Friendly words couple with clear differences among 2nd Congressional District Democratic candidates in Tuesday debate
Post by Christie Taylor on 8/8/2012 10:05am
The four Democrats vying for U.S. Representative Tammy Baldwin’s 2nd District seat staked out their differences Tuesday night in one of the last debates before voters choose a candidate in next Tuesday’s primary election.
As a debate among Democrats in a sharply progressive district, the candidates had a great deal to agree on, as they acknowledged immediately. “The difference really is about priorities,” State Rep. Kelda Roys said. “And, in some cases, our judgment of those issues.”
But State Rep. Mark Pocan, the longest-serving legislator in the room, said that as such, he would be best qualified by dint of that experience. “I want to hit the ground running from day one, but also take on the Tea Party,” he said.
Sharp distinctions, however, emerged between the two frontrunners, Pocan and Roys, and outsider candidates Matt Silverman, a lawyer and Iraq war veteran, and Dennis Hall, a security consultant. Hall and Silverman both decried “career politicians” (with Hall aiming the label pointedly at Pocan and Roys), and “politics as usual” in Washington D.C.
Silverman, who emphasized the role of government in public service, said the 2nd District candidate must represent the district itself, not the Democratic Party.
“The older I’ve gotten, the less tolerant I get with the greed, the gridlock, and the gross malfeasance of Congress,” Hall said. Specifically, he was critical of Republican moves to block legislation solely to make President Barack Obama look bad, but he also said the national debt was a real issue that he thought Democrats needed to take seriously.
“We honestly have to address the abyss we’re facing,” he said.
Silverman, too, raised the spectre of debt as one of the “hard truths” he thought Democratic candidates might not otherwise raise to Democratic voters, while on the same question, Roys and Pocan attacked the corporation-dominated campaign finance system, and Roys called for higher taxes on the wealthy and better education funding as well.
Hall and Silverman were also both adamant the Social Security would need reform to keep it solvent in the long run, with Silverman saying now was the best time to make those changes. “We will lose the opportunity to dictate change on our own terms,” he said.
But Pocan called the cries for reform a “false choice,” when, he said, simply removing the Bush tax cuts could significantly extend the program’s solvency. “I’m going to fight with everything in me to preserve and expand and protect programs like Medicare and Social Security,” he said.
Roys, too, said she thought there were other ways to save the program without changing the benefits structure, such as by lifting the cap on contributions. “This is a promise we make to workers,” she said.
Other differences emerged as well. All said they supported stricter gun control measures in the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee. But while the other three categorically said they wanted to close the gun show loophole, ban assault weapons, and outlaw extended magazines, Silverman was more guarded, and reiterated that the Second Amendment still guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms: “These are issues that should be sorted out by Congress,” he said. “We need to find a balance.”
On what they would do to restore the economy, the candidates each had a slightly different idea:
Pocan and Silverman called for additional stimulus dollars, specifically invested in infrastructure improvements, but Silverman cautioned that deficit reduction would also be necessary to keep the economy afloat in the long term. Roys expanded on that to include broadband internet and high speed rail, and also increasing aid to local governments to slow their cutting of public sector jobs. Hall, though, said the jobs were already out there. “The problem is the skill set of the job market,” he said, advocating for more public-private partnerships for worker training, but also in helping municipalities meet their needs.
A poll released last month by Pocan’s campaign found Pocan leading Roys by 29 points, with 50 percent of the 401 registered Democratic primary voters favoring him to her 21 percent. Another 4 percent said they would vote for Silverman, 2 leaned toward Hall, and another 21 percent were undecided.
The race between Pocan and Roys in particular has drawn notice for its negativity in recent weeks, and Assembly Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) recently withdrew his endorsement of Roys, citing untrue statements in her ads.
Roys, who’s said she was told when she first ran for Assembly that she was too young and needed to “wait her turn” for political office, said her campaign strategy has been to ensure vigorous debate over the differences between candidates. Her ads have attacked Pocan on his $260,000 in PAC funding, including from groups linked to the same American Legislative Exchange Council that Pocan has spoken so forcefully against, and painted Pocan as caving to Governor Scott Walker in voting for two bills that gave tax breaks to businesses.
“I decided I would focus on issues that are important,” Roys said, when questioned on her ads Tuesday. “While there are many issues we agree on, there are some issues where we differ. It’s important that we have a robust debate about our own records and where we differ on priorities and judgment.”
“I’m very disappointed that the substance of the issues that I raise has never been addressed,” Roys added. She also emphasized her “vigorous” style as essential to how she would get things done in Congress without compromising her progressive values.
“You can see your opponent’s humanity and treat them with respect, and you are vigorous about where you disagree, but you continue to work towards common ground,” she said.
While Pocan’s own remarks have remained positive, focusing on selling his accomplishments and promises, media personalities such as John "Sly" Sylvester and John Nichols have both inveighed heavily against Roys, and in one Milwaukee Journal Sentinel piece, conservative columnist Christian Schneider quoted a single named source as being upset with Roys for her practice of calling her husband “her partner,” saying she was trying to pass herself off as gay.
Pocan was not questioned on the issue during the debate, but when asked by Dane101 what he thought his role was in influencing the tenor of the debate by those speaking on his behalf, Pocan said that it wasn’t up to him. “All we can really control is what we talk about during the race,” he said. “We’ve put out positive ads, we’ve talked about my record, we’ve talked about what we’re going to do in Congress and I think by setting that tone, you hope that’ll have an influence.”
But Pocan also said he thought the tone was brightening, starting with a climate change forum the candidate’s participated in Monday night and stretching to Tuesday’s as well. “I think you’re seeing that there’s much different approach in the final week, and I think that’s a good thing,” Pocan said.
In that vein, one question Tuesday night was a chuckle-filled round of, ‘Say something nice about all of your opponents,’ in which no one failed to come up with something to say.
Roys praised Pocan’s progressive values and sense of humor, while Pocan lauded her bright future and articulate advocacy of women’s health issues. Silverman said the courtesies extended to him by his opponents had left him “spoiled rotten” by his first ever run for office.
“The nice thing is, whoever wins, the people of the 2nd District are going to be real winners,” Hall concluded.
The debate will air on WISC-TV at 10 a.m. on Sunday, and WISC sister station TVW at 7 p.m. Sunday. The candidates will also answer questions at a forum and straw poll hosted by the Democratic Party of Dane County Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Concourse Hotel.
Christie Taylor (@ctaylsaurus) covers science, environment, and, depending on the season, state politics for dane101. She verbs a lot of nouns, including rollerskates, radio, and Kurt Vonnegut. A Madison native, she's not sure she'll ever quite manage to leave Wisconsin, and that's just fine by her. Contact her at email@example.com.