Second Harsdorf-Moore debate draws 300 peopleThe second of three debates between incumbent Republican State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf and her Democratic challenger Shelly Moore was staged Thursday morning at the University Center Ballroom at UW-River Falls. The event was hosted by the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and attracted 300 observers.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
The second of three debates between incumbent Republican State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf and her Democratic challenger Shelly Moore was staged Thursday morning at the University Center Ballroom at UW-River Falls.
The event was hosted by the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and attracted 300 observers.
For the most part, the crowd was reserved, with only a couple of minor outbursts – one against each candidate. The debate was moderated by Dr. Del Permann, long-time River Falls pastor and currently an interim pastor at Roberts United Church of Christ.
During opening remarks, Moore highlighted her career as a teacher and said she came from a family of “veterans, firefighters, farmers and teachers.” She said her family values include fairness.
“If I do not stand for those values, then I comply with people who choose to hurt others,” Moore said.
She said she values fairness for all and will promote and protect those values.
Harsdorf talked about her growing up on a farm and was instilled with the value of “making a difference when I could.” She said the state faced a $3.6 billion shortfall and she has worked hard to balance the budget.
“I set out to do what I was instructed to do (by voters),” Harsdorf said. “I was instructed to get our house in order.”
She said her actions have helped schools and businesses avoid massive layoffs and stand up against big special interests.
In answering the first question about job creation, Moore was critical of Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature for its creation of Wisconsin Economic Development Department. She said the agency has too much money without any checks and balances.
She said a business group’s study titled “Be Bold Wisconsin” said the number one priority for creating jobs is a skilled work force. Moore, who is active in state and national teachers unions, said education is her high priority.
“I support education and jobs,” Moore said. “My opponent agreed with funding WEDD without checks and balances.”
Harsdorf said her actions speak for themselves.
“I’m not studying, I’m doing,” Harsdorf said. “We’ve seen 39,000 new jobs this year and 12,900 jobs last month – that was half the new jobs in the entire country.”
Harsdorf defended the formation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Department, saying it focuses 100 percent of its work on creating jobs.
“We need to have a business-friendly climate in the state,” Harsdorf said. “Just look at Illinois and Minnesota – they are chasing jobs out of their states.”
When asked about a healthy business climate in the 10th Senate District, Harsdorf said one of the key elements is related to having the state issue permits in a timely fashion.
“Business-friendly states can issue permits in two or three months,” Harsdorf said. “In the past Wisconsin has taken from six to 12 months, up to two years. That’s where WEDD can again help.”
Moore again emphasized education and a skilled work force.
She also called for a simplified tax structure. Moore also questioned Harsdorf’s job numbers, claiming the numbers do not take into account the number of jobs lost, especially in the private sector.
“We need to create family-sustaining jobs,” Moore said.
When asked how she would balance the budget, Moore said she would establish priorities and create more balance than the Republican budget.
“When you ask people what taxes pay for, most will identify schools, fire, police and welfare,” Moore said. “They all took a big cut in this budget.”
Yet, she said taxes are still going to rise.
“Where is the money going?” Moore asked. “Costs increased $1 billion. People will see the full impact in six months.”
She called for priorities in spending with a focus on the future and closing tax loopholes for big businesses.
Harsdorf responded by saying “it is easy to be critical, but leadership is finding solutions – the government has to live within its means.”
“Legislators have three choices,” Harsdorf said. “Increase taxes, cut expenses and raise the debt. We don’t want more taxes and debt, so that leaves cuts.”
Harsdorf also said that the eliminating “loopholes” is a tax increase.
“The choices are not always easy, but we have to make the tough choices,” Harsdorf said. “With our budget we are seeing things work. Local governments and school districts have the tools to make it work.”
When asked about Wisconsin’s high property tax rates, Harsdorf said Wisconsin is a highly taxed state.
“We are taking a different path, however, than our neighbors (Minnesota and Illinois),” Harsdorf said. “We are getting spending in line.”
She accused Moore of supporting the “failed policies” of the last administration (Democrat James Doyle). She said the budget left from Doyle included a $4 billion deficit and 190,000 lost jobs.
Moore accused Harsdorf of sending conflicting messages.
“247,000 people are seeing cuts on Homestead credits – that’s a tax increase,” Moore said. “We’re seeing cuts to the working poor. Here is a lot of numbers and jargon, but we know taxes are high.
“The middle class is paying a disproportionate amount of those taxes.”
She said there are too many tax cuts on business. She said she supported “shared sacrifice.”
When questioned about affordable health care, including that available to small business, Moore said Harsdorf is “out of touch” with people paying for health care. She mentioned cuts in BadgerCare and said BadgerCare was one of many ways to make health care affordable.
“We really need to get health care costs in check, it’s not about insurance,” Moore said. “Rolling back programs now is wrong -– they work.”
Harsdorf said health care is a big challenge for both the state and the federal government. She said she has always been a supporter of BadgerCare and worked hard to save SeniorCare in the current budget.
“In addition, in this session the legislature passed tax deductions for health savings accounts,” Harsdorf said.
Harsdorf also accused the Moore campaign of using scare tactics and lying to senior citizens. She mentioned the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “liar, liar, pants on fire” rating regarding a Moore advertisement critical of Harsdorf’s position on Medicare.
“That’s a federal issue – it’s not right,” Harsdorf said.
When asked about collective bargaining, Harsdorf said public employees still have collective bargaining regarding wages. Other issues, however, were eliminated in the state budget.
“There is a cost associated with collective bargaining,” Harsdorf said. She gave several examples of where unions cost school districts money in non-wage issues.
“Our bill gives the local governments and school districts the tools and flexibility to give schools the best opportunities for kids and reward teachers,” Harsdorf said. “The budget also helps avoid mass layoffs.”
Moore said mass layoffs have occurred.
“We’ve seen teacher layoffs and cuts in pay,” Moore said. “Collective bargaining has been around since 1959 and it’s all about compromise – people sit down and talk about working conditions, prep time, teaching issues and safety issues. Two groups sit with respect and compromise -- the Wisconsin legislature took that away.”
When asked about the increased frustration in partisanship, and the lack of compromise, Moore said she “votes her consciencious.” She said she looks at what “we can do better.”
She was critical of Harsdorf, saying that she has been in office too long.
“People start to lose touch with the people they represent,” Moore said. Think about the down and out; that’s what we are here for – compromise.”
Harsdorf said she has a long history of working in a bi-partisan manner. She specifically mentioned the Stillwater Bridge issue and the tax reciprocity issue. She said her opponent is compromising kids’ futures and taxpayers ability to prosper.
When asked about a steady revenue stream to schools, Harsdorf talked about state shared revenue in the 1990s and how it was fairly easy to fund local districts. As the economy changed, however, Harsdorf said changes had to be made.
The last administration shifted $660 million to property taxes,” Harsdorf said. “We did not want to shift more to property taxes. Without reform, the schools would have been hurt by not having the tools to meet their budgets – they now have flexibility.”
Moore said there are numerous studies regarding finding ways to better fund schools.
“The property tax model is ineffective,” Moore said. “The fact is, the tools they gave us are the tools to cut employees. Our district has seen cuts. Real leadership would introduce a new model”
She also said too much funding is going to Milwaukee schools.
When asked about protecting the rights of unions, Moore took issue with the fact of how she is portrayed and identified as a strong union backer in some of the ads backed by Harsdorf interests.
“I know the truth,” Moore. “If I lose the election I still have a contract with the Ellsworth School District.”
She said she has seen students worried about the future of the state.
“I love this state, I love Wisconsin and I want to give students hope for the future,” Moore said.
Harsdorf said her opponent is very active in the union, at both the state and national level.
“When the protests started in Madison, Shelly Moore was a featured speaker,” Harsdorf said. “My backers are not misrepresenting Shelly Moore when she said ‘we breathe union,’ or that ‘this is war.’”
She also talked about Moore’s use of school email services, calling it illegal and wrong.
Harsdorf generated a response from the Moore supporters in the crowd when she said, “It’s a dangerous situation. I’m not sure which is worse, an elected official doing something illegal, or someone who is teaching our kids that it doesn’t matter.”
When asked about the budget and treatment of large corporations Harsdorf said the state must continue to offer business incentives.
“We need to have our fiscal house in order and grow jobs,” Harsdorf said. “We also must encourage business to stay in the state and expand. Businesses need to know they will not be taxed out of the state."
Moore said the way to make business grow is to create demand.
“When we cut salaries, we create less demand for business.”
She also was critical of corporations not paying enough taxes.
“Why do they need incentives when they don’t pay taxes?” Moore questioned. She said the money is going to “pay good friends.”
In her closing remarks, Moore generated a response from the Harsdorf supporters when she said the state was saying “no” to the middle class and “no” to schools, but “yes” to cutting taxes for M&I Bank.
“There is a war – a war on middle class,” Moore said. “My opponent supported the Frankenstein veto (under the Doyle Administration), but now gives Walker the power.”
She closed by calling for civility.
Harsdorf also called for civility, but said, “I’m doing what I was elected to do. I’m not going to back down and I’m not going to be intimidated.”
She said she had to make tough choices and stood up against the special interests.
The debate is available on Rivertown websites: rivertowns.net, hudsonstarobserver.com, riverfallsjournal.com, piercecountyherald.com and newrichmond-news.com.
The final debate before the Aug. 9 election is at the Wisconsin Public Radio station WHWC-FM in Eau Claire at 5 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 4.