Billings, Drewes debate
The 95th Assembly District debate held on Monday, October 31 hosted some tricks and treats with serious discussions and added Halloween humor. The debate process started with opening statements from both parties, then a question and answer session mediated by UW-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim where the questions were asked by the audience, and closing statements wrapped up the evening. A broad spectrum of topics were discussed including the UW-System's budget and tuition costs, brain drain among college students, job creation, labor unions, state funding priorities, the new voter ID law, party labeling and the potential recall of Governor Walker.
Jill Billings, the Democratic candidate, expressed in her opening statement that she truly wants to be the voice of the 95th district and cleared up any rumors that were spread about her not graduating from college. She held up her diploma from Augsburg College as well as her high school diploma. Billings moved backed to La Crosse about 21 years ago because like many others, she fell in love with the beauty of La Crosse. She is currently the Vice-Chair of the La Crosse County Board.
David Drewes, the Republican candidate, shared in his opening statement that he feels government is a need, but it should only do what is needed. He favors reduced government because it is better for industry, and industry creates jobs. Drewes expressed that private industry unions are needed, but at the public sector, unions are not appropriate. He believes in smaller government and does not want taxes to increase.
The topic of tuition flexibility and tuition caps was brought up by an audience member, as well as Chancellor Joe Gow, who welcomed everyone at the beginning of the debate and gave his thoughts. He stated that he feels we [UW-L] should determine the tuition, not politicians. Billings said that finding other sources of revenue and simplifying the tax system would be a better solution. One audience member asked how a more efficient tax-collection system could be implimented. Drewes said that he didn't feel he had the knowledge to appropriately answer that question.
A popular trend among college students is the idea of a brain drain, which consists of students leaving La Crosse and Wisconsin to pursue their career.
Billings finds this to be a concern. She thinks that students are attracted to bigger cities due to the atmosphere. She feels that we need to feed that into Wisconsin. She thinks that creating jobs here in Wisconsin should be the priority, and Milwaukee needs to become the hub for healthy, consistent jobs. Billings said that a healthy job environment is the key. Drewes thinks that keeping all students within the state needs to be the priority. He said encouraging good businesses to hire new graduates, and making it profitable, is what needs to happen. Drewes said that reducing taxes will bring jobs, and that creating a positive attitude towards businesses is key.
The issue regarding labor unions as a major part of the state's education budget problems was referenced by the audience. Billings said that unions are not an evil enemy and that we have got to get over this. She thinks teachers are being trashed and we need to bring back solid education to the state of Wisconsin. Drewes said that there needs to be a cultural change of family responsibility, and that sustaining what we currently have is not possible. He questions how we can sustain a support staff person earning $100,000 and it being called vilification.
The three highest priorities of state funding were expressed by both candidates.
Billings' highest priorities are the education system, the health and human services system, and the safety and security of our court system.
Drewes' highest priorities are caring for the needy people of Wisconsin, the cost of healthcare and tort reform being the largest priority.
An audience member asked if the candidates think any revisions or changes need to be made to the new implication of the Voter ID law. Billings said that this law creates major problems and it is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. She thinks it is a terrible way to disenfranchise elders and students and that it is "crummy." Drewes said that it is not really that much of a problem and that it needed to be done.
The symbolism of what the party label means to each candidate was an interest to the audience and Billings said that she is not a ‘lock-step for party' type of person. She expressed how she doesn't always march with her party's ideals. She wants to work smarter, do her research and network. Trying to talk to everyone and make good decisions is the major goal for Billings.
Drewes said that he believes he is fiscally conservative and that we need good government. He thinks the Republican Party is the guardian of the state and they don't believe in raising taxes.
The questioning of supporting or opposing the recall of Governor Scott Walker was one of the final questions of the evening. Billings said it is up to the people of Wisconsin to make that decision. Her focus and where she is putting her time and effort is on the 95th Assembly race and doing the best that she can. Though, if a petition would be presented to her, she would sign it.
Drewes said he wouldn't sign it. He thinks there have been wonderful things that have happened since Walker has been in office. The debt is gone and that was accomplished at no cost. He thinks the state will be available to attract industry. Drewes feels we need to look at the positives and can't always focus on the negative.
Billings' closing statement expressed how she won't forget the needs of the citizens and will try to be the best legislator she can be. She said she is committed to the people of this district and will not lose touch with them. She will try to keep balance in check and be smarter.
In Drewes' closing statement, he stated how he will bring a sense of responsibility to Madison. When the vote goes against him, he will not run over to Minnesota. He said that a fiscally responsible and balanced budget is a priority; there is plenty of money to go around if used efficiently.
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