CHIPPEWA FALLS — A new state senator in the 23rd Senate District will be elected in Nov. 6, as incumbent Terry Moulton announced in March he wasn’t seeking re-election.
Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, has represented the 68th Assembly District since 2010, but she opted to seek Moulton’s seat. Bernier faces physician Chris Kapsner, who is running for a political office for the first time.
Bernier contends she is the best candidate for the seat.
“I’m running for the state Senate to continue serving my constituents by listening to their concerns and then going to work for them,” Bernier said. “I believe that we have already made a real difference in our state, but there is more to be done.”
Kapsner touted his background as the main reason voters should consider him.
“As a doctor, I understand the importance of using evidence and best practice to solve a problem,” Kapsner said. “I am a father of four and longtime resident of Wisconsin. I see the numerous challenges and stresses that our communities face. I’ve spent my career as a physician advocating for my patients, and now I am running for the state Senate to do the same for the residents of the 23rd District. I believe Wisconsin has tremendous potential and it’s time we have the support we need to keep our communities strong.”
Bernier said the state is headed in the right direction and she wants to continue the work she’s done in the past eight years as a legislator.
“Unemployment is at historically low levels, confidence in the economy is booming and our state is in great fiscal shape for the future,” Bernier said. “Not only is Wisconsin in the top 10 for both ACT scores and graduation rates, but we rank No. 1 for health care quality. Wages are not only growing in Wisconsin, but they are outpacing the national average as well. By just about every significant measure, our state is heading in the right direction.”
Kapsner said he has some concerns.
“I am running for the state Senate because I believe in our state’s tremendous potential; however, over the last several years, the needs of our local communities have been ignored,” Kapsner said. “Wisconsin families are working harder than ever but can’t seem to get ahead while the current administration continues to favor special interests and out-of-state corporations at the expense of local taxpayers.”
Kapsner added: “I would work to address these issues by accepting the federal dollars to expand BadgerCare, sustainably funding transportation and broadband expansion projects, increasing voucher school accountability and putting a stop to corporate giveaways. In the next state budget, I would prioritize investments in affordable health care, high-quality public education, local infrastructure projects and environmental protections.”
Bernier said she sees several areas where the state should consider increasing spending in the next budget.
“On the spending side, obviously education, health care and transportation are all areas that are likely to require additional funding in the next budget,” Bernier said. “While we already increased our investment in mental health services in the last budget, this is an area where we may need to continue to add funding.”
The candidates agree that the state’s school funding formula needs work.
“We are continually increasing our investment in both K-12 and technical colleges, along with holding down costs for those in our university system,” Bernier said. “I successfully fought for $600 million in new funding for K-12 education, including an extra $604 per student over the next two years, but we can still improve a flawed school funding formula to provide more resources for the neediest districts. Just as with transportation though, we can’t simply throw more money at schools and expect success; we must also challenge our administrators, teachers and parents to seek out new and innovative ways to encourage learning and then reward success.”
Kapsner said the state needs to provide more dollars to local districts.
“The past several years we have seen historic cuts to public education, unfairly shifting a greater burden onto local communities and saddling families with a lifetime of student loan debt,” Kapsner said. “If elected, I would restore long-overdue funding for our public schools, universities and technical colleges because great education is a key driving force behind the success of our communities.”
The candidates have starkly different views of the Foxconn Technology Group deal and its future impact on the state. The state is providing billions of dollars in taxpayer incentives to the Taiwanese electronic giant Foxconn, which has pledged to build a $10 billion factory in Racine County that will employ 13,000 people.
“The Foxconn investment represents an unprecedented opportunity to bring an entirely new industry to our state. Work is already underway and involves construction companies from every corner of the state, including Menomonie and Marathon in our area,” Bernier said. “While some like to claim we’ve thrown away a huge sum of money on this, in reality, Wisconsin’s investment is ‘pay as they grow’ with tax credits released only as jobs are created. In addition to their massive factory, Foxconn is investing in research facilities around the state, including here in Eau Claire.”
However, Kapsner is concerned that the deal won’t pay off.
“Foxconn is not good for Wisconsin,” Kapsner said. “The Foxconn deal gives away billions of taxpayer dollars to a foreign corporation, taking much-needed funding directly from local classrooms, roads and health care systems leaving our communities at a disadvantage. Rather than continuing to prioritize massive tax breaks for out-of-state corporations, I will be committed to prioritizing Wisconsin workers, Wisconsin businesses and Wisconsin taxpayers.”
Kapsner said the state needs a “sustainable fix” for addressing bridge and road repairs.
“I believe that the citizens using the roads most should be paying for the use of the roads. The gas tax is the closest to a sustainable user fee and should be utilized as part of a comprehensive approach to keep our transportation fund solvent and reduce our infrastructure debt,” he said.
Bernier said that significantly raising taxes, just to throw more money at the problem, is not the answer.
“I believe there are significant efficiencies to be found at the DOT, but I also understand more funding is needed in certain areas,” Bernier said. “In the last budget, I fought for more local funding to repair our roads and bridges and succeeded with a $65 million increase in aid for local roads, including an additional $20 million to fix bridges across the state, something communities in our area are already benefiting from. While I haven’t decided on a specific direction, I do believe the bump in spending for local roads will need to be carried into the future for some time.”