With longtime Rep. Paul Ryan stepping down, the 1st Congressional District is having its most exciting race since 1998.
Democrat Randy Bryce, an ironworker and union activist, and Republican Bryan Steil, a corporate lawyer and party activist, won their respective primary elections.
Steil has the backing of the well-funded Ryan campaign organization.
Bryce has raised money across the country from contributors who want to wrest control of the House from the Republicans.
The district leans Republican, thanks in part to redistricting during the Ryan years that removed Democrat-leaning areas in the west and added Republican-leaning areas to the northeast.
Bryce, whose campaign declined to answer Gazette questions, has endorsed most if not all progressive Democrat positions of the day, including Medicare for all, investments in infrastructure and eliminating tax loopholes for corporations and the very wealthy.
Independent Ken Yorgan gives voters a third choice.
Yorgan says candidates in the two main parties buy their seats in Congress with massive spending.
“If you keep voting for people who owe their allegiance to billionaires and huge corporations, nothing will change,” Yorgan says.
Yorgan and Steil answered these questions:
Q: Do you believe we will always have poor people? What is an acceptable percentage of poor people in our society?
Steil: “Any person in poverty in our community is one too many. In Congress, I will work to end poverty by creating more opportunities for individuals to get better jobs with higher wages. I’ll work to keep taxes low and cut government red tape that is hurting jobs and stopping wage growth.
“I will also work to increase access to high-quality education and to keep education affordable to Wisconsin workers and families. With an effective education, workers will be prepared to take the jobs that are available now and for the jobs of the future. Access to a high-quality education will open up more opportunities for those in poverty or at risk of falling on hard times.”
Yorgan: “Given the inherent instability of the planet we live on, and the fragility of human physiology and psychology, I don’t see how it can be avoided. The only meaningful question is how will we respond. I’m in favor of helping those in need to the greatest extent that we can.”
Q: What’s your solution to the problem of keeping Social Security fully funded?
Steil: “I am committed to keeping the promises made to those in and near retirement. Social Security must remain in strong shape for the millions of Americans who rely on it. ...
“Unfortunately, Social Security’s financial security is in jeopardy. Action must be taken to protect the future of Social Security and ensure we live up to our promises to our seniors and future generations. It will take a bipartisan approach to solve this issue.
“I will use my private-sector experience of solving tough problems to protect these programs now and into the future.”
Yorgan: “Social Security has grown and expanded far beyond its original parameters, (but) we certainly have enough resources to meet the goals. It’s simply a matter of directing those resources. It’s a question of priorities, not abilities.”
Q: Based on President Donald Trump’s performance, has he earned a second term in office?
Steil: “The president’s administration is standing up for American workers. The president has negotiated better trade deals, addressed national security issues, cut red tape and signed historic tax cuts so Wisconsinites can keep more of their hard-earned money.
“Despite the progress made in the last year and a half, there is still a lot of work to be done for American workers and Wisconsin families.
“Presidential terms run for four years, and we are less than halfway through that period. We need to lower the cost of health care, create high-wage jobs and prepare the workforce for the jobs of the future. These will be my top priorities in Congress.”
Yorgan: “Whoever is president, my focus will be on the needs and interests of the residents of the 1st District. Whoever shows the greatest inclination and ability to address those needs and interests will be who I support in 2020. President Trump has a mixed record in that regard at the moment.”
The Gazette asked a different question to each candidate about health care.
Q: Mr. Steil, you want to increase transparency in pricing so health care customers can shop for the best deals, in hopes of driving down costs. You also call for health savings accounts. What’s your solution to the problem of people who can’t afford these options?
Steil: “More and more families are finding health care out of their reach due to the damage Obamacare did to our health care system. I believe that individuals and families should be in charge of their care and entrusted with how best to spend their health care dollars.
“I will protect Medicaid for those who are at or near the poverty line and support Wisconsin’s efforts to provide services in an innovative, cost-effective manner.
“My opponent (Bryce) supports a $32 trillion government takeover of health care that would require doubling income taxes on both individuals and businesses to pay for it. His plan eliminates competition, resulting in less choice and control over your doctors and treatments. This is the wrong approach. We can take what’s working in health care and fix what’s not.”
Q: Mr. Yorgan, what’s the best way to provide health care in this country?
Yorgan: “’Medicare for all’ is probably our best option right now and for the foreseeable future. It would completely eliminate insurance premiums for health care, auto insurance, workers compensation ‘med pay’ and other lesser-cost components. It would lift the burden of managing and funding health care off the backs of our employers and greatly reduce the costs of billing and collecting that currently vex our providers.
“A 15 percent national sales tax on nonessential purchases would be less than nearly everyone now pays in premiums and would provide universal access.”
Yorgan’s estimate includes the added cost of paying for the currently uninsured and includes cuts in “such things as advertising, executive salaries and glass palaces along the interstate. …
“Other savings would be realized from the elimination of having employers involved as well as a serious reduction of litigation over health care costs in liability cases.
“As for competition, it would actually become more robust as current insurance companies would bid for the contracts to process claims ... The more efficient and economical (insurance) companies would end up with the contracts.
“There’s no question that it would be a laborious process to make the transition, but what we have now is obsolete, ineffective and a terribly expensive construct. …
“This is not a ‘government takeover.’ This is instead a public response to private, for-profit corporations having taken over health care and exploited it for their own benefit.”