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Duffy, in town hall, defends conservative views

SOLON SPRINGS — About a dozen Douglas County residents waited patiently in 30-degree weather outside the locked community center here on Monday to hear what their congressman had to say four days before the inauguration of a new president.

Fortunately, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, on a three-city town hall tour of Wisconsin's sprawling 7th District, arrived just ahead of the 5 p.m. start time and had been tipped off where he'd find the key.

By the time Duffy gave a short statement and started taking questions a few minutes later inside the warm and brightly lit building, the group of constituents had grown to more than 40 people eager to quiz the four-term congressman on topics ranging from concealed-carry permits to health insurance to their own county's road conditions (deplorable, Gordon resident Tom Chandler said).

Duffy asked for a respectful discourse, saying it's possible to disagree without acrimony.

"My mother is a huge Bernie Sanders supporter, and we still love each other," he said.

Judging from the number of people who applauded various statements, the town hall's composition skewed slightly toward Duffy's conservative viewpoints. But a significant portion challenged the Republican's thinking.

Among them was Duane Lottig of Solon Springs, who questioned Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood over its abortion provisions. He said if the government defunds Planned Parenthood in respect for people's religious beliefs about abortion, it also shouldn't fund vouchers for schools whose teaching might run counter to his beliefs.

"I don't want to fund kids going to school where they're taught that the world is only 6,000 years old and Noah rode off the ark on the back of a dinosaur," Lottig said. "Sorry, I don't consider that good science. Or good religion."

But Duffy defended vouchers as a "pathway out" for children in troubled districts and said he would be proud to vote to defund Planned Parenthood. "Frankly, if we take money away from Planned Parenthood and abortions, let's put more money into women's health," he said.

John Glindinning of Wascott said he'd like to see Congress do more to protect the environment and to act against climate change.

"I'd like to see more regulation, not less regulation, on industry," he said.

Duffy responded that he loves the outdoors, but he argued that regulation needs to be balanced. "If you shut down our economy because we regulate ourselves to death, you have people who can't put food on the table," he said.

Susan Flemmen, a retired teacher from Lake Nebagamon, challenged Duffy for his vote last Friday to repeal the Affordable Care Act, noting that nine other Republicans voted against repeal.

Quoting from a letter she submitted earlier in the day to the Superior Telegram, Flemmen cited the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget's estimate that repealing that act would cost roughly $350 billion over 10 years.

Republicans have voted to repeal the act, commonly known as Obamacare, more than 60 times over the past six years, Flemmen said.

"What was their plan — your plan — to replace it?" she asked. "Why weren't Republicans working on replace, not just repeal?"

Duffy responded that Democratic Party losses in the 2016 election showed the country was unhappy with Obamacare.

A replacement plan isn't needed immediately, he said, because the 2018 plans already are written.

"You're going to have the Affordable Care Act through 2018," he said. "So that means we actually have time to have a conversation. ... I don't like the cram-it-down-your-throat approach."