The two candidates in a special state Senate election squared off Tuesday night in a civil forum that reflected the general partisan themes currently being voiced in Wisconsin.
Democrat Caleb Frostman and Republican Andre Jacque outlined their positions on job creation, economic development, groundwater quality, the Foxconn deal, school funding and other issues during an hourlong conversation in the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Christie Theater, moderated by the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
The two men agreed that recent revisions to NR 151 to restrict the spread of manure on fragile karst topography are a step in the right direction.
Frostman said it’s important to monitor the implementation of NR 151 very closely “and that the DNR is fully funded and fully staffed to enforce those rules, that if those rules are on the books, we need to make sure they’re being followed and that there are adequate staff to monitor these nutrient management plans and there are teeth in the enforcements to make sure that they are followed going forward.”
Jacque said he supported the efforts of the last two representatives from the 1st Assembly District, Garey Bies and Joel Kitchens, to address the groundwater issues, and noted some of his own efforts, including authoring an extension of the state’s Clean Drinking Water Program, and making Niagara Escarpment purchases through the stewardship program a priority.
“Nobody wants unsafe drinking water, nobody wants to have lessened environmental standards,” Jacque said.
Asked about the core values that drive their political opinions, both men referred to their upbringing.
“My parents always instilled in me a belief in civic involvement, as well as honesty, integrity, doing the right thing. That means you’re not saying something different in one room and something else in the next,” Jacque said. “A lot of it just boils down to helping the little guy, or finding where government doesn’t pass the common sense test or is getting in the way of doing the right thing, looking at how am I going to make a better community for my kids to grow up in … I certainly am a social and fiscal conservative, and I’m proud of that. I also have bucked my party on any number of things where I believe it’s in the best interest of my constituents and my underlying principles.”
“In my household, community service was never-ending and non-negotiable,” Frostman said. “My mother instilled that in me very early.”
Frostman said his perspective changed when a college friend came out as gay at the time when Wisconsin was voting on a referendum defining a marriage as between a man and a woman, and he saw the impact on him. He also talked about a hard-working woman he mentored who struggled to keep ahead.
“I paid very close attention over the years to how policy and legislation affects people, and that has what has made me the proud progressive that I am today, looking at how policy affects people and how we can improve the quality of life of the people around us who are working hard and deserve the same return on investment that folks in the top 1 percent do as well,” Frostman said.
Some of the sharpest differences came with regard to last year’s Foxconn deal.
Frostman said he would have voted against the largest business incentive package in state history for a number of reasons, including that the average wage of a Foxconn worker is expected to be about $53,000 a year in exchange for a $3 billion from the state, which he said could have been invested in roads, fighting the opioid epidemic and other issues that affect the whole state.
Jacque said he was surprised to hear that $54,000 a year in terms of an average job created was too small. (The two candidates used slightly different figures.)
“I thought we were trying to create good-paying middle-class jobs,” Jacque said. “You look at the size of the investment, it’s not out of line of what we’ve made elsewhere – it’s really the size of Foxconn’s investment that is really so much bigger than anything else that we have seen.”
And Jacque emphasized that the Foxconn package is “pay as you grow” – the state will pay out only as the company delivers on what it says it’s going to do.
“It was something that I looked at very skeptically at first, but ultimately it passed the test,” Jacque said.
And the two differed on Act 10 of 2011, the budget measure that changed most public employees’ collective bargaining rights and required them to pay a minimum portion of their health insurance and pension plans.
“Removing teachers’ and other public unions’ ability to collectively bargain has been detrimental in our ability to recruit and retain our best and brightest public servants in the teaching profession and otherwise,” Frostman said. “It has vilified a profession that used to be honored. If we want to have our students have the best chance at a good life, we need to attract and retain the best teachers, and that starts with treating them with respect and allowing them to bargain collectively.”
Jacque noted he was a freshman lawmaker in the state Assembly when the measure passed amid angry protests – “I was calling back people from my office as they were trying to break into my office before one of the pivotal votes.”
He said the net effects of the changes have been positive for local government and property taxpayers.
“I can tell you that we gave tools to local government, and that was something that didn’t happen when the previous Democratic administration made cuts to education, made cuts in a lot of different areas without giving the tools on the cost side of the equation,” Jacque said. “We can’t just look at inputs, we have to look at process improvements, and that’s what Act 10 did.”
The two men will be on the ballot June 12, and the victor will serve the last half-year of former state Sen. Frank Lasee’s unexpired term. The seat will be up again in the Nov. 6 election with a full four-year term at stake.
CORRECTION: Rep. Jacque said of the time Act 10 of 2011 was being considered, “I was calling back people from my office as they were trying to break into my office before one of the pivotal votes.” The statement was misreported in the original version of this article.