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Dems address residents during office grand opening

Douglas County residents had a chance to ask questions and express concerns as the Douglas County Democrats held a grand opening of its offices leading up to the midterm elections.

Wisconsin Senate incumbent Janet Bewley of Delta and U.S. congressional candidate Margaret Engebretson of Balsam Lake fielded questions and discussed concerns with more than a dozen people gathered in Suite 224 of the Board of Trade building in downtown Superior.

The offices will be open through the Nov. 6 election and will be a place where people can get signs and literature in support of Democratic candidates running for office. Office hours haven't been established yet as work begins to set up the two-room suite.

The 7th Congressional District consists of all or part of 26 counties in northern Wisconsin. Engebretson, a U.S. military veteran and newcomer to politics is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy in the upcoming election. Duffy has held the seat since 2011.

"What I am doing is a lot of travel and meetings with folks that many times have never had candidates come and meet them," Engebretson said in response to a question about how she is going to defeat the four-term congressman. She said her goal is to "unseat an absentee representative" and represent all the people of the district, regardless if they voted for her or not.

"I hear this everywhere I go," Engebretson said. "He's an absentee representative. They feel completely abandoned by this man. He doesn't listen. A lot of times people write him, and ... he never writes them back."

"I can attest," one man interjected.

"He very deliberately only represents part of our district," Engebretson said. "In his language, he says very, very divisive things."

Marge Kaptonak of Superior shared a cautionary story. She said when she worked with Mary Hoeft, the 2016 Democratic candidate for Congress, Duffy arranged debates that were held in early November after absentee balloting closed and just before the election in places with little media coverage. Hoeft had wanted the debates in October, and was forced into the early November debates set up by the Duffy because headlines reported she was declining to debate, Kaptonek said.

USA Today of Wisconsin called those debates in Wausau and Hayward "campaign events."

"He's got to be watched out for; he's not fair," Kaptonek warned about Duffy.

Bewley said she has a "old-fashioned belief in representative government" in which a bunch of people get together and say one person represents their views with honor to solve problems.

"Ideologically, we think that they're evil or something," Bewley said of Republicans. "They're not evil. They're driven by the value that we should all be free to have access to as much prosperity as we can. My value is that we have to make sure everyone has a chance, has fair access to a good quality of life. It shouldn't be determined by zip code, by gender, by race. It shouldn't be determined by any of that."

The candidates addressed issues form the cost and access to affordable health care to the high cost of higher education, which is leaving many with vast amounts of debt.

"You would not believe how many bachelor's, master's and higher degrees that we have working average-wage jobs," said Jerry Paine of Superior. "They could probably make a lot more money but they can't get that. You can't raise a family without health care ... you can't have three kids without coverage. It's affecting universities. It's affecting the economy."

Engebretson said she understands the dilemma. As businesses and farms closed in the Balsam Lake area, she saw a decline in her law practice that prompted her to go to work as a postal clerk in addition to practicing law.

"Unemployment is at a record low; how is that working for you?" Bewley asked. "Unemployment is at a record low, but you're working two jobs and you don't have health insurance ... All of these rah-rah statistics that people can claim ... there's a lot of people who are suffering right now."

Buffy Luostari, a dual resident of Spain and the U.S. said she sees the nation's politics with a European perspective.

"What they see in Europe, what they interpret from the administration, is not what's going to be," Luostari said, asking Engebretson about her thoughts on international affairs. "There's a huge European backlash against the current administration and the hope that there is something underneath that is not that."

Engebretson, who spent 24 years among the Navy, Naval Reserve and Minnesota Air National Guard, said her priority has long been on national security and international relations.

"It was actually the top filter when I would vote for folks; it's extremely important for me," Engebretson said.

"Democracy is really an experiment that we do over, and over, and over again," Bewley said. She said whether you throw in an industrial revolution, technology or terrorism into the mix, it's just a matter of figuring out how to keep it working despite the changes.

"The easiest way to control people is to make them afraid of something," said Pat Luostari, retired Northwestern High School teacher and Buffy's mother.