State Sen. Luther Olsen said he was concerned what might happen if the state Legislature is turned around by the recalls against six Republicans and three Democrats.
Olsen, who is facing a recall election on Aug. 9, debated his challenger Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, Wednesday, July 27, at Waupaca High School. More than 200 people attended the event.
If Democrats gain three seats as a result of the recall races, they will gain control of the state Senate.
“It would be a shame if we have to make a U-turn because some people are unhappy with our decisions,” Olsen said.
Olsen noted that Republicans took office in 2011 while facing a $3.6 billion structural deficit that required them to make difficult choices.
“We promised we would fix the budget without gimmicks and without raising taxes,” Olsen said. “It’s working. The state’s budget is balanced.”
Clark responded that Republicans, after taking control of both houses of the state Legislature and the governor’s office, enacted “a radical agenda to remake Wisconsin.”
“In fact, many of the choices made by our governor and state Legislature have nothing to do with fiscal responsibility,” Clark said, pointing to increased voucher funding for private schools, the elimination of bidding requirements for the sale of state-owned utilities, voter photo ID and unprecedented tax breaks for corporations.
Clark said Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda has generated “historic conflict in this state,” and cooler heads were needed in Madison. He said Olsen has long been perceived by people in both parties as a moderate.
“But Senator Olsen chose to vote with his party leadership when it was clear it was not what the majority of people wanted,” Clark said, later adding, “Senator Olsen and 16 of his colleagues voted for a bill that he himself recognized as radical.”
Olsen said the constituents he has met with were frustrated and questioned, “Why are we having a recall?”
“A number of people from outside the district were circulating the petitions,” Olsen said, in reference to the petitions that led to his recall.
Olsen said the recall was driven by national unions “because we made some serious changes to the labor law.”
Clark said more than 23,000 citizens in the 14th Senate District exercised their constitutional right to hold their elected officials accountable through a recall.
“This process is the legal, peaceful way citizens exercise their rights in a democracy,” Clark said. “I think it’s working the way it’s supposed to.”
Touting the new tax deferrals for capital gains and tax credits for businesses that hire more people, Olsen said his top priorities included making Wisconsin a good place to do business.
“In the last five years, business growth in this country has gone up by 11 percent. But in Wisconsin, it has gone down by almost 1 percent,” Olsen said. “We need to encourage investment in this state.”
“Our No. 1 goal this year is to create 250,000 jobs,” Olsen said, noting that Wisconsin added 9,000 new jobs last month.
Clark responded that two-thirds of the new jobs created last month were low-paying, service sector jobs “with no benefits and no security.
“All jobs are not created equal,” Clark said. “I would hope we could all agree that the kinds of jobs we are creating should pay enough to support a family and retire with dignity.”
Clark also took issue with Republicans enacting changes in the Earned Income Tax Credit that will cost low-income families an average of $500 per year. He noted that the state was simultaneously giving away millions of dollars of tax cuts that benefit out-of-state corporations with few requirements to actually create jobs.
“We’re saying to large companies that to do business in this state we’re willing to let you operate here for free, which is like saying to your kid I’m willing to pay you not to mow the lawn,” Clark said.
“We don’t write checks to folks willy-nilly,” Olsen responded. “If you hire more people, we will give you a tax credit.”
One thing both candidates agreed on was that Wisconsin politics had become highly partisan and that third-party interest groups were responsible for negative ads.
Clark noted that both he and Olsen had been depicted as “bad guys,” while Olsen wondered who would run for office in the future if they had to experience such negative attack ads being run against them.