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Senate candidates square off

Holperin, Simac debate 12th district issues at forum

While voters across the state cast ballots Tuesday night in six different state Senate recall elections, the 12th district's senator Jim Holperin and his Republican challenger Kim Simac came together for a candidate forum hosted by WRJO in Eagle River. It was the first time the two had come together to speak in that type of format, and the only time it will occur prior to next week's recall elections for two Democratic state senators, the last of the recall elections. Holperin and Simac will face off in one race. Sen. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie will face Republican challenger Jonathan Steitz in the other.

With WRJO News Director John Helgeson serving as moderator, a media panel asked Holperin and Simac questions. Helgeson also contributed questions emailed in from members of the public.

Questions covered many of the areas that have been major issues surrounding these recall elections -- the budget repair bill, job creation, education cuts. The forum opened with opening statements from the candidates, which revolved around the primary controversial issue surrounding this recall election: the fact that Holperin left the state in February with 13 other Democratic senators to delay a vote on the budget repair bill.

"We need a senator who is able to get on board with some of the good things happening in this state and stick around to debate the tough issues," Simac said.

"Kim has said this campaign is all about me leaving this state and maybe it is," Holperin said. "I'm sure hundreds maybe thousands of voters will vote against me next week specifically because I left the state. Hundreds maybe thousands will also vote for me because I left the state. As the campaign has unfolded I've found voters on both sides who want to rise above that narrow concern. Most voters understand that there are serious issues."

The forum didn't take the shape of a contentious debate, with the two candidates often speaking similarly on general principles such as the importance of promoting the tourism industry in the Northwoods, job creation and finding a way to keep as much state money as possible directed toward Northwoods schools. The rebuttal time scheduled into the forum was used by the candidates, but sparingly.

"That all sounds great, but it seems the climate up here isn't that rosy," Simac said in response to Holperin saying he would continue to introduce and support pieces of legislation that aided Northwoods tourism and other area industries. "We're overburdened with taxes and regulation. We need to push back and that's what I would work on."

"That's good to hear Kim, I'm glad you've come around on public education because you've been nothing but contemptuous in the years you have led the Northwoods Patriots," Holperin said in response to Simac saying public schools have done a good job over the years and she had faith that school officials would continue to problem solve and find ways to be successful despite state aid cuts. "I'm glad as a candidate you're talking highly of public schools and praising teachers because it's been everything but that the last two years."

That prompted Helgeson to say, "May I please remind the candidates we're trying to have a civil forum here, so perhaps no personal attacks please."

The attack advertising, and the overall divide between Democrats and Republicans during everything surrounding these recall elections was also brought up.

"This happens at campaign time because third parties get involved," Holperin said. "They're going to comprise two-thirds maybe more (of the attack ads). It does poison the well to an extent. When the campaigns are over, we go back. Politicians need to work together, and they generally do. There are bumps, highs and lows, but I think we have done well in Wisconsin and will continue."

"It doesn't seem like there is a lot of ability to work together (between Republicans and Democrats) which is frustrating from this side of the spectrum," Simac said. "That said, attack ads have been vicious. People are disgusted that this is the course these ads seem to take. Yes, outside groups are doing this, but Sen. Holperin's own committee has had their name at the bottom (of attack ads) from the start. The attack ads with the misinformation, malicious lies started with his committee name on there."

"I don't think there are too many malicious lies in there, just revealing public records," Holperin said.

Here are some of the two candidates' other comments from Tuesday's forum:

On state aid for rural school districts:

Holperin: I support and have tried to get additional funding for rural schools. I also support state superintendent Tony Evers' fair funding for our future plan because that formula would be fairer to northern Wisconsin. The beauty of Evers' formula is you don't have to put any more money in it to make it work...It would simply reallocate (current state aid amounts). The reallocation would help more school districts in northern Wisconsin. I think we ought to go to work on it, and make sure it gains some traction going into the fall legislature. I think it would be good for this state.

Simac: I will have to continue to fight to make sure we get as much money as we can for smaller schools. We definitely have to bring jobs to the area so schools can stay healthy (in terms of enrollment). I'm concerned with Evers' plan. I think it will knock the budget out of balance. I think it would be throwing more money at the problem. A formula that would work better could probably be looked at."

On the question of political experience vs. the fresh face:

Holperin: Both are reasonable to have. I talk about experience because I have some. I've served about 15 years in the legislature, but it's not the only thing I've done. I left and was executive director of Trees For Tomorrow. I worked for Gov. Doyle as tourism secretary so I haven't made my entire career out of legislative service. I believe experience is important, I believe I have the right kind, I believe I have been productive (as a legislator). I intend to continue that service.

Simac: I believe people like the idea of a fresh face that's not obliged to anybody else. It's one thing to sit in office and write laws, and another thing to live with the effects. I believe the area is looking for a senator who has a Northwoods address and is also a representative of the Northwoods.

On a piece of current legislature to either support or challenge if elected:

Simac: I would have to say with all the things I've been looking at, I think you just stumped me. All the things I've been looking at the last couple of months trying to get up on board as a new candidate, I've been trying to stay up on issues, but I would have to say I can't name you a single one right now. I think what I've been working really hard on trying to do is trying to understand what it is people of the Northwoods really need and what it's lacking. That's what I would take to Madison.

Holperin: Looking at a short list of bills I've signed on for the fall floor session, one would designate additional enterprise zones in Wisconsin. This would designate an enterprise zone in a rural area, and I would hope we get one of those in northern Wisconsin. There's a bill I've co-sponsored, one for tax credit for hospitality advertising. When you talk about saving costs for small businesses I think that's something we ought to consider. We probably can't afford it. I think we ought to move ahead and get ready for a time when we can afford it. I support, and it's at the federal level, but the state needs to do more to move it forward and that's the sales tax compact, which would require sales tax collection by Internet companies. I think it would help our main street businesses who complain about inequity. That's active at the federal level and something we need to do.

On an issue important to them that they feel has been somewhat glossed over in recent months:

Simac: One thing being a small tourist business, is keeping tourists coming up here. What's happening is there is a competitive market out here. We have a shrinking amount of money people can spend on vacation. We have to really market our area and get people to come up here. One thing I want to work hard at is to ensure this area will stay a vibrant tourist destination.

Holperin: I would say use of our natural resources. I think people from urban areas think this area is a large park that should be preserved for one purpose or another and fail to understand these communities make a living off of natural resources. So many times legislators in Madison want to restrict access, or harvesting of forest products. They want to make this into a little nature preserve. I think it's up to every legislator up here (in the Northwoods) to talk to others and make them understand that it's not only important to preserve but use at the same time.


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