The candidates for Wisconsin’s 34th District met last week for a radio forum sponsored by WXPR. Incumbent Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) is being challenged by Eagle River Democrat, Chris Meier. The men answered a variety of questions from a media panel.
In his opening statement, Meier noted he is a husband, father, veteran, former classroom teacher and a substance abuse counselor. He said he expected to hear “how fine things are,” in the state, but argued that things are better everywhere.
“The voters simply understand very clearly that things should be and could be so much better given the resources our current rep has had for the last six years in office,” Meier said. “There’s a better way forward. Our people want less public relations and salesmanship. They want and deserve more public service and leadership.”
Swearingen, a Rhinelander native, and small business owner for 25 years said indeed things are “in better shape” now than when he was elected in 2012, including the economy, unemployment rate, education spending, broadband expansion and cited $8 billion in tax cuts.
More broadband expansion, in fact, is Swearingen’s number one priority for the upcoming legislative session. “I think broadband is the center of everything, especially in the rural Northwoods area,” he said, adding that healthcare, rural school funding and the worker shortage are close seconds.
“[The worker shortage has] taken its toll on small business…so whether it’s looking at temporary housing, affordable housing, whether it’s looking at attracting people to the Northwoods to work…it’s frustrating for me because I don’t have an answer.”
Meier said the issue he has heard the most from the many conversations he’s had during his campaign is “affordable, quality, accessible healthcare for our families and our communities” in the district.
“People are really concerned about healthcare,” Meier said. “Why is it that we pay a third to a half more than our neighbors do in Minnesota? Why is the attorney general in a law suit to strip out preexisting conditions from the Affordable Care Act? That’s a piece of the (ACA) that they really, really like.”
The candidates found some common ground on the topic of medical marijuana, now legal in 30 states.
“There is a substantial body of evidence that indicates there are medicinal values for cannabis use in very specific kinds of instances,” Meier said, noting that as a substance abuse counselor he has a “real serious problem” with the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana.
“Every session we get a couple bills, one way or the other, being introduced,” Swearingen said of medical marijuana. “I would be looking at some sort of legislation…that it be available in a pharmacy, prescribed by a doctor.” Calling it a gateway drug, he said he’s against legalization of the drug for recreational use.
All options are on the table, Swearingen said in reply to a question about road funding.
“The Governor has made a thought about shifting new car sales tax into transportation and I’m interested to see how that might play out,” said Swearingen. “I’m a fan of tolling, although we would need a waiver from the Trump administration, raising registration fees or license fees or what have you. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”
Meier said there is no reason to “reinvent the wheel,” because there is already a plan in place, commissioned by the Governor in 2013, called “Keep Wisconsin Moving.
“[It was] shelved,” Meier said. “It is a long-term comprehensive sustainable formula for our roads in the state of Wisconsin so we don’t have to recreate the wheel here. We already have the plan to move forward. What we don’t have is the political will to move forward.”
In closing, Swearingen said there is a “clear choice” between him and his opponent, saying he believes “true economic power is unleashed when we don’t spend beyond our means” and when people are able to keep more of their paychecks, in reference to tax cuts and budget surpluses during his tenure.
“Above all else,” candidate Meier said, “We are friends, neighbors and family members. We live in communities, not political parties.” Business as usual, he added, has “left us with a band-aid approach to fixing our roads, schools, healthcare and the critical high tech infrastructure we need…to plug into the 21st Century economy.”
The entire forum can be heard on WXPR.org.