Dems to choose between Zerban, Kaleka in 1st District primary

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Frank Schultz
Friday, August 8, 2014

Democrats have two ways to go in their latest attempt to take down longtime Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. They will choose their standard-bearer in the Aug. 12 primary.

One choice is Rob Zerban, who lost in his first attempt to defeat Ryan in 2012.

The other Democrat on the primary ballot is Amar Kaleka. He is the son of the leader of the Sikh temple in Oak Creek who was killed, along with five others, by a gunman in 2012. Kaleka has called for stricter gun-control measures.

Zerban has raised $530,582, according to the Federal Election Commission. Kaleka has raised $147,937.

Both candidates largely support President Barack Obama and oppose Ryan's initiatives.

Kaleka is a filmmaker and has made campaign videos that he distributes on social media.

Zerban started and sold two food-service businesses in Illinois and then moved to Kenosha, where he says he has been dedicating his life to public service.

The winner will face Ryan in the November election, unless the highly unlikely happens and Ryan is defeated in his primary by self-styled progressive Republican Jeremy Ryan of Madison.

The Democratic candidates were asked to respond to these questions.

Q: What should be done about the thousands of child refugees that have crossed into the United States in recent months?

Kaleka: The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 provides that children entering the United States from a non-contiguous country be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS must hold them humanely. However, the rapid influx of children has exceeded HHS capacity. We must provide adequate resources to HHS and work with charitable organizations to ensure every child has a safe place to sleep.

It is a national embarrassment that the GOP is holding up funds to do just that in the Senate over procedural gimmicks while children's lives hang in the balance.

Zerban: It's important to remember that we are a nation of immigrants who came here seeking a better life for themselves. I think that we can give many of these children—most of who have come here from crippling poverty and war zones—a chance to build their version of the American Dream.

We first need to ensure that there are adequate resources at the border to process these children—identifying who among them qualify for refugee status—as well as stabilizing the situation there. In the long run we need to pass immigration reform to make the process orderly and within the confines of the law.

Q: Do you think the Affordable Care Act needs fixing and/or replacing? If so, how would you change it?

Kaleka: Medicaid must be expanded to all Americans below 133 percent of the poverty line. A recent Gallup poll showed the uninsured rate has fallen from a peak of 18 percent to its lowest level of 13.4 percent. The data is in; the ACA is effective at expanding coverage. 

Zerban: The Affordable Care Act was an important start. Many of its provisions, like ending discrimination against preexisting conditions and allowing kids to stay on their parents' plan until 26, enjoy broad support. And it has given access to insurance to millions of Americans for the very first time.

However, I think a fairer, cheaper and more efficient system would be Medicare for all. We need to ensure coverage for all Americans so that we can control costs, improve quality and give American companies a competitive advantage internationally by reducing their health care costs.

Q: Do you favor federal legalization of marijuana for medical purposes and/or for recreational purposes?

Kaleka: I favor federal legalization of marijuana, which is an important step in allowing the states to decide for themselves how best to proceed without federal interference.

The school-to-prison pipeline is unacceptable and needs to be stopped.  … The United States incarcerates more people for drug offenses than any other country. With an estimated 6.8 million Americans struggling with drug abuse or dependence, the growth of the prison population continues to be driven largely by incarceration for drug offenses.

Rehabilitation is one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent such crimes and costs associated with drug use. Costs associated with rehabilitation programs are approximately $20,000 less than incarceration, per person, per year. …

I advocate a rehabilitative justice model to deal with marijuana and believe the states are laboratories of democracy. The lessons learned in Colorado and Washington will prove useful for other states to decide what is best for their people.

Zerban: I am open to liberalizing marijuana laws, but I think we should closely monitor the experiments in Colorado and Washington before making decisions at the federal level.

We don't want to create another tobacco industry, especially one that targets our children and young people, but I do recognize that some patients really do see a benefit from using medical marijuana.

We should move to reduce sentencing for nonviolent offenders caught with a little marijuana. Small amounts of marijuana should not ruin a person's life.

Q: Name an issue on which you differ from that of the congressional leadership of your party.

Kaleka: I use the term independent Democrat to describe my political platform because while I seek bold progressive action, I am not a career politician who intends to be influenced solely by political bias or party lines in order to protect my reputation within the House. I am more interested in protecting the people who live and work in the communities I've grown up in and ultimately the nation my father came to in order to fulfill his dream.

The Democratic Party is a big-tent party with a broad coalition of values, some more progressive, others simply presenting the antithesis to the extreme right wing perspective. I believe we will have more progress by seeking diverse solutions from both sides of the aisle and unifying within our own party on common grounds.

Zerban: I am firmly opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership and other trade deals modeled after NAFTA. These agreements have hurt American workers and given outsized control of markets to multinational corporations with no allegiance to America.

These agreements are bad for the rule of law and for the economy. We need global trade deals that lift workers and their economies up, not ones that seek out the lowest common denominator when establishing its rules.

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