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Skills gap, campaign finance and energy focus of 45th District forum

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GINA R. HEINE
October 3, 2012

— Job growth and filling a skills gap are the top issues for both candidates in the 45th Assembly race, though their approaches to solutions differed slightly during a forum Tuesday night in Beloit.

Democrat Janis Ringhand and Republican Beth Schmidt agree the area needs more welders, and both have heard employers say job candidates don't have basic math and reading skills.

Jobs are available, but jobseekers need a little higher level of technical skills, Ringhand said. In her talks with education and employment officials, the idea of short courses in welding has come up.

There's nothing wrong with a one- to two-year course, "but I think you can also get a jumpstart on the program with an eight-, 10-, 12-week short course that teaches the basics, and then at least get on the job and learn more," she said.

Schmidt is married to a welder, who has been telling her about the shortage for a long time, she said. Something needs to be done immediately to fill the gap, but she worries about the short-course solution.

When she talks to companies and her husband, "they tell me that part of the problem is the welders that are coming out are not skilled and ready. So do we need to do something within the job? I don't know that short course is always the route to go."

She also wants to see junior and senior high school counseling programs encourage students to look at skilled trades.

Ringhand spoke comfortably off the cuff while Schmidt sometimes appeared to read from written notes during the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Beloit at Beloit City Hall. Randall Upton, president of the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, moderated the forum.

Schmidt is a server at Applebee's in Janesville and is a member of the Orfordville Village Board.

Ringhand, a former Evansville City Council member and mayor, is finishing her first term as the representative for the 80th Assembly. Ringhand still lives in Evansville, but redistricting now puts her in the 45th.

Here are a few of the questions with the answers in the order they were given:

Q: With the hyper-political environment in Wisconsin over the last two years and increased number of elections, can anything be done about campaign finance reform at the state level?

Ringhand: Something could be done, she said, but she didn't know "how agreeable both sides would be."

People would be shocked to learn it takes $60,000 to $70,000 to campaign for a two-year position, she said.

"It's absolutely crazy what gets spent, and I would be more than happy to entertain reform on that," she said.

She's not sure if government funding would be the right process or not, but she offered the ideas of shortening the election cycle and creating a level playing field for advertisements. She has never been able to afford a TV ad, but maybe each candidate should only be allowed a set number of minutes of TV ads or number of newspaper columns, she said.

"It would certainly keep the costs down, and I think it could be just as effective," she said.

She said she prefers knocking on doors. She has taken campaign contributions from labor unions, which she has been connected to for many years, as her husband has been a union member.

Schmidt: She was told she would have to raise $30,000 to $50,000 for the campaign, she said. The hardest thing is asking people for money.

"I also haven't taken any money from any special interest groups," she said. She noted Ringhand was able to run radio ads during the primary. "I know that I'm not going to have the money to do that, probably."

She said she believes races are won knocking on doors.

"It would be wonderful if we had this great campaign reform and you could only spend $5 and you could only spend $5. It's not going to happen," she said. She said she can't accept corporate money, and her contributions come from individuals.

Q: Are you in support of sobriety checkpoints and why or why not?

Schmidt: "I definitely am not in favor of people driving drunk," she said. She said checkpoints could be one way to prevent that, but she would look at the laws on the books. She also said the core of the problem could be addressed.

Ringhand: "I don't really think that sobriety checks are the best route to go," she said. She thinks getting to the root of the problem is the answer. A new program in Rock County to help drunken drivers is one way to help cure it.

Q: What is your position on global warming? What do you think of placing wind turbines in Lake Michigan?

Schmidt: Teaching students to be good stewards of our resources is important, she said. The private sector needs to get involved in renewable energy, she said.

"I don't think the government needs to be as involved in it," she said. "We've seen some failures in this area."

Ringhand: "I think global warming is out there. We need to be conscious of it," she said.

She's been in favor of renewable energy, citing projects she supported in Evansville.

She said she's heard of proposals to put wind turbines in Lake Michigan, but she said she doesn't have enough knowledge to comment on it. She added manure digesters are a great idea.



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