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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

 8:30 AM 

On to the next one: Holperin and Simac meet for SD 12 debate

With the six Republican recalls out of the way, attention now turns to the two Democratic senators facing recalls next week. Sens. Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch face challenges from Kim Simac and Jonathan Steitz, respectively.

Holperin and Simac debated education funding in their first and only debate Tuesday evening.

Holperin, D-Conover, said the level of state cuts to K-12 education in the latest biennial budget could lead to consolidation or even elimination of some Northwoods school districts.

Simac, R-Eagle River, said the focus should be on using education funding to the best of local districts' abilities.

In the debate -- broadcast on WRJO-FM radio in Eagle River -- Holperin said school aid cuts combined with required property tax reductions in many communities "are going to be very troublesome for some of these school districts."

Simac countered that if $12 billion in K-12 funding needs to be the bottom line, "we will be successful." Simac said she had confidence in local district administrators and noted "report after report" that districts throughout the state had been resolving their budget shortfalls without laying off teachers.

Holperin charged that Simac has been "nothing but contentious" in her references to public education during her leadership of a local Tea Party group.

"I'm glad that now, as a candidate, you're talking highly of public education," Holperin said.

The candidates also sparred over the budget repair bill, with Simac charging that if Holperin had no problem voting for higher taxes in Gov. Jim Doyle's last budget that he "should have stayed and just voted no'' earlier this year.

Holperin noted he was one of only three Dems to vote for the fiscal elements of the repair bill after Senate Dems returned from Illinois, and said he had a problem with a number of policy items in the original bill -- including provisions to restrict public employee collective bargaining.

Holperin also said he sensed that voters were ready to move beyond "a bumper sticker platitude like, 'He left, and I won't.'"

The senator and challenger did agree on a number of issues, from increasing private sector development of high-speed Internet to strengthening investment in tourism to permitting mining in an environmentally responsible manner.

Simac repeatedly advocated for rolling back regulations that she believes make it more difficult to thrive in the Northwoods. She accused Holperin of being detached from the issues he helped create in Madison.

Holperin said he'll continue to stress to lawmakers from other parts of the state that Northwoods residents must be able to both protect and utilize the surrounding environment, saying people in Madison tend to view the area as "a large park up here that ought to be preserved."

He also said he'll push for bills currently working through the Legislature that would create additional economic enterprise zones, a tax credit for the hospitality industry and a sales tax compact on Internet retailers. Simac confessed she was "stumped" on current legislation in circulation, saying, "I can't name you a single one right now."

Both candidates decried the high levels of spending in the race, with Holperin saying ads from unregulated outside groups "do poison the well to a certain extent."

Simac charged that Holperin's campaign committee has been behind the negative ads along with outside groups, saying allegations about her tax record show "how out of touch Jim Holperin is with the issues facing his own constituents."

Holperin said his ads have done little more than reveal public records about his opponent.

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