Debates are issue in race for 1st Congressional District

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, July 31, 2014

JANESVILLE—Voters will see no debate between the Democratic candidates for the 1st Congressional District seat, but there might be a debate after the primaries are over.

Rob Zerban said Wednesday he has talked to incumbent Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican, and that Ryan said he would debate before the November elections if both he and Zerban survive their primary challenges.

Zerban's primary opponent, Amar Kaleka, issued a statement to supporters Wednesday saying he had arranged a debate Aug. 6 in Kenosha but that Rob Zerban said “no.”

Zerban appeared before about 60 supporters at the UAW Hall in Janesville on Wednesday night and confirmed he would not debate Kaleka.

Zerban said he was too busy with scheduled campaign events to debate now. The primary election is Aug. 12.

“If Mr. Kaleka was serious, this would've been addressed more than six months ago,” Zerban said. “I don't feel it's my responsibility to accommodate his request on a last-minute basis."

The Kaleka campaign said in an email that Kaleka approached Zerban about a debate July 2 and followed up when both men appeared at a parade July 4.

Zerban said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke is not debating her primary challenger, Brett Hulsey, and Ryan is not debating his primary opponent, Jeremy Ryan.

“His focus has shifted from Paul Ryan to me and became extremely negative, so I'm certainly not going to accommodate somebody who takes that kind of a path,” Zerban said.

Kaleka noted Zerban criticized Paul Ryan for refusing to debate when Zerban challenged the incumbent in 2012.

Zerban at the time argued that Ryan had a duty to his constituents to debate.

Kaleka said he had arranged with “a neutral organization” to sponsor the debate and found a high school auditorium for the event. He did not provide details.

Zerban said Wednesday he “can't wait” to debate Ryan, who he called a lifelong government employee who never created a private-sector job.

The two met at the Racine County Fair, and Ryan told Zerban he would debate this time, Zerban said.

Ryan told Zerban he couldn't debate in 2012 because he was busy campaigning for vice president, and Zerban said he understood that. But Zerban told Ryan he had to take swings at Ryan for it, and Ryan responded that he expected that, Zerban said.

In other comments Wednesday, Zerban said:

-- He would improve the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, by putting everyone on Medicare. In other words, it would be a single-payer system, he said.

Medicare payments might have to be increased, he said, but the country would experience an economic boost if employers didn't have to constantly adjust for skyrocketing medical costs.

-- Said he opposed the president on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade deal. The United States needs fair-trade deals instead of agreements that don't take into account other countries' lower labor and environmental standards, he said.

-- Said he believes that if Scott Walker is re-elected governor, the first thing he will do is sign a bill to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

That's a “right-to-work-for-less” state, one audience member said.

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