Not many Wisconsin Assembly districts are said to be competitive this election cycle.
But in the greater La Crosse area, Assembly District 94, currently held by Democrat Steve Doyle, is thought to be one of those competitive areas.
Republican challenger Ryan Huebsch hopes to defeat Doyle, who has held the position since 2011.
The two recently participated in a debate at UW-La Crosse, where local media, including myself, asked the candidates questions ranging from school funding to abortion access to the $4.3 billion budget surplus, among others. Oh, and the debate ended with the “say something nice about your opponent” request.
Over the abortion, the two clashed.
For starters, they parroted their party’s positions — Doyle wants to return to Roe v. Wade standards, while Huebsch would like to update Wisconsin’s 1849 law banning all but life-saving abortions and add the qualifications to allow if a person is raped or incest.
But referring to the question is when the two went back and forth a bit.
“I will never stand with the Democrats and my opponent’s position on abortion — on abortion on demand,” Huebsch said. “Just the fact that they don’t like the gender of the child. They do not like that the child may have disabilities. This is unacceptable and I will never put up with this.”
Doyle denied the claim.
“Who goes to their doctor and says, ‘You said I’m having a girl, so I want to have an abortion.’ I mean, you just don’t see that,” Doyle said. “What he’s talking about, and these are those broad bills that they bring to Madison all the time, that just get so frustrating.
“You know, should we outlaw sex-selective abortion? Well, that sounds terrible. Or should we – partial birth abortion was a big thing a long time ago. This is just stupid. It’s total BS. I support Roe v. Wade. These other collateral things, which are just designed to inflame things, are completely out of line.”
For education funding, two schools in the 94th Assembly District are asking taxpayers for $75 million — Holmen and Onalaska. Onalaska has another operating budget referendum question on the ballot — something Superintendent Todd Antony noted on La Crosse Talk PM this week that has been a recurring request of taxpayers since 2006 to essentially keep the school running.
Doyle said there are extenuating circumstances that require schools to ask for more money from taxpayers, through the referendum, like a new high school, but was unhappy with the way the state is funding education.
“Right now we have two problems with the school funding system,” Doyle said. “No. 1 is that the school funding formula is a mess and needs to be revamped. Schools that are either flat or declining in enrollment are essentially being penalized for having fewer students, which means they are facing a situation with far fewer resources. But beyond that, the state really has an obligation to make sure we don’t get to the point where schools have to go to the voters to demand day-to-day operations.
“The state must continue to fulfill its obligation that we promised our school districts several years ago that we would fund ⅔ of the cost of education. We should not put it on the backs of property tax payers. The state is in a better position to finance it.
“Secondly, we have two competing school systems. We have the voucher system and we have the public school system. Education is expensive. Running a school system is expensive. Running two school systems, essentially competing with each other, is a recipe for disaster.”
Huebsch, for the most part, thought the status quo was fine. He said most property taxes go to education and that will continue to be a top priority for him, and referenced a change in the 1990s.
“We have to remember why we put this bill up for referendum, I think it was ’95,” Huebsch said. “We have to remember that property taxes in the state of Wisconsin were at record highs, and they were going up 9.5, maybe even 10% every year. We had to set this up to make sure we controlled it.
“Now, if communities want to increase funding and schools want to ask their communities if they want to spend more money and raise taxes, they have the ability to do that,” Huebsch said. “And I think it’s working.”
Later, after a question about funding in terms of “school safety,” Huebsch said the state needs to allocate more money to that. Afterward, however, when asked if he thought there was a conflict in the schools asking taxpayers through the referendum for funding but also the state having to raise money for other upgrades, he again thought the way it’s being done now is working.
“I would say yes to both,” he said. “Operating budgets, yes, I think that we should work with that system, but also increase education and make sure that those funds also come from the state. I think there is nothing wrong with throwing more money, which comes from both ways, from the referendum and from the state.”
The debate ended with the “say something nice” request, which led to some comical responses (at 53:35 in the video above).