Three candidates are on the ballot for the open 12th District State Senate seat, which covers a broad swath of north central Wisconsin.
The seat is open because of the retirement of incumbent Democrat Jim Holperin. Redistricting has made the 12th more Republican, which should benefit Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, a state representative and businessman who is running on his record, "In 2010 I made three commitments to the voters of the 35th Assembly District in north central Wisconsin. One, to pass a legitimately balanced budget. Two, to not raise taxes. And three, to have reforms of the Department of Natural Resources. And I followed through on all three of those commitments."
The Democrat in the race is Susan Sommer, a Phelps attorney and former Americorps supervisor, who is running because of Tom Tiffany's support of Gov. Walker's agenda, "What I saw happen to our state in the last two years is just unacceptable. I want us all to become informed voters and make sure that on November 6th we go to the polls, and elect the person who's going to represent our interests, not corporate interests and special interests."
The third candidate is Libertarian Paul Ehlers, a geology professor at Nicolet College in Rhinelander, "I'm running basically because I'm fed up with the finger pointing, the gridlock and the special interests in Madison. I don't think government has to be this way. I'm running as a Libertarian because I truly believe that government governs best which governs least."
The three candidates differ sharply on Act 10, Gov. Walker's bill that balanced the budget by stripping power from public workers. Tiffany voted for it. Sommer sees it as an attack on unions. Ehlers doesn't like the way it was passed.
One of the flashpoints in the race is the effort to lure a big iron mine to the Penokee Hills south of Lake Superior. Sommer says the proposed law and the mine would damage the environment, "We have a perfectly good mining law right now and it should not be changed unless there is thorough research done. Gogebic Taconite came into Wisconsin and demanded the law be changed."
Tiffany worked on the mining bill in the Assembly. He says the jobs are needed, and the mine would be safe, "It is rare that any state gets a company that says, we want to invest $1.5 billion in your state. What a shot in the arm, and we can do this in an environmentally safe manner."
Ehlers, the geology professor, isn't opposed to mining, but he's opposed to Tiffany's bill, "I'm in favor of mining. I think it can be done safely. I'm not sure it will be done safely. That said, I don't think we should carve out a niche. I think we do need encompassing mining laws."
Democrat Susan Sommer has made health care one of her priorities. She not only wants the President's Affordable Care Act implemented, she wants the state to go further, "A public option for health insurance. We can run that through our BadgerCare system so that not only will we have the private health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, but we'll have this public option for health insurance that will by its nature cost less, so that everybody can afford health care."'
Libertarian Paul Ehlers says if Wisconsin implements the President's health care law, jobs will be lost, "I think we have to have non-employer health care so that if you lose your job, you don't lose your health care. And I know the Affordable Care Act says if you have more than 50 employees, you have to provide them health care. That's gonna kill jobs."
Republican Tom Tiffany says it all depends on a strong economy, "I think we really do have to wait and see what happens on November 6 before we go implementing Obamacare. How are we going to fund Medicaid and these other programs? We have to have a strong economic climate. We have more taxpayers. That's how we fund these public services."
The 12th Senate candidates made their comments at a debate held by WXPR independent public radio in Rhinelander.