Jeanne Tarantino took some moderate stances on immigration, schools and helping the unemployed in Monday's 98th Assembly GOP primary forum, while Adam Neylon often took the most conservative line.
Tarantino, Ed Baumann, Todd Greenwald and Matt Morzy said they favored creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country.
Neylon said while he supports a path to citizenship, current immigration laws need to be better enforced.
"We should not just grant amnesty, because that sets a bad example," he said.
Tarantino, whose mother emigrated to the U.S. from Italy, said if the federal government is going to create paths to citizenship, Wisconsin should find a way to make that work for the state as well.
"We need to come together as a nation and decide that immigrants have contributed a lot to our economy and they have a role in each and every local area in filling jobs -- sometimes lower skill jobs that go unfilled," she said.
"I think Waukesha has one of the per capita largest Hispanic populations in the United States, all of which are vibrant, hard-working individuals who add a lot to our community,” he said. “I would support some kind of amnesty for immigrants to get them within the country and have them here as productive, tax-paying individuals."
Greenwald and Morzy agreed on working to create a path to legal citizenship for immigrants. Morzy, who graduated from Carroll University, noted that he shared classes "with a large population of students who came over here in order to get degrees. I think we need to make sure that when those students come over here that we keep them here."
About 60 people attended the forum, sponsored by Patch.com at a Carroll University facility. Questions were submitted by the audience.
The GOP candidates are vying for a seat vacated by Republican Paul Farrow, who successfully ran for the state Senate in a special election late last year. No Democrats are running in the race for the heavily Republican 98th District, which covers the Waukesha, Pewaukee and Sussex areas.
Neylon, who has worked for state Rep. Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, and GOP U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, said he understands the concerns of small business owners and job creators because he started a window-cleaning company that hires college students, among others. He also touted his experience working in the Legislature when the Walker administration took over and erased the budget deficit.
Tarantino, a former chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, said she is the best candidate because she has also worked in the Department of Workforce Development and with other past legislators, including former GOP state Sen. Joanne Huelsman.
"I can hit the ground running," she said. Tarantino made recent news because she had testified in her divorce proceedings that she had lost her job with Kleefisch because of what she perceived to be gender and age discrimination. Tarantino has since apologized for the remarks and has retained the support of Kleefisch.
Baumann, who has been police chief for the Village of Pewaukee for 38 years, said he received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in the race and said he is running for office for the same reason he became a police officer -- to help people. He said he has the experience of presenting 29 budgets for approval.
Morzy, an MBA student at Marquette University who previously managed a Scottrade brokerage office in Brookfield , said he wants to use his background in finance to help the state create a better economy that will attract jobs.
Greenwald, a project manager in the architectural and construction field who’s been unemployed twice in recent years amid the struggles of the housing industry, said he reflects the district, calling himself "a middle-class guy who wants to go to Madison and do the right thing." He said he understands the importance of unemployment compensation to help people get by, but also said he would work to ensure better education and job training for residents.
All five candidates said they supported voter ID and background checks for firearms purchasers, and they all agreed with Walker's recent announcement to direct funds toward mental health issues.
But Baumann said as a police officer, he's learned that mental illness is complicated and it's not possible to make a quick decision on whether someone with mental health is dangerous or not.
Neylon also backed the guv’s recent proposal to require childless adults to enroll in state job training programs to receive food stamps, saying unemployment insurance “is one of the things that never made sense to me, how we just hand out benefits to people instead of requiring them to work or be looking for a job.”
But Tarantino questioned the idea of tying benefits to food, "because that's a basic necessity for life."
Tarantino talked about giving more support to schools and teachers, pointing out that she is the only candidate with school-age children.
Asked if they supported changes in the state Government Accountability Board's functions, Neylon was adamant: "The GAB needs to recognize that they have failed." He said poll workers need to be better trained and rules better enforced.
But the others all said the GAB is doing a good job and that elections in the state run smoothly.
The issue of mining legislation was not raised during the forum, but afterward, each of the candidates told WisPolitics.com that he or she is satisfied with the currently proposed bill and would vote for it.
Tarantino told WisPolitics that she thought some of her opponents "were awfully hard line up there." She said she does not think most issues should be considered on a partisan basis.
"Everyone knows I've also worked for Democrats," she said, adding that job creation, education and helping people struggling in the economic downturn are neither Republican nor Democratic issues.
Neylon said he isn't ashamed to take a strong conservative stance and said he wouldn't be surprised if Tarantino proved to be somewhat moderate. He said he would likely vote along party lines, if elected.
Greenwald said his job would be to represent “the values and concerns of district residents,” but said he'd probably vote along party lines for the most part.
Morzy said he would strive to listen to both sides, and Baumann said he objects to the idea that "you're either for the governor or you're against him."
"I would hope that I could offer ideas and that he would also listen to me," Baumann said.