Kagen and Gard debate for Wisconsin’s eighth congressional district

Nora G. Hertel

It was impossible to miss the enthusiasm that lined College Avenue the night of Friday, Oct.13.
Political activists from Lawrence, Appleton and even Wisconsin at large withstood the cold to wave signs reading “Kagen: Together, We Will,” or “Gard: Leadership with Results.”
The energy carried inside to Lawrence’s Stansbury Theatre for the live-broadcast debate between the two congressional candidates. Democrat Steve Kagen and Republican John Gard are vying for Wisconsin’s eighth district.
The theater was full and bustling with community members of all ages and students from Lawrence and beyond.
Daniel Suhr is a student from Marquette who met to rally with college republicans from St. Norbert, Oshkosh, Green Bay and La Crosse. He explained, “This is the race that everyone cares about because it’s the most competitive.”
The debate was an opportunity for the candidates to present themselves in the same arena and give the district a view beyond the mud-slinging television ads that have been a noticeable part of this campaign.
Within the hour-long debate the candidates responded to several questions-some formulated by the sponsors, some offered by members of the audience. Every response was allowed a rebuttal, within which the candidates presented their positions on issues at hand and suggested topics from their own agendas.
In their introductions, Kagen and Gard both mentioned the importance of their roles as fathers, husbands and Wisconsin residents.
Kagen, an allergist and doctor, emphasized his experience as a physician listening to patients and likened that to interaction with constituents.
He also jumped in with a list of problems he hoped to address including Iraq, ethics in Washington policymaking, and public health.
Gard focused more on his personal rather than political image in his introduction, describing his upbringing as a young boy on a dairy farm, which taught him the values he now employs as a family man and a hardworking state representative.
The questions posed by moderator Jeff Alexander, anchor and reporter for WBAY-TV, included immigration reform, pension protection, healthcare, global warming, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, national debt and high rates of incarceration.
The candidates agreed on a number of issues, though they clearly had different views on how to deal with them.
Regarding immigration, both men insisted they do not support amnesty, with Gard emphasizing legal immigration and Kagen suggesting a “pathway to citizenship.”
There was some contention at this point when Gard accused his opponent of flip-flopping to appease more voters near election time. Kagen defended his position and said any reports claiming he was contradicting himself were lies.
The candidates took different approaches to the discussion of Medicaid, introducing tactics that they used for the remainder of the debate.
Gard cited his role in the state welfare reform law, W-2. As an experienced politician, he used his past efforts to substantiate his claims for the future.
In his response to this topic, Kagen suggested ways to strengthen the middle class and “ensure that everyone has access to health care.” Kagen returned to the issue of health care throughout the debate and offered to be the “Doctor in the House.”
The issue of global warming excited a more contentious exchange, though the candidates did equally acknowledge it as a problem that must be addressed.
Gard once again cited his experience in office and his support of ethanol and wind energy. He firmly stated that reform should be in the form of encouragement and not mandate.
Kagen used this issue to draw a strong correlation between Gard and the current White House administration and its evident devotion to oil.
Kagen returned to this relationship on a number of occasions, calling for a representative who will hold Washington government accountable.
After the debate, Gard and Kagen meandered around the lobby greeting, shaking hands and reemphasizing their strongest points whenever possible.
In an interview with The Lawrentian, Kagen lamented the omission of discussion on Iraq as well as ethics and integrity in office; “two deciding issues in this race.”
Gard confidently stated, “People had a chance to see that I’ve been consistent in my views and values and my opponent has not.”
Both campaigns seemed confident in their presentation that evening and in the rest of the election.
This was the first debate in a series of four between the candidates. The next debate is scheduled for Oct. 23 and will be filmed at the Radisson in downtown Appleton.
Another will be broadcast live from the WHBY-AM studio Oct. 25, and the final debate will be webcast from the UW-Green Bay University Union on Oct. 26.
Elections are fast approaching and efforts and arguments from both sides are sure gather momentum as Nov. 7, Election Day, draws nearer.