Wausau school board member and law professor Tricia Zunker, a Democrat, will square off with State Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Minoqua, on May 12 in the race to fill the vacant U.S. Congressional 7th District seat.
The seat was held by Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, who resigned Sept. 23. Duffy said he stepped down to spend more time with his family, including a ninth child who was going to be facing health issues.
The district includes parts or all of 20 counties in northwest Wisconsin. There are 420,000 registered voters in the district. The Wisconsin Elections Commission announced Thursday that 93,000 absentee ballots have been requested, or about 22% of the electorate.
Each candidate responded to a questionnaire sent to them in mid-April. Here are their responses.
Why are you the best candidate to represent the 7th Congressional District? Tell me about your qualifications and background that shows you are the best candidate.
Tiffany: I'm a father and a small businessman who is concerned for my community, and I deliver on my promises. I'm also the only candidate in this race with a tested, proven record of standing up for northern Wisconsin. As a citizen legislator, I've helped pull Wisconsin out of difficult times before and I'll do it again. Wisconsinites can count on me because my words come with a record of never compromising on our shared values and always putting Wisconsin first.
Zunker: I'm the proud daughter of a 30-year union member (USW Local 2-224), the granddaughter of a dairy farmer, and a first-generation college graduate who also went on to earn a law degree. I'm where I'm at today because of opportunities I was given, and I want to ensure other people have those opportunities as well. I'm a supreme court justice for my tribe, Ho-Chunk Nation, Wausau school board
president, a professor, an attorney, a solo parent, and I'm looking forward to serving you in Congress.
What could have been done differently on a national level to address the spread of COVID-19?
Tiffany: It's important to understand what led us here so we can stop similar outbreaks in the future. This COVID-19 pandemic is the deadly and avoidable result of China's recklessness. The U.S. must hold the communist Chinese government accountable and no longer be complacent towards the country's misdeeds that led to this.
Zunker: Action should have been taken much sooner at the federal level. If testing had been expanded sooner, lives could have been saved, much of the spread could have been halted, and we would not be seeing as extensive an economic impact as we're currently seeing. It is critical that people in powerful decision-making positions listen to the experts, facts and data and that didn't happen here.
Should northern Wisconsin counties, which haven't been impacted as hard by COVID-19, be allowed to open up early and resume business operations? Should the stay-at-home order be lifted in some areas of the state?
Tiffany: We can and must do both: control the spread of the virus and begin opening our economy back up. We must also work to provide Wisconsin families, workers and businesses with the bridge necessary to safely get us through these tough times and back to prosperity. That is why I voted for the recent emergency COVID-19 legislation that will help protect Wisconsinites during this public health emergency. But we must also implement a more precise, regional plan to reopen our economy, rather than a shotgun, lock-down approach. Such a plan has been recently outlined by Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House virus task force coordinator.
Zunker: I believe we need to listen to scientists and medical experts about how and where to start lifting restrictions. I know so many people throughout northern Wisconsin are eager to get back to work, and we need to find ways for them to do so that don't jeopardize the health and safety of our most vulnerable populations, or threaten the capacity of our rural hospitals. We must ensure that our health care workers and those on the front lines throughout northern Wisconsin remain as protected as possible and that is best accomplished through safe social distancing throughout the state because the contagion of coronavirus does not stop at county lines.
What should Congress be doing to assist struggling businesses and farmers dealing with lost revenue because of COVID-19? What can be done to help the towns and businesses that depend on summer tourism?
Tiffany: I believe the federal government should give a hand up to our farmers, in the same way it's helping workers and small business owners. The USDA's recent Coronavirus Food Assistance Program is a good first step. The program will provide $19 billion in direct support to farmers, producers, and distributors whose supply chains have been critically impacted by COVID-19. We should also take a regional approach to reopening the economy so our towns and businesses that depend on summer tourism can be allowed to open back up safely and responsibly.
Zunker: Congress needs to approve additional funds to help small businesses struggling during this pandemic get back on their feet. We also need a representative who will prioritize constituent services and making sure small business owners and local governments have a partner who will help connect them to available services. We also need to make infrastructure investments that will allow these businesses to grow, such as improving broadband access. Congress must provide sustainable relief, not simply a band-aid for our families, vulnerable populations, farmers, and small businesses through this time.
The Northwoods historically has been somewhat neglected by Congress when it comes to money for infrastructure and protection. Some roads still aren't repaired after two summers of historic floods and recent news that EPA staff and enforcement have been cut dramatically on the Great Lakes. What specifically will you do to bring more resources to the Northland?
Tiffany: The Northwoods will not be neglected if you elect me as your congressman. In the state Legislature, I fought for more funding for northern Wisconsin roads, helped expand rural broadband, and authored legislation to expand access to healthcare in our rural areas. In the wake of recent historic flooding, I spent a lot of time in Superior working to address the loophole that causes FEMA reimbursements to be counted against a municipality's transportation aid. In Congress, I will fight to ensure our Northwoods communities get the federal resources they need while also having the flexibility to allocate these dollars accordingly.
Zunker: I will make advocating for additional funding for infrastructure improvements, including road repairs and increasing broadband access, a top priority. I will also advocate for greater environmental protections enforcement on the Great Lakes because we need to keep our beautiful lakes and rivers clean. I will do this by partnering with others in the delegation to advocate to federal agencies about why additional funding is needed, and put partisan politics aside to get real solutions for Wisconsinites.
What are top issues for you if you are elected? Tiffany: My first priority will be to provide Wisconsin families, workers and businesses with the bridge necessary to safely get us through these tough times and back to prosperity. I'll work to lower the price of health care and increase access. I'll champion delisting the gray wolf, and fight for more free and fair trade deals for Wisconsin farmers. And to stop future generations from being saddled with this enormous federal debt, I'll roll up my sleeves to lower out-of-control spending.
Zunker: I think this pandemic has highlighted that now more than ever, we need someone in office who will advocate for affordable health care and economic security for all Wisconsinites. I will work to expand access to affordable health care, make sure pre-existing conditions stay protected, and take on Big Pharma to lower the cost of prescription drugs. I'll also advocate for additional help for small businesses and funding to expand rural broadband access, so that small businesses throughout northern Wisconsin can grow.
Why should people vote for you?
Tiffany: I have the values and leadership, learned on the farm in Elmwood, needed to represent the 7th District. When I got into politics, I did so as a father and a small businessman concerned for my community, and I delivered on my commitments. Wisconsinites can count on me not just because of my words but because my words come with action. I won't apologize for or compromise our Wisconsin values — I'm pro-gun, pro-life, pro-America, and will always put Wisconsin first.
Zunker: I have the moral fiber, work ethic and experience to get the job done in Congress and I'm going to take office and advocate for every person in this district, whether they voted for me or not. I'm going to put partisan politics aside and work to make sure people have access to affordable health care, and that small businesses and family farmers have the help they need. On the school board I've worked with people who have differing viewpoints than me to get things done, and that's what I'll do in office. I'll also prioritize constituent services, making sure my office is there to help and listen to people throughout this district.