The race for Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional seat features a political rarity: a battle between two young candidates who both have legislative experience.
Two-term Republican incumbent Mike Gallagher, 36, a former Marine who’s considered a rising star in Republican circles, is facing Democratic challenger Amanda Stuck, 37, a three-term member of the Wisconsin Assembly. The candidates took starkly different paths to public office.
Gallagher was born in Green Bay but graduated from the prestigious Mater Dei High School in California before earning his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University. Stuck graduated from Appleton North High School before attending UW-Oshkosh, where she worked two jobs and was a single mother at age 19.
Gallagher has touted his experience in the Marines for developing leadership skills and a practical approach to Congress, while Stuck has staked her campaign on taking a working woman’s perspective and voice to Washington, D.C.
The two candidates participated in an Oct. 6 online forum that was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. Each candidate responded to 10 questions on a variety of topics.
If the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is top of mind for voters nationwide, the candidates were light on specifics when asked what they would do to help citizens deal with its impacts. Stuck tried to tie Gallagher to failures in the Trump administration’s approach to the virus.
“I can identify with the suffering that people are going through,” she said. “I know what it’s like to have $10 for the week and have to figure out what you’re going to eat or put gas in your car, and so many families are facing that because of the economic downturn. And that is directly related to COVID-19 and the poor response from the Trump administration.”
Gallagher turned the COVID-19 discussion to China, a recurring topic of the former counterintelligence officer.
“We’ve learned we are dangerously dependent on foreign countries, particularly China, for the manufacturing of basic drugs and life-saving equipment,” he said. “We need to bring that back to the U.S.”
Gallagher said Congress should be called back into session to come up with another coronavirus bill and should pass legislation immediately to disperse $138 billion in unspent Payroll Protection Program funding to businesses through the end of the year.
When the conversation turned to climate change and renewable energy, Stuck said clean energy is not just about the environment, it’s also about jobs.
“Jobs in renewable energies are more sustainable long term,” she said. Stuck said she would push to reinstate many Obama-era environmental regulations that President Trump has eliminated and to roll back the Trump administration’s tariffs on solar imports.
“Climate change is our most pressing issue,” Stuck said. “Even the military has identified this as a security issue.”
Gallagher also correlated renewable-energy development to security concerns, specifically concerning China.
“It’s critical not just to our economic future, but to national security as well,” he said. “We know that the Chinese Communist Party is trying to corner the market on nuclear microreactor technology.”
Gallagher said he is a proponent of an all-encompassing approach to climate change, with expanding nuclear energy as a critical component.
On health care, both Stuck and Gallagher said they support measures to improve transparency in health care pricing. Gallagher touted the Transparency in All Health Care Pricing Act that he co-authored in 2019. That bill would require health care providers to tell consumers what procedures and services cost.
Stuck said cost transparency is needed, but it’s only one tool to improve health care.
“There’s nothing to compare if you can’t get care at all,” she said. “If you have a brain tumor, you aren’t going to ask which is the cheapest doctor to go to, but who is the best.”
Early in his first term in Congress, Gallagher earned a reputation as a bit of a maverick in his party, pushing for congressional reforms in an essay he wrote for The Atlantic. He has proposed legislation to limit representatives to serving for no more than 12 years in Congress or the Senate, supported redistricting reform, and proposed changes to the congressional schedule to ensure that representatives spend more time working on issues and less time fundraising. None of those ideas have garnered much support from his colleagues.
Gallagher voted for Trump but was one of few Republicans who supported investigation into the president’s ties to Russia, though he ultimately voted against impeachment. Across his career, Gallagher has voted in line with Trump 89.5 percent of the time and has appeared with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at rallies in Wisconsin.
Stuck criticized Gallagher for paying lip service to reform, then voting against H.R. 1, the signature bill proposed by Congressional Democrats in 2018 that included provisions to expand voting rights, require states to use independent commissions to draw congressional districts, require dark-money groups to disclose donors, and introduce voluntary public financing for campaigns to match small donations at a 6:1 ratio. The bill passed the house 234-193 without Republican support, but it has not received a hearing in the Senate.
Gallagher said there were aspects of the bill that he could support, but it went too far.
“Congress needs reform, but instead of tackling the real problems posed by a bad congressional process, H.R. 1 goes too far in trying to control what people say and how they vote,” he said after his vote.
Both candidates criticized U.S. immigration policy for making it too difficult for immigrants to come to the United States legally.
Gallagher supports expansion of the wall along the Mexico border, but he said there needs to be an easier path for legal immigration.
“As we try to work to eliminate the incentive for illegal immigration, we need to make sure we’re not stigmatizing legal immigration,” Gallagher said. “If people want to come here legally, if they want to work hard and abide by our laws, we should be in the business of making that common sense and simple and transparent for people who want to do it the right way.”
Stuck said the system needs an overhaul.
“Right now the system doesn’t work,” she said. “It is nearly impossible to come here legally through the system we have now.”
Stuck said business owners in Door County have told her that the caps placed on visa programs have nothing to do with the actual needs of employers here.
“We need to look at the programs that already work that can be expanded,” she said.
Mike Gallagher (incumbent)
Lives: Green Bay with his wife and one child
Education: Bachelor’s degree with a focus on Near Eastern studies and Arabic, Princeton University; Ph.D. in government/international relations, Georgetown University
Background: Seven years in the Marines, earned rank of captain. Served as a counterintelligence officer in the Middle East and North Africa, deploying twice to Iraq. Served as the lead staff member for Middle East and counterterrorism issues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Also worked as a senior global market strategist at Breakthrough Fuel.
Lives: Appleton with her husband and four children
Education: B.A. in political science, master’s of public administration, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Background: Has served in Wisconsin’s 57th Assembly District since 2014 (district includes Appleton and Mensha). Worked as a mail carrier, housing specialist for the Appleton Housing Authority, aid to former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen and substitute teacher. Co-chair of the Wisconsin Future Caucus.
8th Congressional District at a Glance
The district includes all of Door, Kewaunee and Brown counties. Green Bay is the district’s largest city.
2018 Results: Mike Gallagher (R): 63.7%, Beau Liegeois (D): 36.3%
2016 Presidential Race: Donald Trump (R): 56%, Hillary Clinton (D): 39%