Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Republican challenger Leah Vukmir clashed on health care, immigration, the #MeToo movement and abortion during a dramatic debate Monday night that illuminated their stark differences over policy.
But it was during an exchange over the scandal at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where opioids were overprescribed to veterans, that the debate grew most heated.
Vukmir accused Baldwin of turning “her back on the veterans of the Tomah VA” and sitting on an inspector general’s report about problems at the facility.
She thrust a copy of an ethics complaint filed by one of Baldwin’s Senate staffers, who was fired in the wake of the scandal.
“I have to say that I think that Leah Vukmir should be ashamed of herself for using a Marine veteran’s death for her own political gain,” Baldwin charged, adding that the ethics complaint was dismissed.
Baldwin worked with the family of Jason Simcakoski, the veteran who died at Tomah, to push for reforms in the VA. Simcakoski’s parents and widow support her campaign.
After a year of campaigning, the first debate turned into a spirited display at the UW-Milwaukee, where at times the audience had to be reminded to remain quiet.
On abortion, Baldwin said, “I support a woman’s right to choose. I don’t believe that government should interfere with a woman’s health or whether or when she should have a child. I also believe that my opponent has been at the very extreme of this issue.”
Vukmir, a registered nurse and state senator from Brookfield, charged that it was Baldwin who was on the extreme end of the issue because of her support for late-term abortions.
“Extreme is voting for a partial-birth abortion,” Vukmir said. “It is the most disgusting thing that can happen.”
Asked about the #Me Too movement, Baldwin said, “We need to speak our truths, we need to tell our stories and we need to be heard.” She said she believed Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of assault while the two were in high school. Kavanaugh has denied the accusations.
Vukmir said the #Me Too movement was important but that it “was hurt by the proceedings of the last few weeks.” She said she believed something did happen to Ford “but there was nothing to corroborate that and link that to Judge Kavanaugh.”
On health care, Vukmir said Baldwin’s support for a “Medicare-for-all” proposal would cost more than $32 trillion and means “she wants to completely turn our health care over to the government.”
Vukmir also fired back at Baldwin for claiming that Vukmir wanted to get rid of protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions.
“I would fall in front of a truck before I would let people ... go without coverage for pre-existing conditions,” she said.
Baldwin said Vukmir would be a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and would thereby end insurance for those with pre-existing medical conditions.
The candidates also scrapped over Vukmir’s 2014 vote in the Legislature against a measure to help curb costs for cancer patients taking oral chemotherapy.
“This is a lie perpetuated by Sen. Baldwin,” Vukmir said. “This is a scare tactic to save her job.”
Baldwin responded: “A vote is a vote. And Leah Vukmir voted with insurance companies to prevent oral chemo from being covered. I don’t know how you can run away from the vote.”
On immigration, Vukmir said before so-called “dreamers” could get a pathway to citizenship, the border wall with Mexico would have to be built.
Baldwin suggested that “we use the smartest border security possible. Many people say that’s not a wall, but rather smart technology. The president seems to want a wall.”
In her closing statement, Baldwin said she was on the side of Wisconsinites while Vukmir “favors the big corporations, the insurance companies.”
Vukmir said she understands the day-to-day challenges of people while Baldwin is “far more comfortable with her friends in The Hamptons than she is at a Friday night fish fry in Wisconsin.”
Also Monday, Baldwin’s campaign said it raised more than $6 million in the third quarter and had more than $5 million cash on hand at the beginning of October.
The campaign said it received an average $19 online donation and had 140,000 individual contributions in the period from July through September. Since 2013, Baldwin has raised more than $28 million.
Vukmir has not yet announced third-quarter fundraising. At the end of July, she had raised $2 million since entering the race last year.
Richard “Dick” Lloyd Ames
James Philip Finnane
Brian L. Gates
Roxanne L. Gray
John V. Huntress
Sally Mould Martin
Gerald George Schmidt
Elaine M. Sievers
Doris H. Wille
Treyveon Jaquil-Amir Wofford
The Janesville City Council on Monday unanimously approved a fee for developers who are applying for city tax increment financing incentives.
Council members Jens Jorgensen, Richard Gruber and Jim Farrell voiced support for the resolution.
“I think this is a great way to make sure we get people who are just as invested as we are,” Jorgensen said.
The modified TIF policy will require developers to pay a fee of $10,000 or 1 percent of their financing request, whichever is less.
The fee will give developers some “skin in the game” to motivate them to commit to their projects, said Gale Price, city economic development director.
Price said developers have backed out of TIF plans with the city in the past, which wastes city staff’s time.
City officials chose to ask for the lesser of two options—$10,000 or 1 percent of the request—to avoid discouraging developers of smaller projects from applying, Price said.
Money collected from fees will go to the city’s general fund. Developers will pay the fee upon submitting their applications, which is when the “heavy lifting” for city staff begins, he said.
The fees will be collected whether the application is approved or not, Price said.
Council President Doug Marklein asked several questions about the fee process, including whether developers currently in talks with the city would have to pay the fee.
Price said city officials warned potential developers about the possibility that the fee would be implemented and heard no opposition.
The modified TIF policy took effect immediately after the council’s vote.
The city modeled the policy on Oshkosh’s TIF application fee, Price said.
Milwaukee, La Crosse, Wauwatosa, Madison, Racine, Oshkosh and neighboring Milton charge fees for TIF requests, Price said.
Also Monday, some residents spoke during public comment about their frustrations over what they see as a lack of parking downtown as construction projects gobble up parking used by shoppers.
Kari Reents, who operates Velvet and Tulle Boutique on West Milwaukee Street, urged the council to work with business owners on parking solutions as the city moves forward with its strategic plan.
Alicia Reed, owner of downtown art gallery Raven’s Wish, said she has done an informal survey of customers since 2011. Parking was never a top concern in the past, but in the last month, eight of every 10 customers have voiced concerns about parking, she said.
Resident Andreah Briarmoon told the council she hopes the aging, vacant Monterey Hotel is not turned into a parking ramp.