Primary set for Tuesday in Wisconsin for congressional candidates

For the first time since the early 1970s, Wisconsin's 7th District won't have an incumbent congressman on the ballot. Five candidates are vying for the seat. On Tuesday, voters head to the polls to cast their ballot to narrow the field to three. ...


For the first time since the early 1970s, Wisconsin's 7th District won't have an incumbent congressman on the ballot.

Five candidates are vying for the seat. On Tuesday, voters head to the polls to cast their ballot to narrow the field to three.

They will decide between two Democrats, state Sen. Julie Lassa of Stevens Point and Superior businessman Don Raihala, and two Republicans, former Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy and farmer and businessman Dan Mielke of Rudolph. The winner of those party races will face each other and a challenge from Gary Kauther of Poplar, a retired businessman running as an independent, on Nov. 2.

The Democrats

Raihala, a real estate broker, announced his candidacy for office in July with the delivery of 1,027 signatures to the Government


Accountability Board. A newcomer to politics, Raihala describes himself as a pro-life, fiscally responsible Democrat -- the "dark-horse long shot" in the race.

Lassa, his primary opponent, has served in the

Wisconsin Legislature since 1998, when she won a seat in the Assembly. She was elected to the state Senate during a special election in April 2003.

Lassa announced her plans to run in May shortly after Rep. Dave Obey,

D-Wausau, announced his retirement at the end of his current term, ending more than 41 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 48 years in politics, including time in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Being the underdog with only a few thousand dollars to spend on his campaign, Raihala said he remains encouraged because people are looking him up on the Internet. He said his goal in running for office is to bring fiscal responsibility to Washington.

"Obviously, I am totally against earmarks or off-budget spending," Raihala said. "We can't consistently increase our national debt."

While earmarks were a consistent criticism against Obey, those earmarks have benefited local communities through programs such as the 154 Environmental Fund, which has helped communities in the Lake


Superior basin pay for sewage projects. Projects in Superior, Parkland and Solon Springs have benefited from the program, in addition to projects in Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties.

"It's got to become a budgetary item," Raihala said. "These are large projects coming down."

However, he said, they need to be a priority to spare local taxpayers the burden. It's an issue that all the communities around the Great Lakes share, Raihala said.

Lassa called the Great Lakes "a national treasure." She said that while traveling around the district, she has heard concerns about earmarks and federal spending and one of her goals is to make sure every dollar spent stands on its merits. While she plans to work with local communities on their needs, she said that will have to be balanced against reducing federal spending.

"People need to have clean water to drink and we can't have polluted water going into the lakes," Lassa said. She said the funding of such projects should have to stand up to scrutiny as should other earmark-funded projects.

"We need to reduce the amount of federal spending," Lassa said. "We only have limited resources, and those resources should be spent on priority issues."

While the candidates agree on the Great Lakes and share the view that projects should stand up to scrutiny, they differ on their priorities.

Raihala said there are no Band-Aid solutions to the nation's problems.


"You can't solve problems by adding to the national debt," Raihala said. "I am a Pay-Go guy," he said, referring to a proposal put forth by Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold. "That's the one Democratic proposal I like, and I really wish they would have stuck to it. If we really want it, we're going to have to pay for it right now, and there is no adding it to the national debt."

Jobs are another priority, and are hurt by issues such as Cap and Trade and health-care reform that burden industry, Raihala said.

"That's going to destroy us," Raihala said, adding that the uncertainty created by such issues has driven companies from Wisconsin and kept others from hiring.

Among Lassa's priorities are cleaning up politics in Washington with Wisconsin values.

Her goals include reducing congressional pay 10 percent until unemployment is reduced, refusing to take a pay raise until Congress passes a balanced budget and increasing the amount of time former national legislators and federal agency leaders have to spend before they can become lobbyists for special interests.

People need to have confidence their public officials are working for them, Lassa said.

"We need to make sure that Washington changes its ways, that they start putting middle-class workers and their families first, instead of special interests," Lassa said.

The Republicans


The differences between the Republican candidates running for office are more pronounced.

Duffy, who was featured in MTV's "Real World" nearly two decades ago, garnered national attention in his bid to unseat the nation's powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee before Obey announced in May that he would retire when the 112th Congress begins in January.

Mielke, Duffy's opponent on Tuesday, hasn't garnered national attention, but has gained the endorsement of the Wisconsin Constitution Party because he calls for limitations on government invoked by the U.S. Constitution.

Mielke acknowledges that he's not the party's chosen candidate, but said that's because he refuses to be beholden to any party agenda that doesn't represent the people.

Duffy said the advantage of voting for him is he has the resources to get his message out and defeat the Democratic candidate voters elect Tuesday and bring conservative ideals and fiscal restraint to Washington.

Mielke objects to the system that allowed Obey to earmark money for programs like the 154 Environmental Fund, which aided local communities with money for sewage infrastructure projects.

"In order for Mr. Obey to get earmark money, in good faith, he has to give other people earmark money," Mielke said. "So what you have is a method of buying, with taxpayer's money, perks for your district."

Those perks have cost taxpayers dearly, Mielke said, adding Wisconsin ranked 47th to 49th before 2009 in terms of federal return on dollars despite being represented by the ranking member of the committee that holds the nation's purse strings.


"While we appreciated the money we had, I believe it's very costly to the taxpayers," Mielke said. "I would actually rather see funding that went through the earmark system to go through a merit program so we don't end up with some huge, expensive airport project in order to get an earmark for Wisconsin."

In the long run, earmarks hurt northern Wisconsin more than they helped "because we had to pay out so much to everyone else," Mielke said,

"I believe we need to do away with earmarks, and that doesn't mean projects don't get funded," Duffy said. "They have to be transparent and stand on their own. ... I think we have to analyze every project and say 'is this project worth passing the bill off to our children?' "

The father of six said he's keenly aware that when his daughter Maria Victoria was born five months ago, the nation's debt left her holding the tab for $46,888 to cover a $13.4 trillion debt.

Duffy said 41 cents of every dollar spent is borrowed from countries like China.

"It's not just projects in Wisconsin that are being funded ... they're being funded across America," Duffy said.

Duffy, who was born and raised in Hayward and spent the last eight years in Ashland, said the Great Lakes "are imperative and we've got to protect them."

Mielke said there would be more money for the nation's priorities -- like the Great Lakes -- without the earmarks.


"You're circumventing the law and it gets costly," Mielke said. He said his methodology would be to convince rather than browbeat the people to achieve his goals. A sustainable farmer by trade, he said he firmly believes the nation needs to protect the environment, but not at any cost.

"There's a balance," Mielke said.

"We have to look at what policies we can implement that are pro-growth and allow our businesses to compete in a global marketplace. I want to make sure that Wisconsin businesses and American businesses aren't hampered because of over taxing, over mandating and over regulating."

Mielke said the government needs to get out of the way of business, and it will work.

"We should never try to work the economy by stripping the people of their wealth and giving it to someone else," Mielke said. "... We have to create an environment where it is better and cheaper and more economical and efficient to do business here than any other place in the world."

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