Right face-off

Four Republican candidates for House 6th District debate here
by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Not “Fifty Shades of Grey” but four shades of conservative was the show in the Acuity Auditorium at Plymouth High School Wednesday.

The four candidates for the Republican nomination for the 6th Congressional District seat took part in a two-hour debate that saw each of them affirming and reaffirming their conservative bona fides before a crowd of more than 200 people.

They saw state Sen. Joe Leibham of Sheboygan and state Sen. Glenn Grothman of West Bend chastise Rep. Duey Stroebel of Saukville for what they termed his negative attack ads on them.

Meanwhile the fourth candidate, Tom Denow of Oshkosh, who described himself as “a citizen candidate,” struggled much of the night to get a word in edgewise in the back-and-forth between Stroebel, Leibham and Grothman.

Stroebel, who was first elected to the Assembly in 2011, contrasted his background with Leibham – in the Legislature since 1998 - and Grothman – in the Legislature since 1993.

A crowd of more than 200 listened to Republican candidates for the 6th Congressional District debate Wednesday in the Acuity Auditorium at Plymouth High School. — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner A crowd of more than 200 listened to Republican candidates for the 6th Congressional District debate Wednesday in the Acuity Auditorium at Plymouth High School. — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner “We have a lot of career politicians who are more interested in protecting their turf than getting the job done,” Stroebel said. “Our Founding Fathers intended for us to have citizen representatives. I’m the only candidate here who has 30 years of private sector experience.”

“I take great umbrage at what Rep. Stroebel has said,” Grothman responded.

“You are the individual who has been running negative ads throughout this campaign,” Leibham said to Stroebel. “You’re focusing more on your opponents rather than what you would do for your constituents. I want people to vote for me, not against Duey or Glenn or Tom.”

Attendees of Wednesday’s Republican Congressional debate at Plymouth High School had to run a gauntlet of candidate yard signs on their way into the school. — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner Attendees of Wednesday’s Republican Congressional debate at Plymouth High School had to run a gauntlet of candidate yard signs on their way into the school. — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner “What you’re hearing here is politician(s),” Stroebel told the audience. “That’s what they do – criticize people who try to pull them down. We have career politicians who haven’t lived in the real world.”

Leibham pointed out that Gov. Scott Walker has held various local and state elected offices since 1993 and Rep. Paul Ryan – the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2012 – has been in Congress since 1998.

“Do you not support them,” Leibham challenged Stroebel.

“I’m the only candidate who has actual experience working in business, in industry and in education,” Denow stated. “One of the reasons I decided to get involved in this race is … being a regular citizen and not having all that backing and money. I do not have the big money of the other candidates so I will not bow down to any special interests.”

Following opening statements from each candidate, moderator Rick Dodgson, a history professor at Lakeland College, directed four general questions to them: how they would change people’s lack of confidence in Congress if elected, under what circumstances would they support sending American troops into foreign conflicts, should the Affordable Care Act be scrapped or replaced, and what to do about illegal immigrants.

Grothman said Republicans need to do a better job of articulating how what he called the “culture of dependency” has endangered America and how it should be changed.

“I’m not running for Congress to be a failure. Right now our government is failing,” Leibham said. He told the audience he would support a term limit Constitutional amendment and pledged to serve no more than 12 years in the House if elected.

Grothman, Leibham and Stroebel then engaged in a back-and-forth over their accomplishments – or lack thereof – in the state Legislature.

Stroebel criticized his two fellow legislators for voting “in favor of multiple Doyle budgets,” a reference to former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, during their years in Madison.

“Those were Republican budgets we sent to Doyle,” in the years Republicans controlled the Legislature, Grothman responded, adding that Doyle effectively rewrote them with his line-item veto.

“You’re trying to throw Gov. Walker under the bus,” Leibham accused Stroebel.

Denow pledged to go to Congress to “show regular citizens can come out of this and try to work together.”

He related a story of a Chrysler Corp. district service manager in South Carolina he met when he worked for Chrysler in North Carolina for several years.

Denow said he reconnected with the man recently, telling him that he was running for Congress in Wisconsin. The South Carolinian said he was running for Congress there as a Democrat, and Denow said the two pledged to try to work together in Congress if both are elected.

All four candidates were united in their resolve that Obamacare should be repealed, although they reluctantly conceded under prodding from Dodgson that some portions of the ACA should be retained.

“Republicans don’t need to get involved in trying to repair it, we have to articulate why it is the wrong thing and articulate why the free market is better,” Grothman said of Obamacare.

“Republicans need to have a message of alternatives (such as) cost savings and better health practices,” Leibham said.

“We need to bring up some more solutions instead of just saying we’re against Obamacare,” Denow stated. He added that recent court rulings on ACA may eventually lead to the Supreme Court revisiting the constitutionality of the entire act.

“It is unsustainable and it will not work,” Stroebel said of Obamacare. “It’s going in the direction of socialized, single-provider care and that’s not the way to go.”

As to the issue of American military involvement overseas, Leibham observed, “The world’s a mess because of the lack of American leadership and the lack of American resolve. When America is strong, the world is strong.”

“America has not done a good job of explaining why America is a great country and why the rest of the world should emulate us,” Grothman added.

“We are not the policeman of the world, but when our national security is threatened, we need to have a clear mission and we can’t let politics get involved,” Stroebel stated.

Denow said American military involvement should only come under, “extremely dire circumstances. We have to have a direct threat to the security of the United States and we need to have a majority of Congress and a majority of the American people behind us.”

Grothman, Leibham and Stroebel all urged strengthening of American borders and humanely returning the recent influx of illegal child immigrants to their home nations when questioned about immigration.

“I don’t support amnesty,” Leibham asserted. “When you break the law, there are consequences,” Leibham explained.

“We are a nation of laws and we have a border. I think it’s time to recognize our border and seal our borders,” Stroebel stated.

Leibham agreed, calling for an increased presence of the military and the National Guard along the border.

Grothman saw the issue as a symptom of a deeper problem.

“This is one of those issues that needs to be solved soon or this nation is sunk,” he stated. “Right now the United States is the welfare magnet of the Western Hemisphere and this is going to ruin America,” if it isn’t changed.

Denow noted that the issue of recent child illegal immigrants had to be separated from other immigration issues. “It is probably impractical to send all of them back,” he said of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

In their closing statements, the four candidates reiterated their efforts to differentiate themselves from their opponents.

Stroebel, going first, again cited his private sector experience. “I do believe real world experience is what is needed in government today.”

Denow again emphasized his outsider status and lack of bigmoney connections. “I don’t have the money they do,” he said of his three opponents. “You’re only going to get one brochure or one phone call from me.”

Leibham emphasized his combination of private sector experience and public service. In talking to people during his campaign, he said, he has found, “a lack of belief out there that the federal government is working for them, and that’s disappointing. I want to restore their faith in government.”

Grothman stressed his record of fighting for controversial issues and policies along with his success in the Legislature in advancing those. “Our country is a mess,” he summarized. “Who is the one who is most likely to make a dent in solving that crisis?”

The Republican primary for the 6th District seat – now held by Republican Tom Petri of Fond du Lac – will be held Tuesday, Aug. 12.

The primary winner will face Democrat Mark Harris of Oshkosh of Oshkosh and Libertarian candidate Douglas “Gus” Fahrendorf of Neenah.

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