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GOP hopefuls bring their best policy faces to the forum

September 01, 2010 | 08:35 AM
Elkhorn -- Tom Lothian, 32nd Assembly District incumbent, is not running for re-election. Now six contenders are vying for the Republican nomination in the Sept. 14 primary.

On Aug. 26, the Walworth County GOP sponsored a candidates forum on neutral ground, at Sperino's Restaurant, which is just outside the official 32nd District boundary, and across the street from the county GOP headquarters. Not really a debate, moderator Kim Howarth read off a series of questions that were culled from the Republican faithful to test their candidates.

This was not a homogenous group, although some themes attractive to Republican voters were developed, like the need to cut taxes to attract business, slash spending to balance the state's wobbly budget, and undo the economic damage that Republicans blame on the incumbent and majority Democrats.

The GOP candidates are:

n Tyler August, Lothian's chief of staff for six years, has the most experience in the state legislature. He was also Republican Party Chairman in Paul Ryan's First Congressional District.

n Adam Gibbs, son of former Walworth County Judge Michael Gibbs, also with experience in the legislature as a member of State Rep. Steve Nass' staff.

n John Finley, former Delavan alderman who ran as an independent for the 32nd District in 2008.

n Dan Necci, an attorney and confident newcomer, who lives in Delavan and has an office in Lake Geneva.

n Mel Nieuwenhuis, mayor of Delavan re-elected to his fifth term and works for the family's regional waste disposal company.

n Thomas Stelling, a political newcomer and licensed architect.

There was some expected agreement on issues.

All of the candidates agreed that unemployment is a serious problem. And they all agreed that Wisconsin needs to do more to encourage native entrepreneurship and to entice businesses here with their much-needed jobs. The way to do that is cut taxes on businesses and cut regulations on those businesses, they said.

Five of the six said they would not support long-term borrowing to balance the state budget, even if it were proposed by a Republican governor. "I would be against voting to borrow to balance the budget. They're basically robbing Peter to pay Paul," said Nieuwenhuis.

But Finley, still somewhat independent, said emergencies happen that require long-term borrowing, like the highway bridge collapse that killed 13 in Minneapolis two years ago. For emergency repairs, it's either borrow long-term or raise taxes, Finley said.

Finley and Nieuwenhuis said they would support declaring English Wisconsin's official language.

August and Necci said that they would immediately move to repeal the state's combined reporting law.

A complicated change in the state's tax code, combined reporting opens more corporate income to state taxation. Necci called it a tax increase on business He blamed combined reporting for Harley-Davidson announcing it might move manufacturing operations out of Wisconsin.

"The way to keep jobs and companies in the state is by reducing taxes," Necci said.

Gibbs and Nieuwenhuis oppose the proposed high speed train from Chicago to Minneapolis that is slated to run through Milwaukee and Madison. Gibbs called the plan "a debacle."

Perhaps the most potentially dangerous question was: "What's your position on the growing minority population and what needs to be done?"

Most of the candidates successfully dodged controversy, saying that the newcomers, as long as they were in the country legally, should be embraced and helped to become productive citizens.

"In the bad old '60s, I had a job in Chicago where wetbacks came off the train and gave their boss $20 to work," said Finley. "That money went to his retirement, not theirs."

Finley said he personally did what he could to help those newcomers fit in to American society, helping them with forms and applications.

After the forum, Finley explained that he didn't mean to use the term "wetback" in a derogatory manner, but to describe their condition. "They were brought up by train specifically to work at that laundry," he said.

He also admitted that the term probably didn't go over well with the audience.

"I saw some eyes starting to roll back the moment I said it," Finley said.

Among some of the candidates' other positions and statements:

"I pledge if I ever vote for a tax increase of any kind, I'll resign the next day," said August. To cut the state's deficit, August suggested that the temporary rotation of unpaid furloughs that state employees are required to take be made permanent. August also came out in favor of a photo ID for voters.

Finley said he would propose that every elected official in the state take a 50 percent pay cut until unemployment drops to 5 percent or less.

Gibbs said he would propose an absolute freeze on property taxes. Property values are stagnant or in decline, he said. "Increasing taxes at this time would hit people hard."

Necci said he would support Wisconsin passing a law similar to Arizona's SB1070 immigration law, which requires police to determine the nationality of persons with whom they have contact.

"Scott Walker said he would sign the bill," Necci said.

Nieuwenhuis said he would repeal tax and fee increases enacted during the Doyle administration. He said that the state garbage fee was increased to $7 a ton by the Doyle administration, which cost his family business an extra $160,000 a year.

Stelling said he would deal with the state's $2.5 billion structural deficit by looking into agreements the state has with its labor unions.

"So much of our government is under union control," said Stellling. "We need to look at the terms of union contracts." He said that state employees should be contributing to the costs of their health insurance and retirement, a stand shared by several other candidates.

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