3rd Congressional Democrat candidates debate health care, pandemic relief ahead of next week’s primary
WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Incumbent 3rd Congressional District Representative Ron Kind went head to head with Democrat challenger Dr. Mark Neumann in a debate Thursday, hosted virtually by Wisconsin Public Radio. (WPR hosted a debate between Rep. Kind’s Republican challengers last week, covered here.) The debate covered key national themes including school reopenings and Congressional pandemic relief, while also touching on immigration reform, agriculture and gun rights.
Rep. Kind has represented the district since 1997 with broad public support, and is known for working across the aisle. A La Crosse native, he currently sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. Dr. Mark Neumann of La Crosse was a Franciscan brother for twenty years, and spent six years serving as a medical missionary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known at the time as Zaire. In campaign fundraising, Rep. Kind far outpaces his opponent with about $3 million in the bank at last report (about $1.5 million of that raised this cycle), while Dr. Neumann has raised about $32 thousand. The district spans most of southwestern Wisconsin and parts of Central Wisconsin, including La Crosse, Eau Claire, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, Chippewa Falls and Tomah.
A distinction between candidates includes their position on health care, with Neumann advocating for a single-payer system while Rep. Kind cites his contributions to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.
“My assessment and study of the issue is we need to have a single-payer system,” Neumann noted, referencing Rep. Jayapal’s Medicare for All Act currently before Congress as a model of health care legislation he supports.
“We need to continue to strive for better care, better quality, at a better cost for all Americans,” Rep. Kind said, saying all Americans needed access to affordable health care. Citing the ongoing legal challenges to the ACA without a current replacement from Republicans, Rep. Kind noted that guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions was one of the primary reasons he helped pass the ACA at the time.
Congressional pandemic relief
Rep. Kind said he’s hoping for an agreement by the end of the week on the next pandemic relief legislation currently being battled out in Congress. Referencing the recent closure of Verso in Wisconsin Rapids, with more than 900 employees laid off, he noted that “They’re going to need that additional assistance to make ends relief.”
“The more we do now, the less painful this economic recession will be,” he explained. “If we fail to act, it’s only going to get worse and we’re afraid we’re only going to lose more lives in the process.”
Dr. Neumann said that Congress needed to make interventions so that the “house of cards” of mutually dependent relationships within a health economy doesn’t fall apart in the wake of the pandemic as both a biological and economic threat.
“We will get through this, but it’s going to get really horrible if we allow all those relationships to crumble,” he explained.
Election security & mail-in voting
“We want to make [voting] as possible and as smooth as we can possibly do it,” Dr. Neumann said. “Five states have mail-in voting and they do very well.” (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah currently conduct all-mail elections, meaning all registered voters receive a ballot by mail but can choose to vote at the polls in-person as well, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.) He said he believed that allegations of widespread fraud in mail-in voting was a fear factor designed to prevent people from voting. “It’s not a real argument,” he noted.
Rep. Kind said he favored higher levels of mail-in voting, calling fraud allegations blatantly false and an insult to election administrators.
“Here in Wisconsin, we’ve been doing it for years, and we’ve had no problems,” he noted. “Especially now, in the midst of this virus that is taking lives, we ought to be giving all voters the option to vote safely from home.”
During the spring elections this year, more than 23,000 absentee ballots had to be rejected, many due to ballots improperly filled out, an issue that election experts say could be attributed to Wisconsinites’ lack of familiarity with mail voting.
Rep. Kind noted they’re trying to build resources and protections for schools into coming relief legislation in order to allow for a safe school reopening, saying he had been on virtual meetings with local superintendents and school officials to determine what they needed.
“Congress is the one that appropriates money, and [President Trump] can’t just decide what’s he going to send out the door and what he chooses to sit on,” Rep. Kind says. “He’s shown great disdain to the rule of law.”
“The experience of the pandemic...is very regional,” Dr. Neumann noted. “When we talk about our schools, I am so grateful that we can see our democracy functioning in for example school boards and local government.” He noted that local school boards and governments need more coordination and resources from the federal government, but that school openings were best decided by collaborations between local officials and the parents themselves.
Racism in America
“Our racism is what I call our original sin,” Dr. Neumann said, referencing back to the origins of slavery in America. “We have struggled with this for over 400 years...and we are still struggling with the need to recognize that we are not one heritage, we are not one tradition. We are a multitude of traditions.”
“I’ve always viewed our diversity as a nation as one of the sources as our greatest strength,” Rep. Kind noted, referencing the recent passing of Rep. John Lewis and his legacy on the Civil Rights movement and life in Congress fighting for equality.
The primary election will take place August 11; on the Republican side of the ticket, Derrick Van Orden and Jessi Ebben of Eau Claire compete for a spot on the November ballot; listen to their debate last week here. Listen here for the full debate between Rep. Ron Kind and Dr. Mark Neumann.
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