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Three debate issues for Democratic ballot spot

For the first time in nearly three decades, there won’t be an incumbent in the race for the 25th District of the state senate.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, announced he will not seek re-election.

And voters will have to decide Aug. 12 which of three Democratic candidates will head to the November ballot to face a challenge by Republican candidate Dane Deutsch.

Candidates running on the Democratic ticket include Park Falls Mayor Tom Ratzlaff, Poplar businessman Gary Kauther and state Rep. Janet Bewley of Ashland.

“As the current representative in the 74th District, I’m very excited about the opportunity to serve the northern part of the state,” Bewley said during her opening statement during a debate on Wisconsin Public Radio. “The 74th District is the largest Assembly district. The 25th is the largest Senate district, and I so look forward to learn more about this district and to continue to represent the entire region.”

Bewley has served in the Assembly since first elected in 2010.

“We have a lot at stake,” Bewley said. “Our schools, our roads, our infrastructure, the integrity of our local units of government, and of course the integrity of our environment is at risk today.”

Bewley said since announcing her candidacy in December, she has spent a good deal of time traveling the 25th District, not so much to campaign for office, but to learn more about the issues in the district.

“My decision to run for this seat basically came from the fact when I had lost my job 10 years ago when the mill shut down, and Bob had announced his retirement, now would probably be an opportunity to make a run for state senate,” Ratzlaff said. “And only because of the issues we had with the mill, issues that we’ve had throughout northern Wisconsin with jobs and unemployment, and the work that I have done as a mayor to go forward with reopening the mill, we were able to avoid a plant shutdown of our Weather Shield plant in town.”

In all, he said about 600 jobs were created or retained.

“I’ve owned and operated my own business,” Kauther said. “I had 12 trucks on the road all the way from the Michigan border to Duluth, Minn. for over 12 years. One of the toughest things to do is to start a business.”

He said while many businesses fail in the first five years, his knowledge of budgeting and attitude to get things done kept him going.

“I bring this attitude and I can get things done in Madison, based not only on my business experience but I’ve worked union jobs my entire life,” Kauther said.

Candidates answered questions from a panel that included Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Mike Simonson, Ashland Daily Press reporter Rick Olivo, and former Ashland Daily Press editor Claire Duquette.

Where mining and clean water were concerned, Ratzlaff favored going through the process to determine if mining can be done in a safe manner, and Bewley said that is the role the federal Environmental Protection Agency has in the process. Only Kauther condemned regulations that “smother” business.

“I believe if this mine goes forward, it will be done in the right way,” Ratzlaff said.

“We have a DNR here in the state of Wisconsin that is very thorough,” said Kauther.

However, Bewley said she has been at the table, and she has seen the relaxation of wetland standards and has concerns.

“I think it’s very important that the facts be made perfectly clear,” Bewley said. “Wisconsin’s mining law does not equal the environmental standards, the permitting calendar or the local participation that Minnesota does. They’re not equal at all.”

Where education is concerned, Bewley said she supports Wisconsin Superintendent Tony Evers fair funding proposal to assure small and rural districts can continue to operate.

“There’s less dependence solely on the property tax, and allows for the inflow of general purpose revenue, and state funding formulas that are going to get the money to the individual school districts in a way that rural schools or schools that are faced with declining enrollments aren’t going to be decimated to the point that they have to close schools, consolidate,” Bewley said.

“It’s always going to be a struggle because the money just is not there,” Kauther said of funding education. “… Education is going to be a struggle.”

Ratzlaff said he would favor increasing the sales tax by one or two percent to help with the cost of educating children, something that has been discussed.

“Everyone’s paying that tax, not just a certain few,” Ratzlaff said.

With declining sources of revenue to fund the state’s transportation system, each of the candidates had ideas for ways to maintain the infrastructure vital to economic development.

“Right now we have a surplus … and if you treat it like a businessman would have to treat it with a business,” Kauther said. He said if he had a surplus in one area of his budget, but a shortage in another area, he would use the surplus to cover the shortfall rather than raise rates on his customers.

Ratzlaff said he would rather see the surplus in the bank rather than spending it.

“You look at the gas tax and maybe do a small bump on the gas tax because people are traveling less and vehicles are getting better mileage,” Ratzlaff said. “The money has to come from somewhere for your roads. Somebody still has to pay for these things. … I think a little more study has to be done on it.”

Bewley noted that voters will decide a constitutional amendment that would prohibit using transportation revenue for purposes other than transportation. However, with no increases in transportation revenue, she said money still has to come from somewhere whether that’s gas taxes or other sources.

“Unless we figure out a way to get more money in the transportation fund, we are not going to have the roads the rest of the states have. I don’t think that is acceptable.”