More than 80 people attended the second “Meet the Candidates” forum March 26 at the Mercer Community Center. Nine out of 10 candidates for Iron County Board voting districts 11-15 shared views on topics from the Iron County Aging Unit to the proposed open pit iron mine and economic development.
Attending candidates included: Jim Lambert and Vic Ouimette (District 11), Deanna Pierpont and Opal Roberts (District 12), Betty Meinholz and Tom Thompson Jr. (District 13), James Kichak (District 14), and Gerald Luke and Brad Matson (District 15).
The discussion was candid and often friendly. After opening statements, audience questions began with economic development. Candidate ideas included the importance of retirees and tourism, the need to attract new businesses such as mining and value added wood products. It was suggested that Mercer look to neighboring communities where business incubators encourage entrepreneurs and that the town improve infrastructure.
There were numerous questions on mining. When asked how Iron County should seek funds for impacts, suggestions included improving the county forest lease option, sale of county forest land to the mining company to avoid long term risks (with suitable replacement acreage), negotiating a strong local agreement with the mining company, and getting the Governor to appoint the state Mining Impact Board which would release funds to cover county costs.
When asked point-blank if they favored the mine, candidates expressed views that the mine should be done “the right way.” For some this meant reliance on effective DNR and federal regulation, others pointed to the importance of Iron County receiving a fair share of the jobs and funding for infrastructure.
Another topic with numerous audience questions was fair distribution of funds from the Iron County Aging Unit. All agreed that more equitable support for senior services in Mercer and Springstead was imperative. Some ideas were to increase representation on the Commission on Aging and use of the county budget process to implement changes.
When asked about the vote to evict the Harvest Camp from county land, discussion focused on the legal issues. Current board members clarified that the DNR sent a letter to the county saying that they needed to stay within the 30 year Forest Plan or risk loss of forest certification which would have dramatic impacts on county income.
The last questions focused on the recent postcard campaign launched by Madison based, Americans for Prosperity. All the candidates expressed disdain for those mailings, citing inaccurate representations of some candidates as “radical environmentalists” and other factual errors. There was unanimous agreement that Iron County citizens do not need outside interests telling them how to vote.
An evaluation of the program by audience members, on a scale of one (poor) to five (excellent), ranked the following categories: format, 4.5; improved understanding of issues, 4.0; learning candidate positions, 4.0; and moderator, 4.7. Ninety-four percent of the audience said that programs like this would be useful in the future and that they would attend.
The forum was moderated by the UW-Extension staff, Will Andresen, and was sponsored by the Iron County Citizen’s Forum. For more information on the Citizen’s Forum, please call Terry Daulton at 715-476-3530.