Candidates for the 44th Assembly District showed they have different approaches to leadership during a virtual debate Tuesday.

Tuesday was the first time constituents were able to compare candidates Sue Conley and DuWayne Severson side by side, as the coronavirus pandemic has created obstacles for campaigns across the country.

The debate was sponsored by the Westgate Corridor, a group of businesses and residents who advocate for development on the city’s west and south sides.

Plans originally called for the debate to be held at Hedberg Public Library and streamed on JATV, but it later was switched to a virtual format with candidates on a video call streamed on JATV.

Technical glitches made the audio choppy, sometimes hindering listeners’ ability to understand the candidates’ answers.

On several occasions, Severson touted his ability to “get things done” and was proud of the fact that he knocked on doors and met people throughout the campaign. He said a leader needs to stand out front and meet people where they are.

Conley, who was in quarantine for seven weeks through the summer because of coronavirus exposure within her family, said she is committed to Janesville and wants to listen to as many voices as possible.

Here are issues covered in the debate:

COVID-19 response

Severson criticized Gov. Tony Evers’ recent order restricting public spaces to 25% capacity and questioned why schools and universities don’t have similar restrictions, given that Evers has said schools reopening has driven COVID-19 cases.

He did not propose many specific ideas to address COVID-19 but did mention he supports local choice on some matters.

Conley said she is disappointed the Legislature has not met in months to discuss pandemic relief.

Shutting down the state again is likely not the best solution, but neither is letting everything reopen completely, Conley said.

She said she supports the school district’s strategy to allow families to make their own decisions on returning to school.

Access to health care is a priority for Conley, who said the state needs to accept federal Medicaid expansion funds.

Racial injustice

Both candidates pointed to the Janesville Police Department as a model for the state.

Severson said he strongly supports law enforcement. Conley suggested letting social workers help police with certain tasks.


Conley said she supports fairly drawn district maps and likes Evers’ plan to create a nonpartisan commission to redraw the maps.

Severson questioned whether Evers’ commission plan adheres to the state constitution.


Women and their health care providers should determine what is best for women’s reproductive health, said Conley, who does not think the state’s abortion laws should be changed.

Severson said he would advocate for children but did not say whether he supported specific changes to state law.

Gun laws

Severson questioned whether gun regulation is about preventing death or “seizing control.” He said the Second Amendment allows people to own guns, so they should be able to own them.

Conley said she does not believe there is a reason for people to own “weapons of war,” including semi-automatic weapons such as AR-15s. She said she does not want to control “everything everyone does with a gun.”

Marijuana legalization

Marijuana is overly criminalized and should be legal, Conley said.

Severson said he does not support legalizing marijuana and raised concerns about impaired driving.

Conley said if Severson and others want to eliminate impaired driving, they should also support banning alcohol.