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Kitchens, Thelen Faceoff in Assembly Forum

If questions on civility, teenage smoking and racial disparities sounded familiar at the 1st District Assembly candidate forum in the Sturgeon Bay council chambers on Sept. 27, that is because they were the same questions asked of the 1st District Senate candidates at their forum on Sept. 22.

If some of those questions seemed inappropriate the first time, they were painful to hear a second time. However, two-term Republican Assemblyman Joel Kitchens and independent challenger Roberta Thelen did their best to provide cogent answers to questions about massive societal problems that whomever is elected for the next two years will probably never have to deal with in the Assembly.

When asked what educational, occupational and civic community experience gives them experience for the Assembly, Thelen pointed out that the requirements are cut-and-dried, and she meets them all:  Must be age 18, live in the state for one year and not have a felony conviction. She has degrees in bio-agriculture and nursing, has worked at Scandia Village in Sister Bay for 17 years, where she serves as care coordinator, and has served as a town supervisor in Baileys Harbor for nine years.

Kitchens outlined his career as a big animal veterinarian and a member of the Sturgeon Bay School Board for 14 years. As a vet he said he is known and trusted by farmers, yet he has also been recognized for environmental achievements during his two terms in office. He touted his ability to bring opposing sides together to reach solutions, such as the new NR 151 manure management rules targeted specifically for the karst region of northeastern Wisconsin.

Asked to name several legislative priorities they would pursue if elected, Kitchens pointed to his co-chairing of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. He said that committee has held hearings throughout the state and plans are to wrap it up this fall in order to provide a recommendation for the next budget in January.

“People have been asking for that for a very long time,” Kitchens said.

He added that he would also continue to work on protecting groundwater.

Thelen said since environmental concerns weigh so heavily on the minds of district residents, those issues would be at the forefront. She added that she hasn’t “seen a lot of commitment to mitigate and get at the root causes” of pollution infecting some wells in the district.

Coming from health care, Thelen said she would like to focus on health care issues, as well as education and “sensible gun legislation.”

Asked how they would balance economic development with protection of natural resources, Thelen said too many things “are simply measured by dollars and cents rather than what’s morally and ethically appropriate,” and that too often “power and money are making decisions not in the best interest of the planet and its creatures.”

Kitchens said there will always be conflict between business growth and the environment, and it’s possibly more obvious in Door County than anywhere else in the state.

Asked their opinion of the Foxconn deal, Kitchens said, “There is so much misinformation out there,” adding that “Foxconn is going to be good for Wisconsin.” He said for every $1 the state paid out as an incentive to bring the Taiwanese company here, there will be an $18 return.

The biggest selling point, he said, is moving Wisconsin out of the Rust Belt economy and ending generational poverty for residents of southeastern Wisconsin. He also cited conversations with legislators in other states who wish they would have gotten the Foxconn deal. He pointed to Foxconn locating its U.S. headquarters in Milwaukee, donating $100 million to UW’s College of Engineering for the Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology, and the announcement of a 200-job innovation center in Green Bay.

Thelen said the enormous footprint of the facility (“three times the size of the Pentagon”), the relaxation of environmental standards to accommodate the business, and offering huge monetary incentives (somewhere around $4 billion between state and regional incentives).

“What we’re seeing now is other companies wanting some tax incentives to keep their businesses here in the state,” she said. “It kind of comes down to bribing these different businesses for those financial incentives. So I think there is a lot more to be answered in this particular situation.”

In closing, Kitchens pointed to the absence of economic questions, which he said is “a tribute to how well things are going in the state right now.” He mentioned his ability to bring groups together and build relationships in Madison.

“Look at my record and what we’ve accomplished,” Kitchens said. “I’m a results guy. I want to get things done.”

Thelen promised to keep learning more about issues and offering a fresh, independent perspective. She mentioned being surprised that a question did not come up regarding CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). She said the megafarms are part of the pollution problem, but she would also like to evaluate standards of how we treat animals.

“It’s not appropriate to confine them,” she said.

You can view the entire forum here.

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