Instead of the traditional format, today’s Wisconsin Democratic governor candidate forum in Eau Claire seemed more like speed dating or a job interview.
After short opening statements, the nine candidates at today’s forum at Chippewa Valley Technical College answered questions in small-group, town hall style discussions in eight-minute sessions before moving on to the next group. About 150 attended the event, the third forum featuring Democratic candidates in this year’s governor’s race in Eau Claire in the past couple of months.
Those smaller, less-formal talks allowed more topics to be addressed than at other forums at which candidates typically gather onstage and answer a set of predetermined questions, many of those at today’s event said.
“I really do like this format,” said Tera Ellison, a reading specialist in the Menomonie school district who lives in that city. “This is a more fair, equitable way to hear candidate’s responses to more issues. And having candidates speak to smaller groups like this makes it a more personal experience.”
Candidates and audience members had lots of issues on their minds at the forum, sponsored by Our Wisconsin Revolution, Indivisible Chippewa Valley and Chippewa Valley Votes. Issues such as the economy, the environment and poverty need increased attention and funding after being ignored by incumbent Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled state Legislature in recent years, they said.
“People in this state are hurting,” said state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, who joins state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, as candidates from western Wisconsin seeking the state’s top political job. “My vision is about putting people first.”
Other candidates spoke favorably about the different design of the forum they said allowed for more personal interactions between candidates and audience members.
“I do like that you get to see a different side of the candidates,” said Chris Hambuch-Boyle, an Eau Claire resident and president of the Eau Claire school board. “This format allows the candidates to offer more in-depth answers.”
One of those more informal moments occurred when Vinehout addressed a group of about 15 audience members. She recognized Nik Novak, a meat buyer at Just Local Food Co-op in Eau Claire and said “Nik. Local Food,” with a smile.
Novak, who knows Vinehout, responded by saying “I’ve got lots of questions for you,” a statement that prompted appreciative laughter from those around him. Then he asked the legislator a question about how the state could provide incentives to smaller family farms and local food initiatives.
Audience members Jon Will, of Fall Creek, and Jackie Christner of Eau Claire said they appreciated the forum’s format as it allowed a more free give-and-take between attendees and candidates. But with so many conversations taking place at once and groups close to each other, hearing was sometimes difficult, they said.
“And there isn’t enough time to ask enough questions of any one candidate to get a broad enough impression of their views on enough issues,” Christner said.
In addition to Vinehout, Wachs, other Democratic governor candidates attending the forum included state Schools Superintendent Tony Evers, former Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Matt Flynn, businessman Andy Gronik, open government and campaign finance reform activist Mike McCabe, Cross Plains business owner Michele Doolan, Stanford graduate Bob Harlow and disability rights advocate Jeff Rumbaugh.
Absent were Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin Mahlon Mitchell and former state Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison. One Democratic candidate will emerge from the Aug. 14 primary to face Walker in the Nov. 6 general election.
Read more about the candidate forum in Sunday’s Leader-Telegram.