The three candidates for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District—Republican Bryan Steil, Democrat Randy Bryce and independent Dr. Ken Yorgan—each stood at a podium at a forum at the A.F. Siebert Chapel at Carthage College on Tuesday.
On the same stage, they could not have been further apart when it came to the issues.
About 300 people attended the event, where each candidate was given time to speak on a variety of issues provided by moderators.
Moderators asked the candidates what they would do to deal with wage stagnation, the general inequality between “haves and have nots” and the disparity in pay between men and women in the 1st District.
“It’s a change in economic policy that will make that go away,” Yorgan said, adding he believes in “equal pay for equal work,” regardless of gender.
Steil, however, argued that wage increases are evident thanks to new businesses coming in and developments occurring in the area, particularly businesses such as Foxconn.
“We need to continue the economic policies in place,” he said, adding that they will lead to wage growth in the future.
Bryce focused on the gender inequality in pay, mentioning the Sisters of the Iron—a group of female ironworkers who try to get more women into the industry.
The inequality is “especially worse in women of color,” Bryce said. “So if we’re going to talk about equality, we need to bring those other women who are suffering in. I’m all in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment and making sure that women are paid exactly the same as men.”
An issue that will be on the fall ballot in several communities is the legalization of medical marijuana.
While stating it might offer benefits for doctors, Steil voiced concern about the potential for medical marijuana to make its way into schools and to spread throughout the community in ways that are not medicinal.
“There’s a real risk that marijuana will travel into high schools” and the community and become recreational marijuana, Steil said.
Bryce and Yorgan both support legalizing medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.
Bryce pointed to Colorado as an example of the benefits marijuana legalization can have. He said if Wisconsin legalized marijuana, the industry could bring 300,000 jobs and taxable revenue to the state.
“It’s a law that was founded on racism,” Yorgan said.
He said the U.S. needs to end the “terrible impact” that criminalization has had on the population through incarceration rates, particularly among African-American males.
The contrast between Bryce and Yorgan’s views and Steil’s also was highlighted in their stances on criminal justice reform, particularly when considering that blacks and Latinos are incarcerated at a higher rate than whites.
Bryce said the U.S. has two systems: one for the rich and one for the poor. He lamented the incarceration rates for blacks in southeast Wisconsin under the current system.
“Just up the street in Racine is the fourth-worst place to raise an African-American. We need to have a system, one system that’s just for everybody, and we can do that by banning the box, make sure that people can get work once they’ve served their time,” Bryce said.
He added that mandatory minimum sentences also need to be scrapped.
Yorgan, too, lamented the disparity in incarceration rates between whites and blacks.
Instead of focusing on racial factors, Steil said he would support measures to lower recidivism rates, including making sure people who have been incarcerated are given help learning skills to re-enter the workforce.
Yorgan believes instead of keeping people out, the U.S. should let them in.
“I think we should bring in as many as we can handle,” he said, adding that immigrants bring an energy and hope to communities and help rejuvenate them. “Let those creative talents bloom.”
Steil said there are three steps that need to be taken to address immigration: Secure the border with a border wall, make a path for those living in the country to become citizens and fix the legal immigration structure.
Bryce called the idea of a border wall “silly.” He said he supports not only citizenship for immigrants living in the U.S. but also creating a Deferred Actions for Parents of Americans program.
“This country was built on the backs of immigrants,” he said. “It’s about keeping families together.”
In the age of the #MeToo movement, the candidates were also asked what they would do to protect victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Bryce commended sexual assault victims who have come forward to tell their stories. He said he has created policies among his staff to ensure that anyone who is accused of harassment is let go.
“Women deserve better than this,” he said. “Men need to listen and to help them.”
Yorgan said sexual harassment is due to an imbalance in the power dynamic. He said it is incumbent upon men to be protective and it is important for people to be held accountable for harassment.
“There’s no place in our society for sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Steil said.
He noted the UW Board of Regents has put a policy in place to identify people who have been accused or convicted of harassment and ensure that they are not hired at a UW System facility.
In closing remarks, Steil said taxes would rise if Bryce were elected Nov. 6.
“We can’t afford to take a step back to the failed economic policies of the past,” he said.
Bryce hinted that Steil was unable to understand the struggles of working families and encouraged people they could “have someone who knows what it’s like to struggle” by voting for a union man.
Yorgan criticized Steil’s reference to “failed economic policies of the past,” saying that it was Rep. Paul Ryan who dropped the ball on helping out the middle and lower class in southeast Wisconsin.
The debate was sponsored by the Kenosha News, Carthage College, the Racine Journal Times and the Lake Geneva Regional News. Each candidate was give two minutes for opening remarks, then a minute to give a response to the 12 questions by the three moderators. The candidates were then given two minutes to give closing remarks.