarily mean she would have opposed the wolf hunt as a senator, she said.
“Well, I recognize when I’m elected senator, I’m representing the entire 12th state Senate District, so I was making a statement about my own personal feelings, which is much different from when you’re a senator and have to take into consideration everybody’s point of view.”
Sommer said she was very supportive of open records laws and transparency, and, while she would not commit to support ending a records’ retention exemption for the Legislature without seeing a bill, she said she was supportive of the idea.
“I know you all have worked very hard on open-record requests here at the newspapers,” Sommer said. “I don't understand what people are so afraid of. The point of government is, we're supposed to be transparent. You’re elected to represent the people, so there should be absolutely nothing that you’re trying to hide or aren’t willing to turn over.”
Sommer said she would like to see a drafted bill before supporting it, but didn’t get the underlying idea about why lawmakers would be afraid and would, therefore, delete whatever they had.
“It seems to me it’s all public record, because you’re a public servant, so people have the right to know,” she said.
Sommer also addressed a case before the state Supreme Court in which the state Department of Natural Resources is seeking to extend its regulatory authority above the ordinary high water mark for the first time, in a bid to protect private nonnavigable wetlands. Sommer said the state might be justified in trying to extend its authority, but it depended on the value of the wetlands.
“What’s important, I would think in that particular situation is how precious, pristine, necessary those particular wetlands are,” she said. “I’m assuming that must have something to do with why there are arguments on both sides, whether they need to be protected or it’s not necessary to protect them. I would need to know more about it.”
On the question of whether the state Department of Transportation had too many expansive powers and needed to be reeled in, Sommer said she would have to research that issue.
Finally, Sommer said she opposed Voter ID and supported Election Day registration.
“If you’ve got the proper paperwork or you can show that you live where you live and have for the, now 28 days, not 10, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to,” she said.
Ehlers stresses school funding,
job creation in Senate bid
Libertarian candidate would eliminate income tax, cut government spending
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
Paul Ehlers, the Libertarian candidate for the 12th state Senate District seat, says he has two main issues he is trying to emphasize in this campaign: job creation and school funding.
Ehlers’ formula for job creation isn’t complicated; it’s about removing the barriers that impede job creators.
“I think the way we create jobs is we eliminate taxes,” Ehlers told The Lakeland Times last week. “I don’t think we can imagine what would be unleashed. It is so hard to turn a profit. I’ve owned a business. My grandfather started a business. My dad ran it. I grew up in a family grocery store. Then I owned a music store in Rhinelander. And it is so hard to turn a profit. And you turn a profit, and the reward is, you get to pay taxes. And if you’re really good at turning a profit, your reward is a higher tax bracket.”
Taxes do not represent incentives to achieve, he says, and so they have to go, especially the income tax, not only because they impede job creation but also because they violate individual liberty.
“Does the government really have the right to my productive capacity?” Ehlers asked. “I don’t think they do.”
As for school funding, Ehlers doesn’t believe the state should be funding K-12 education.
“I want that locally funded,” he said. “How I would do that is, I would take the sales tax generated in each community, each township, wherever there’s a business that collects sales tax, and 50 percent of that sales tax stays there. And then we elect our town board, we elect our town chairman, we elect our alderman, we elect our mayors, we elect our county board, we elect our school boards. They do the right thing with that money.”
That would lower property taxes, Ehlers believes, and local communities wouldn’t be at the mercy of a formula, not to mention of categorical aids that Ehlers says don’t mean what they say they mean.
“Everybody says we’ve got to change the school funding formula,” Ehlers said. “No, we don’t. We have to blow it up. We have to just get rid of it. Now, I understand that there could be problems with this. I understand it’s not going to be perfect, but it would reward communities that had an entrepreneurial spirit, that were pro-business. They would have money to spend on schools. Other communities would say…Hey, we want a good school like they do, what do we have to do? You’ve got to be pro-business.”
It’s a pretty simple proposition, Ehlers says: You give communities local control of schools, you lift property tax caps so those communities can decide how much they want to spend, and then let people make their own decisions.
“If my school board doesn’t spend enough money on schools, I'm going to vote them out,” he said. “If they spend too much money on schools, if taxes get too high, I’m going to vote them out. It’s never going to be just right. There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all formula that works. Let us have our schools back. Let us run our schools. I don’t see how they can possibly imagine they know what’s best for us.”
Economic growth, taxes
Ehlers said job growth is essential to reducing the costs that come with programs such as Medicaid, because putting people to work would reduce those rolls.
“You know, Medicaid is tremendously expensive, and we can’t throw these people away,” he said. “They’re people. Some people on Medicaid are working two jobs. It’s not that they don’t want to work. They want to work and they want to have a good job.”
Ensuring that they have good-paying jobs would reduce those Medicaid costs.
“If we had jobs, if jobs came to Wisconsin, and I don’t think we can just go out and reel them in, we have to make it an environment that is conducive to them coming,” Ehlers said. “Maybe it won’t work, but I think it will. And then there’d be a competition for Wisconsin labor. When there’s a competition for labor, wages go up. That’s how I understand a free market to work.”
And what specifically would Ehlers do to bring about an environment conducive to job creation? He would have the government stop picking winners and losers, and he would eliminate the income tax.
“The way I look at it, a few years ago, Harley was in trouble,” Ehlers said. “Harley Davidson was in trouble, Mercury Marine was in trouble, and the state didn’t want to lose those jobs. They didn’t want to lose Harley Davidson, the icon of Wisconsin, so the legislators stepped in and they cut some taxes for them, maybe some loans, whatever it took to get them to stay. And my thinking is, well, if that’s good for Harley Davidson, why isn’t that good for The Lakeland Times? Why isn’t that good for Mel's? Why isn’t that good for Wausau Paper Company? Why isn’t it good for everybody?”
Picking winners and losers interferes with the capitalist system, Ehlers said.
“My bias is, I’m a capitalist,” he said. “I’m a stark-raving capitalist. I admit it from the bottom of my heart. That doesn’t mean there are not excesses that occur, there are not problems with it, but it is by far the best system to create wealth that the world has ever seen, and I don’t think it’s fair when government picks winners and losers.”
Instead, Ehlers said he would phase out the income tax, corporate and personal, over the next four years.
“I would take 2 percent, you know, get it from 8 to 6, from 6 to 4, get rid of it, and watch what happens,” he said. “Instead of going out and trying to recruit people to come, there might be people that are dying to come to Wisconsin, and they’re just waiting for some kind of a meaningful symbol or something from the government to say…hey, come on in, we want you.”
Ehlers says he knows there is a need for government, and the government needs revenue, but he believes just as adamantly that the income tax is inconsistent with liberty.
“It basically says we’re all sharecroppers, that government owns a certain percentage of my productive capacity, and the government didn’t give me that productive capacity,” Ehlers said. “Our Founding Fathers said that our creator gave that to us.”
Ehlers said the revenue lost by ending the income tax could not all be replaced, but the answer to that was to cut government spending.
“The government has to have priorities,” he said. “They can’t do everything for everybody. That’s a fool’s errand. Government should focus on what they do best. If we don’t have taxes, we probably don’t need a Chamber of Commerce. I know they took that away, but they made it a different bureaucracy. We probably don’t need a Milk Marketing Board. We probably don’t need a Tourism Board. So, there are some things that we’re giving businesses to kind of help out that I think the businesses, frankly, should do for themselves. If they don’t have to pay taxes, they should have extra money to fund commercials, to have their own groups that meet, tourism counsels.”
Rule reform, civil service
Ehlers says he would both support an active rather than passive review of administrative rules by the Legislature – though he doubts it will make things much better – and civil service reform.
In active review, the Legislature must vote affirmatively to enact rules; right now, a bill must be passed to stop a rule’s implementation.
“It (active review of rules) sounds very reasonable to me,” he said. “I mean, the Legislature passes the law, and if they don’t know what in the hell they’re voting on, shame on them, but, yeah, I don’t think we can have bureaucrats interpret the law. To me, that’s what the court system does, it interprets the constitutionality of the law. So, yeah, that sounds really reasonable. I’m not convinced it’s going to get the results you want, though, because, you’ve still got the same guys that wrote a wishy, washy law in the first place now deciding if this is, you know…It’s certainly better.”
As for civil service reform, Ehlers said newly elected officials of an adminstration and their appointees should be able to choose the people that work in the administration.
“My understanding was the new broom sweeps clean,” he said. “And it’s to be expected.”
Ehlers says he is pro-mining.
“I use minerals every day,” he said. “We all use minerals every day. We’ve got to have minerals to live. Without the natural resources and natural world, we have no economy. So, you know, I get all that, and I think iron mining is much safer than, say, sulfide mining. You just grind it up, you take a magnet, you separate it.”
It’s not without some risks, he said.
“You do have these waste piles, because you can’t squish it in as tight as Mother Nature did, and water, rain water will land on it, and there will be leaching, and there is pyrite up north, and pyrite is a sulfide, and so we need to know how much,” Ehlers said. “A small amount of pyrite won’t hurt a thing. A large amount of pyrite will. And that’s not in the iron formation, but it’s in the formation next to it, the Tyler slate has that. So, I think, you know, we’ve got to trust the scientists there.”
That said, Ehlers said he believes mining companies have abused their privileges, especially in Montana, and often say they are going to take care of problems down the road, but, when the problems are down the road, they go bankrupt and do everything in their power to avoid their social responsibility.
“So, I get people that are against the mine,” he said. “But, I think we can do it safely. That doesn’t translate to ‘we will do it safely,’ but I think it can be done safely.”
Ehlers said he wasn’t crazy about carving out a niche law for iron ore mining.
“I think we need a more comprehensive mine law,” he said. “I think the mining law we have is too restrictive right now. We do need to change it. My understanding is that they spent 25 years on the Crandon mine and never made a decision. I mean, I think that's the truth. And, you know, when Connor got the rights to it, he goes, okay, where’s my impact statement, and they didn’t have it. I mean, I loved that. So, obviously we’ve got to have something less than 25 years.”
Ehlers said he wasn’t sure about the language or the timeframe for permitting, but he said it sounded reasonable for a couple of years to do the science, and a couple of years for public comment.
“The bottom line to me is, do the people who live there want it?” he said.
For example, the people in the Oneida County town of Lynne did not want any sulfide mining there, so, to Ehlers, that’s a done deal. But, he said, opinion was split on the iron mine in northeastern Wisconsin.
“I know that the people on Madeline Island in Ashland aren’t too crazy about it, but the people in Mellen are,” he said. “Okay, and so then I would say if the DNR says…hey, this will work, and the people in Mellen want it, let’s have it.”
Ehlers also said he wished mining opponents would stop mischaracterizing the region.
“You know, the other thing that drives me crazy is, we use the word ‘pristine,’” he said. “Like when you said, that’s not a right, and I really thank you for doing that, because words have meanings, and the Penokee Mountains are not pristine. That’s not the definition of this. Now, they’re cool and they’re nice and they’re pretty, but they’ve been logged two or three times and they’ve had mining in there for all this time. When I look at the dictionary, and I see the word ‘pristine,’ that’s not what I see, and that’s the kind of rhetoric that bothers me.”
The bottom line?
“Again, mining is another one of those tough issues, but, yes, I would favor mining,” Ehlers said. “I think we need it. I think it can be done safely. That doesn’t mean it will. I love the people that protest. I wish they wouldn’t exaggerate and in some cases outright lie. You know, I really wish that that wouldn’t happen. I wish we would have a say in a reasonable debate on these issues.”
Ehlers said he believes reasonable people can disagree on the issue.
“You can look at the past,” he said. “Does that mean they’re going to do it again here? No. Well, you’ve got a track record, though, don’t you? So, you know, it’s a tough issue, but, in general, I’m in favor of it.”
On a another resource issue, Ehlers said he would not be in favor of counties managing national forest land, as his opponent Tom Tiffany has proposed.
“Well, I think the counties and the state gave it to the federal government, and we should have seen what was going to happen when we did that,” he said. “If it’s their land, I don’t see why we get to manage it.”
On the collective bargaining front, Ehlers said he was not happy with the process by which Act 10 was passed, and the whole situation was one of the reasons he decided to run.
“I think ultimately where we got was about three-quarters of where we needed to get to, so I would not vote for Act 10 exactly the way it turned out,” he said. “But backing up, I don’t think the ends justify the means, and I don’t like the means. I really feel that Gov. Walker and the Republicans kind of bullied the Democrats, and bullied the state employees. Of course, then the Democrats take off. I wasn’t too happy with that, and that’s basically why I’m running, quite frankly, is because I don’t think the Democrats or Republicans, certainly don’t represent me, and they probably don’t represent most of the people that I hang out with and talk to.”
That said, Ehlers said change in compensation was needed.
“I work at Nicolet College,” he said. “I am a teacher, so I am a member of WEAC. So, I’m a member of this organization. And, for the last 12 years that I’ve been a teacher at Nicolet College, I've gotten $20,000 in raises, that’s with Cadillac retirement and a Cadillac healthcare. So, did that have to change? You bet. Did my union go forward and say…hey, let’s not get a raise this year, let’s get a higher deductible, let’s pay a bigger part? Of course not. So, for them to not see this coming, you know, my union leadership fails.”
That said, Ehlers said collective bargaining was just that, bargaining. It was a negotiated bargain, and Ehlers said he didn’t think the governor had the right to just end it.
“But it basically was a bargain,” Ehlers said. “It’s not a right, but it was a negotiated deal that was struck from free people on both sides, okay. And I don’t think the governor has the authority to just go in there and end that. And maybe he does. We’ll find out. It’s in the courts.”
The issue is not just about the money, either, Ehlers added.
“Unions are not just about money, okay,” he said. “And it’s not just about protecting the guy who doesn’t work hard. That’s, you know, we’ve got bad images about unions, but unions really can help with some of the subtle work environment issues.”
In the end, Ehlers said, he thought there’s a way to get things done, a better way than the way it was done.
“Ultimately, having me pay more for my healthcare, absolutely,” he said. “What if I don’t get a raise for a couple of years? Absolutely. Having me pay more for my retirement? Absolutely. I’ve told my union this, my union representative. I said, you know, when you go to the meeting, how about we don’t need a raise this year, how about we raise the deductible that’ll lower the premiums, there’s not one taxpayer in the Nicolet area district that gets these kind of raises, has what we have, and let’s just hold it down for a while.”
And the union always says, Ehlers continued, that they want to end up in the middle, not at the top or at the lowest end.
“And I would always say…except that Nicolet area’s district is close to the bottom in the amount of money they have, so if anybody should be near the bottom, it’s us,” Ehlers said.
Over in the private sector, however, Ehlers said he was all for right-to-work laws, but he said he still believes public employees have the right to have unions.
“I had to join the union when I took the job at Nicolet,” he said. “Of course, I didn’t have to take the job at Nicolet, but only a fool would not have taken the job at Nicolet.... You know, we always talk, as a Libertarian, we talk about four ways to spend money, and I’m going to bore the listening audience and maybe you guys, but the first way to spend money is to spend my money on myself, and I care how much it costs, and I care how good it is. The second way to spend money is your money on me. I care how good it is, but I don’t care how much it costs. The third way to spend money is to spend my money on you. I hope it’s pretty good, but I really care what it costs. The fourth way to spend money is to spend other people’s money on other people. You don’t care what it costs, and you don’t care if it’s any good. And that’s where the government is. They spend other people’s money on other people. There’s no cost control.”
Ehlers said he could see that applied to public sector unions.
“I get what you’re saying about the public employee unions, because they’re negotiating not against some guy who gets to put that money in his pocket, they’re negotiating against other government employees,” he said. “So, are they really going to worry then about where the money comes from?”
Nonetheless. he said, he still thinks people have a right to have unions: “I’m maybe not 100 percent logical on this.”
Ehlers says he strongly supports Second Amendment rights.
“Yeah, well, obviously gun rights, it’s in the Bill of Rights, and so there should be no limit on gun rights,” he said. “If I want a tank, I should have a tank. I’m serious. They (the Founding Fathers) understood what we were up against, and so, you know, there’s no question there.”
Ehlers said hunting, too, is an important fabric of life.
“I know that I’m not too crazy about public land as a Libertarian, but I understand that a lot of hunters would be pretty unhappy if the state sold all their land, sold it privately, and then that was closed off to hunting,” he said. “So, to me, that’s a real slippery slope for Libertarian-leaning folks, frankly. You know, this right to hunt on public land. Okay, but should the government own the land? It takes it off the tax rolls.”
As for the necessity of a wolf hunt, Ehlers said he was going to trust the experts at the DNR.
“To me the wolf is a symbol, and I think that’s where the people that are anti this hunt are at,” he said. “And to me the wolf is a symbol that we haven’t paved over the world, there’s still some natural places that are still pretty wild or at least wild enough. So, I like having wolves in Wisconsin. But I don’t know how many wolves we can support, and I’m going to trust the DNR. And if the DNR says that we have too many wolves, because I am not a wildlife biologist, freedom means that I have to tolerate some things that I maybe don't like. I’m not going to get a wolf license and go out and hunt them. But I don’t see how I possibly have the right to stop someone else doing that.”
On open records, and on the Legislature’s exemption from the public records retention law, Ehlers said he could not imagine a reason for records not to be open – “I mean, there’s no national security issue in Wisconsin” – but he used the issue to frame the dysfunction of the two-party system, with both parties promising change while out of power, and then continuing the same practices when in power.
For one thing, Ehlers said, freshmen lawmakers like Tom Tiffany – who has not supported ending the exemption – have no power to support or advance legislation opposed by party leaders.
“A rookie legislator, they tell them to sit in the corner,” he said. “They have party whips. That’s not an accidental word.”
Ehlers said it was another example of the two-party system being broken.
“We need Libertarians, we need Greens, we need Constitutionalists, we need Independents,” he said. “We have to stop the stranglehold. And what happens when I go to vote, I see a Republican and a Democrat, and I don’t think you can (complain) unless you vote, so I always vote for the lesser of the two evils.”
Finally, he said, he was talked into running himself.
“We tell people, how can you elect the same people over and over again, and then nobody runs against them,” Ehlers said. “You don't have a choice but to elect the same people over and over again.... If I got elected, I don’t have a party that I’ve got to work my way up the ranks to get anything. And, of course, my legislation is going to go nowhere, but what I can do is raise holy hell. I’ll be the loudest legislator you guys ever saw, because I don’t have to worry about keeping the heads of the Democrat or Republican guys on my side. I don’t have to worry about playing nice.”
But, again on the subject of open records, Ehlers said he would have nothing to hide.
“It would be embarrassing if you guys found out that I checked my Fantasy Football while I’m at work,” he said. “I mean, that might be a little embarrassing, but that’s about as bad as you’d ever find from me.”
Ehlers addressed the power of the Department of Transportation and the agency’s Hwy. 51 reconstruction project, which has drawn loud criticism from the public in the Lakeland area.
“I don’t know how they got their power, and I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I’ll tell you this, the state is broke, and I don’t think, unless Hwy. 51 through Hazelhurst was in disrepair, they shouldn't have been messing with it,” Ehlers said.
Ehlers said a lot of DOT projects are pork, and a lot of its power flows from the Wisconsin Manufacturer’s Association, and “all the money that goes through from the paving lobby.”
“The DOT, it just seems like their plans are sacrosanct, and I don’t get that,” he said.
Finally, Ehlers said he didn’t believe voter fraud was a major concern.
“You know, I don’t think it’s that big a problem to get all upset about,” he said. “I'll be honest with you. So, to me the .... image is of, ‘Show me your papers.’ Now, I understand that it’s not unreasonable to expect that people live and vote where they’re supposed to, and I’m naive to think that there aren’t people that are going to go and vote maybe five or six times. That said, I don’t think the cure…you know, it’s using a sledgehammer when you need a flyswatter. That’s what I think.”
Richard Moore may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org