In many ways, Tuesday’s special election in western Wisconsin’s 10th Senate District is a referendum on GOP Gov. Scott Walker and Republican leadership in the state.
The GOP candidate, state Rep. Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake, said Walker and the Republicans controlling the Legislature have Wisconsin moving in the right direction, and he just wants to help keep the momentum going.
By contrast, Democratic hopeful Patty Schachtner of Somerset maintained the Republicans running state government have done little to help folks in parts of the state outside of southeastern Wisconsin, and she’d like to end that neglect.
Even Libertarian candidate Brian Corriea of Wilson said part of the reason he is running for office is that he believes the Republicans aren’t following through on promises to provide meaningful tax relief and reduce the role of government.
The reason candidates are knocking on doors in the middle of a chilly Wisconsin winter is that Walker called the special election to replace longtime Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, after appointing her secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in November.
Parts of Dunn, Pierce, St. Croix, Polk and Burnett counties make up the 10th District, which Harsdorf had represented since 2001.
The race doesn’t have the potential to tip the balance of power in the Senate, but it does give Democrats the chance to cut into the GOP’s 19-13 majority before the 2018 general election.
Jarchow and Schachtner, who emerged from a Dec. 19 primary to represent the two major parties, and Corriea have starkly different ideas about what issues should be a priority in the Legislature.
Schachtner, 57, St. Croix County’s medical examiner and a Somerset school board member, is pushing access to mental health care and treatment for addiction. She said those two issues are costing the state a lot of money and harming the quality of life for many residents.
“If we don’t address these issues now, they will only get worse,” she said.
As evidence, she noted that Wisconsin’s jails and prisons are filled with people struggling with addiction and mental health problems.
“We spend more on incarceration than on education,” Schachtner said. “Does that really make sense?”
Even after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a budget with a large boost in K-12 education spending, Schachtner pointed out that funding still hasn’t returned to its level before Walker took office in 2011. She also stressed that the expansion of funding for voucher schools hasn’t done anything for the 10th District, which she said doesn’t have any voucher schools.
“When you support that, you’re literally taking money away from our schools and our kids,” Schachtner said.
Jarchow, 39, who has represented the 28th Assembly District for three years, said Wisconsin’s rising business climate rankings and historically low unemployment rates show Republicans have the state on the right track.
“I think we’ve been doing some good things, and I want to continue to be a part of it,” said Jarchow, a business attorney who owns an industrial safety firm and operates a campground and bar with his wife.
“It’s important for me to remain connected to the community and be a citizen legislator, I don’t ever want to become a career politician,” said Jarchow, who vowed, if elected, not to seek more than one more term in the state Senate. “I think full-time legislators are ruining the country, quite frankly.”
Among his top priorities are continuing to lower the tax burden and streamline regulations.
Still, Jarchow said he doesn’t always follow the party line and noted that he took some heat in the primary against Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, for voting against the $3 billion Foxconn deal and the 2017-19 state budget. Jarchow said he opposed the the budget because it called for too much spending and the Foxconn deal because it doesn’t provide enough return on investment for constituents in his district.
Corriea, an insurance adjuster and a nine-year U.S. Navy veteran, said he believes his candidacy can help satisfy a desire among a majority of voters for an alternative to the two major parties.
He has dubbed his candidacy the “free pass” campaign because he wants voters to feel it’s OK to vote for a third party candidate and that it’s not wasting their vote.
“A victory by a third party candidate in Wisconsin would make major news, and that would inspire other third party candidates to run in future elections,” he said.
That would be a good thing, Corriea said, because a lot of voters feel disenfranchised by the two major political parties.
“Having broader views reflected would get more people to participate in the political process, and the more people who participate, the better,” he said.
As a Libertarian, Corriea said he believes strongly in free markets and ending tax credits that enable government to pick winners and losers in the economy.
“We need to shrink the size of government and provide true tax relief. That’s how you create jobs and improve the economy,” he said.
The 10th District has a history of leaning strongly Republican, including handing Harsdorf 59 and 63 percent majorities in the past two elections.
That has Republicans feeling confident about retaining the seat.
“While Wisconsin Republicans like Adam Jarchow are fighting for Wisconsinites and delivering real reforms that help create jobs and cut taxes, Democrats are still embracing the same failed policies of yesterday,” said state GOP spokesman Alec Zimmerman. “Patty Schachtner and her liberal agenda are no different — and hard-working Wisconsin families know full well that they can’t afford her far-left ideals.”
Schachtner acknowledged she is an underdog and state Democratic Party spokeswoman Melanie Conklin said the chances of wresting the seat from Republicans typically would be low.
“But this is far from a normal time, and Patty Schachtner is an ideal candidate for these times,” Conklin said, adding that the Democrat is “on the same side as most of the public that has caused the nationwide blue wave, particularly her stance that all people have the right to health care” and her belief that tax policy should favor the middle class and not billionaires.
A press release announcing Schachtner’s candidacy portrayed her as a “bear-hunting, ice-fishing, straight-talking” candidate. That’s the same description of her that was used when she was featured in a 2006 episode of ABC’s series “Wife Swap” in which she traded places with a woman who ran a Miami modeling agency.
Schachtner has been targeted by attack ads from conservative special interest groups alleging salaries for Schachtner’s office more than doubled in five years and the Somerset school district once had to sue her over unpaid bills.
Schachtner said both charges are easily explained. The pay for contract staff in the medical examiner’s office has risen along with death rates, as the office received nearly three times as many calls in 2017 as in 2002. The mother of six also acknowledged once falling behind with bills when her kids were in school but said she repaid all of her debt.
She referred to the attacks as “poor shaming” and an example of political bullying.
Despite the uphill battle she faces, Schachtner said she appreciates the opportunity to talk about the importance of addressing the mental health and addiction crises facing the state and hopes to attract voters who agree with her view that “our local legislators haven’t done crap for us.”
“At the end of the day, I get to talk about something that is real and affects almost everybody out there in some way,” she said.
Jarchow expressed a dramatically different view of the choice facing voters.
“I think the choice is pretty clear here. If you’re looking for somebody who prioritizes lower taxes, smaller government, less spending, more freedom and more liberty, I’m your guy,” Jarchow said. “If you’re looking for somebody who has come out on the record for increasing taxes and growing government, then Patty Schachtner is the one you should vote for.”
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