The nine Democratic Wisconsin governor candidates attending Saturday’s candidate forum in Eau Claire discussed issues ranging from the state’s controversial deal with Foxconn to farm prices to health care, but references to gun control prompted especially emotional responses from the audience.

Remarks about that topic carried added weight in light of the Feb. 14 shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that have prompted renewed national discussion about gun control.

The mention of the topic by several candidates prompted applause by the audience estimated at 150 in an auditorium at Chippewa Valley Technical College, 620 W. Clairemont Ave.

“It’s time we do something about this continual danger in our schools,” said state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire.

State schools Superintendent Tony Evers, also seeking to be governor as a Democrat, said he is adamantly opposed to President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm educators in schools as a response to the Florida shootings.

“We are not going to arm adults in our schools,” Evers said to loud applause. “I can promise you that.”

Candidates and audience members had lots of other issues on their minds as well at Saturday’s forum, sponsored by Our Wisconsin Revolution, Indivisible Chippewa Valley and Chippewa Valley Votes. Issues such as jobs, 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. “My vision is about putting people first.”

In addition to Vinehout, Wachs and Evers, other Democratic governor candidates attending the forum were 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.

Saturday’s governor candidate forum in Eau Claire — the third in the city in recent months — resembled speed-dating more than the typical format used at such events, but many said they enjoyed that method of learning more about those seeking Wisconsin’s top political position.

After short opening statements, the candidates answered questions in small-group, town hall style discussions in eight-minute sessions before moving on to the next group. 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 Saturday’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.”

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