Republican candidates for state Senate District 29 seat share perspectives ahead of Aug. primary
(WSAW) - Less than a week away from the August primary, the candidates are sharing their thoughts on the issues facing their jurisdiction. Jerry Petrowski is not seeking reelection for the state senate seat he has held for the last ten years, meaning it is up for grabs this election.
Bob Look, a former radio host from Rothschild is the sole Democrat running for the seat, so the focus turns to the three Republican candidates.
On the Republican ticket are Jon Kaiser, Brent Jacobson, and Cory Tomczyk. Kaiser is an entrepreneur, investment advisor, and real estate agent from Ladysmith. Jacobson is the current mayor of Mosinee, a former Marathon County board supervisor, and an attorney. Tomczyk owns and operates IROW, a shredding, recycling, and media destruction company serving businesses.
Looking at campaign finance reports, Jacobson has received more than $107,000 since the beginning of the year, which includes about $48,000 of his own money. Roughly $59,000 has come from individual donations. Among the expenses, he has spent more than $31,000 with a company called Persuasion Partners.
According to the company’s website, it is a national consulting firm that helps candidates flip blue and purple states (referring to Democratic and mixed areas) to red. It broke down its voter contact strategy for a digital campaign against Wisconsin 85th Assembly District Democratic incumbent, Mandy Wright in 2014, where Republican Dave Heaton ultimately won. The company has represented other Wisconsin Republicans such as Ron Johnson, a PAC backing Scott Walker, Tommy Thompson for President, Sean Duffy, Brad Schimel, Paul Ryan, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Petri. It has also represented Donald Trump for President and organizations such as the United States Chamber of Commerce.
Tomczyk has received nearly $40,000 since the beginning of 2022, almost $35,000 of which is his own money through in-kind donations and loans. The remainder is made up of individual donations and one $2,000 donation from Sen. Mary Felzkowski’s campaign.
Kaiser has raised nearly $15,000. A little more than $4,000 of that is his own money. During his interview with NewsChannel 7, he mentioned his goal of personally knocking on 3,000 doors around the district ahead of the primary.
NewsChannel 7 spoke with the Republican candidates about themselves and what they think they bring to the table for the people of the State Senate District 29, as well as what they want to focus on should they ultimately be elected.
How does your experience make you the best candidate for this position?
Tomczyk: “Well, I’m 59 years old. I’ve started the business and I’ve kept that business running for 32 years. I’ve been married for 39 years, so I’ve been married longer than both of my opponents have been alive. I’ve seen multiple multiple presidents I’ve lived through multiple economic cycles. I’ve seen the bumps and bruises that life throws at you. I’ve learned from that and survived that, and I think that qualifies me.”
Jacobson: “Well, it’s been an honor and a privilege to serve the residents of the city Mosinee since 2015 as the mayor of Mosinee. And it’s also been an honor to serve on the county board. And, you know, through those experiences I’ve built good relationships with people here at the local level and also gotten a real good grasp on the issues that face us here in central Wisconsin, and I think that’s extremely important for someone who wants to move on to the state legislature to continue to represent not only those people but a much broader district. I think it’s really important to start at the ground level and you know local government is most important. So, it’s been a rewarding experience and I think it’s going to serve my constituents well if I’m fortunate enough to get elected.”
Kaiser: “I’m an investment advisor with my company J Kaiser Management. I started investing when I was 12 years old, so I understand a lot about profit and loss, about balance sheets, about how businesses work. I’m also a realtor and a real estate developer with experience in Wisconsin, Florida, and Texas. I’ve built over 250 homes over 100,000 square feet of commercial space and two hotels, so I understand the real estate development process. I also want an event production company called JK Productions where I put on music festivals like Northwoods Rock Rally, Northwoods Country Rally. And I serve on the Lady Smith Industrial Development Board; so we bring in industrial and manufacturing businesses to our industrial park. So Henry Repeating Arms just came in this past year; added almost 10% to our city’s workforce.”
How are you going to represent this broad district which spans from Marathon to Rusk counties?
Kaiser: “This district has four unique aspects. So, there’s the financial aspect, which would be like the city of Wausau, and I’m a financial advisor, so I understand that I’ve done Urban Development in Palm Beach, Fla., so I understand that aspect of it. There’s also the industrial aspect, like, Rothschild and Mosinee and some in Medford and I serve on the Industrial Development Board and Lady Smith where we bring in industrial businesses, so I understand the issues affecting manufacturers. Also, we have the northwoods. I was born and raised in the northwoods. I hunted 100 feet from where I slept at my parents home in the small town of Ingram in Rusk County. So, I understand northwoods issues (like) rural broadband and transportation. And also there’s agriculture. I grew up working on my neighbors’ farms, shoveling manure, picking rock, throwing hay bales, so I understand hard work, and a lot of the issues that affect our ag businesses. So, the four different aspects I think I can cover those the best in this race.”
Tomczyk: “It is a broad district. It’s a long ways (sic) up to Hayward. I’m gonna be seen. I’m gonna be up there and be present. You know, when I started campaigning, I was surprised to hear that, you know, ‘we didn’t ever see the senator up here.’ Well, I’ll change that. It’s a beautiful part of our state. I definitely want to be up there, and those people need to be represented. They need to hear and they need to have access, so I will be present in Hayward. I’ll be present in Ladysmith. I’ll be present in Medford, and of course, I’ll be present around the Wausau area.”
Jacobson: “We do have a lot of issues that touch us regardless of geography, but we do have some issues that are more unique to different parts of our district. You know, particularly I’ve spent a lot of time traveling this district all the way from Auburndale up to Hayward and when you get up in the more northern parts of our district, it’s very rural. The things... like a qualified worker shortage, that’s even more severe up there; it’s impacting them even more. And another thing that’s really impacting in the northern parts of our district is crimes and drugs, and you know, they don’t have the same law enforcement resources, nor do they have the same prosecutorial resources that we here. You know, we have a good bench of judges in Marathon County. You get up in a place like Sawyer County, right now they have one judge with hundreds and hundreds of felonies pending on the docket, so it’s not just about more law enforcement on the streets, which I completely support. I want to put more law enforcement on the streets, but I also want to put more resources in our court system with our judges and our DA’s to move those cases through the system.”
How would you represent all people in District 29, including those whose viewpoints differ from your own?
Jacobson: “I want to represent this district in the way my predecessor has represented it for the last 24 years. Between his time in the Assembly and his time in the Senate, Sen. Petrowski was a tremendous asset to central Wisconsin and to northern Wisconsin, and he was an asset because he connected with everybody and he educated himself on issues he wasn’t as familiar with and he was just present in the district. I think the biggest thing that we have to do as elected officials is spend a lot more time listening than we do talking, and by doing that, I think you make a lot more progress and I think by doing that, and taking that approach, I’m going to represent everyone in this district tremendously in Madison if I’m fortunate enough to get there.”
Kaiser: “Well, the number one thing is, I put it on my campaign brochures, my cell phone number is on every-- on my website on every different place I want to be as accessible and transparent as a representative. So, I want to be able to represent all people. When I was in Florida, I was the president of the Young Republicans and once a month I would have lunch with the president of the Young Democrats and we did a lot of things together: beach cleanups, we built a Habitat for Humanity home and we did a lot of things together and we understood each other. And although we disagreed on most issues, we could sit down and talk about them. So, In the same thing, if I get in the Senate, I understand there’s a lot of people that are going to disagree with me on a lot of the conservative values that I have, but when it comes to issues like rural broadband and fixing the roads and economic development, I think there’s a lot of areas where we can find common ground.”
Tomczyk: “In this day and age, there’s plenty of people with plenty of opinions going around. I will always represent a conservative viewpoint. It’ll be very hard to push me off of that. Conservatism is what I think represents the people of the 29th the most. Obviously, there are people that live here that have liberal viewpoints. If you want a liberal viewpoint, if you want a liberal senator, don’t vote for me. I’m a conservative. I’m going to stay conservative. I’m not going to evolve. I’m not going to flip-flop. I’m not going to change.”
NewsChannel 7 asked questions about several issues facing the district and state. The Republican candidates have similar views on many of the issues, but on some, they have nuanced opinions. Each candidate also has topic areas they know more or less about based on their experiences, interests, and conversations with residents.
With the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the precedence set by Roe v. Wade on abortion, the policy decisions on the topic now lie in state legislators’ hands. All three Republican candidates do not support abortion, citing Christian values. However, in the nuanced scenarios involved with the topic, there are some areas that, while they would still not personally support abortion, would be open to allowing the individual to have the opportunity to make that choice themselves.
Wisconsin has laws outlining abortion-related rules in Chapter 253 of the state statutes, along with one in Chapter 940 which dates back to 1849. That earlier law is currently being challenged.
The 1849 law makes abortion illegal except when the mother terminates the pregnancy herself, or when the life of the mother is at stake.
Speaking generally about the topic, Jacobson said he supported the 1849 law and believes it needs to be enforced. Tomczyk stated that he cannot support abortion in any form.
Kaiser said the abortion issue spans beyond those who say they are pro-choice or pro-life; he said he wants to see an expansion of women’s health care, including pre- and post-natal care.
All three candidates mentioned they want to make the adoption process simpler, especially in the wake of this Supreme Court decision. Jacobson and Tomczyk have both personally dealt with the process and say it is convoluted.
Access to birth control
Jacobson responded that he wanted to limit access to birth control to some degree, but added the use of it was the choice of the individual. Tomczyk, similarly, responded that it was the individual’s choice, but personally did not believe it is the best choice.
“I believe in life, I believe in letting life happen,” Tomczyk explained.
Kaiser said women should have access to birth control and access should be expanded. While he believes in abstinence until marriage, he did not expect that same belief for others and said having access to birth control can protect people from having to make a decision about having an abortion.
Access to “the morning-after pill”
Plan B or the morning-after pill, works by delaying or preventing ovulation. Kaiser said he has the same thoughts about this pill as birth control.
“I know there’s a lot of people that that believe that Plan B is actually ending the embryo, but I think that’s another important area that we can, we can protect the potential of a pregnancy having to be ended, you know, after a heartbeat is found,” he said. “If there is a life that’s created, you know, obviously we want to protect that, but Plan B is an area that we can protect the women from having a pregnancy.”
Both Jacobson and Tomczyk want to restrict access to the pill.
Traveling to other states to get an abortion
Some anti-abortion advocates have talked about criminalizing people traveling to other states where it is legal to receive an abortion. Pres. Joe Biden issued an executive order Wednesday protecting people’s ability to travel between states for the procedure.
All three candidates were not interested in criminalizing that, with Jacobson noting there could be legal issues with trying to issue state policies about other states’ laws.
Jacobson mentioned that abortion pills coming into the state from states where abortions are legal is a different issue and should be regulated.
Pregnancy from rape or incest
“I’m not looking at any other exceptions,” Jacobson responded to the question about whether he would consider an exception for rape or incest. “I mean, you know, I’ve been clear on this. I mean, God has a plan, you know God doesn’t make mistakes.”
He mentioned he has spoken with a woman who was raped and went through with the pregnancy and reiterated the need to streamline the adoption process.
Tomczyk said reiterated he cannot support abortion in any form, personally, but left open for interpretation what his policy views would be despite requests for clarification, expressing he was concerned about how his answers would be phrased in the story. Here is how he answered:
“I can’t support abortion, but I’m also I’m a man. I’m not-- I can’t judge the terror that that causes in a woman’s mind and her person to have that situation become of them. I would certainly still encourage that child be born, but I’m not going to judge that woman on the choices she makes in those kinds of situations; that’s for God to judge, not for me.”
Kaiser empathized with people placed in that scenario, but also was not entirely clear about his policy position.
“I do believe that, you know, these women that are in these unfortunate situations... It’s a, it’s a very stressful process and no matter which direction that they go. If they do choose to to to abort that fetus, they do have to live with that. Either way, they have to live with the situation of being raped or being in an incestual relationship. And I don’t believe that terminating the pregnancy is the best option for them.”
Under Wisconsin law, children cannot consent to have sex. Despite the previous answers about rape and incest, the candidates had some different thoughts when it came to pregnant children.
“If they were raped as a child, you know we probably do have to make an exception for them, but in the current law, I don’t think that that’s protected. It’s a really unfortunate situation and I think a lot of discussions need to be had about that for sure,” Kaiser said. “I guess, I can’t give you a straightforward answer on what I feel about that because I don’t, I just, it’s a really tough conversation.”
“If it’s a child that is pregnant and, you know, that’s been hidden from the parents, we need to get the parents involved and they need to make those hard choices,” Tomczyk stated. “Again, I wouldn’t judge, but I’m a Catholic; I can’t support abortion.”
“Remember, I’m in favor of the exception for the life of the mother,” Jacobson noted. “And in that case, you know whether the child is 12, 14, et cetera, it’s the life of the mother; that’s a developing body. And you know, within the eyes of the medical professional, you know, there is life in jeopardy because that woman is still developing, then yeah, you know that would qualify for the exception. But to have an exception for, you know, in policy reasons, you know, that’s a different issue.”
Clarifying when the life of the mother is at risk
As doctors begin to navigate this post-Roe world, they must determine when the exception to save the mother’s life applies. As the legislature could work to clarify that for doctors, here are the candidates’ thoughts as to where that line lies.
“The medical process... has advanced tremendously right since 1849,” Jacobson said. “So, we’re going to have to talk about how that statute is addressed and updated, and the way we do that in the legislature is the way we’ve done it with every other issue: we have hearings, we have testimony from medical providers. We get the information and we make an informed decision. So to answer your question, ultimately you know that’s medical decision that comes with the judgment of the provider, but we need to have laws on put on the books that are clear so that that doctor can know, ‘Hey, am I breaking the law right now, by pointing too much in the Gray area, or is this a cut and dry decision?’ We need to write laws that are cut and dry; that’s our job and we need to draft those laws based on the testimony we get from the professionals.”
“I think we should be giving equal care to both the mother and the unborn child,” Kaiser said. “My family actually was affected by a similar situation where the mother-- her life was in danger and she decided to move forward and have the child. And since then she’s had two more beautiful children, my niece and nephews. So, I think sometimes these health care decisions are, they’re just so-- they’re not black and white, none of them are. But I believe if we can give equal care to both the unborn child and the woman involved, if in an unfortunate situation we do lose one or the other, it’s unfortunate, but at least we gave both of them a chance.”
“There is no medical situation where the health of the mother is at risk; 25-30 years ago, yeah, not now,” Tomczyk stated. Doctors have refuted that claim.
People who are having a miscarriage, also known as “spontaneous abortion,” typically are not trying to induce an abortion, however, doctors have noted an induced abortion can look like a miscarriage and it has the same treatment, both medically and surgically.
Jacobson said the legislature needs to work with the medical community so they can provide proper care without fear of being prosecuted, but then ensure that doctors are upholding “our policies that we’re pro-life.”
Tomczyk said he trusts the doctor and allow them to provide the care they believe the patient needs.
“I know that there are doctors that won’t and that’ll skirt the issue,” he continued. “Unfortunately, I know about miscarriages and that’s not an abortion.”
Kaiser said if it is a miscarriage, then the unborn child is deceased and doctors should treat the patient accordingly, but added that that “needs to be well defined.”
While those who are going through fertility treatments are actively, even desperately, trying to have a child, abortion laws can impact that treatment. Prior to the Supreme Court decision, doctors would address this upfront with patients, requiring them to sign paperwork consenting to the process and making decisions about embryos.
For example, women can take medication to stimulate ovulation and release more eggs to increase the chances of getting pregnant; it also increases the odds of having multiple children at once. A procedure called selective reduction can be used if the doctor and patient determine it would be unsafe for the mother to carry multiple children.
“We’ve participated in that program,” Tomczyk said interrupting the question. “I know about that program; fertility drugs to increase a woman’s fertility, great. And the concern is, your questions, you’re going to ask me is if they have multiple multiple children... selective reduction, yeah, can’t support it.”
“Well, another really tough, tough question. Tough issue for sure,” Kaiser thought. “In those situations you know we want to-- we want every opportunity for someone to start a family for sure the reduction conversation if there is a life there, which would be, you know, at conception there is life. So, if there is life there I don’t, I don’t, I wouldn’t support ending the life of if there’s multiples like you said. Unless if again, we’re talking about something that is endangering the life of the mother, then again we should be giving equal care to the children involved. You know, that’s that’s just that’s another healthcare issue that very, very specific.”
For in vitro fertilization (IVF), sperm is directly inserted into eggs to fertilize and create embryos outside of the body in a lab. It does not always work due to problems with the egg or sperm, so the process is done for several pairs. Some embryos do not survive the freezing and thawing process either. Once the embryo is transferred into the uterus, there is still no guarantee the person will become pregnant.
Success rates vary with the age of the mother and the factors causing the issues with infertility and can take several transfers to work, so multiple embryos are often created. It can also be difficult mentally and physically for the patient, with some patients choosing not to proceed with another transfer even if their previous procedure did not result in a pregnancy. Some patients also may choose to stop once they have the number of children they were hoping to have. So, in some cases, embryos can be left over.
Prior to the Supreme Court decision, doctors would require patients to sign forms stating what they would like them to do with additional embryos: continue to store them in a freezer for a fee, donate them to allow other patients to use them, donate them to research, or have them destroyed.
“If the embryo is outside of the body, it’s not, it’s not a child yet, so I think that’s pretty clear there,” Kaiser said.
“An embryo is a life,” Tomczyk stated. “I’d like to see those embryos brought to birth.” He said he did not think it mattered whether that happen through the biological parents or others.
“For me, birth starts at conception,” Jacobson stated speaking to fertility-related issues generally. “OK, so if you define that as conception then you know, yeah, those need to be preserved and there’s other options you know to bring those to fruition so, but that’s a discussion, Emily, I mean, you know you’re talking about medical technology and that you know, is far advanced from where we were in 1849... the legislature is out of session right now and it’s going to have some serious, serious conversations about all these nuanced issues you’ve raised that I look forward to talking about when I get there.”
All candidates were open to looking at options to address the challenges facing child care right now, especially Jacobson who has a 5-month-old at home and is currently facing those challenges.
“On the one side of the coin, some people will say, well, geez this is a welfare program, you know if you start funding child care,” Jacobson said. “On the other side of the coin, you have to look down the road at what we’re really talking about here, as you mentioned, our children are our future. I mean, they’re supposed to be productive members of society. They’re supposed to support us someday when we’re retirees. And you know, we want to raise them right... And so for that reason, it’s almost an economic investment. You know right to start helping families that are struggling with child care obligations.”
Jacobson said this could be done in a variety of ways, including looking at tax credits that could go to helping people with their child care obligations. He noted he would want to ensure those receiving financial assistance are working, which is something that is already required for assistance programs like Wisconsin Shares.
Tomczyk said shortages are going to be the word of the decade and added every industry group is talking about how money will solve their particular problem. He urged the industry groups and the state need to “live within their means,” but that allocating money that the government already has could be an option.
All candidates said they support reducing taxes. Specifically, ultimately eliminating income taxes was a goal for each of them. Though, Kaiser and Jacobson noted the elimination would have to be done incrementally. Jacobson said he wanted the same for the personal property tax, finding that to be a burden on small businesses.
Kaiser said he wanted to convert the gas tax into a statewide wheel tax, as hybrid and electric cars reduce the number of people having to pay for gas. Tomczyk did not get specific on what kinds of tax reduction he wanted to see, but said generally he wanted them to have a little tax as possible. Roads and infrastructure where places he said the state should invest using the funds and revenue it already has.
When asked where they would make up for the revenue lost from tax cuts, they all said more people would spend money on the things they wanted or needed, so those losses would be made up for in the sales tax, without increasing the tax rate. They all also said that spending throughout various government departments could probably be cut as well, along with programs that are underutilized; they said those funds could be allocated to other things that need more funding.
Drugs and mental health issues
Several candidates mentioned issues related to drugs and mental health are things they hope to address while in office. NewsChannel 7 has reported on the Marathon County Jail’s population which has faced high levels of incarcerated individuals with addictions and/or mental health issues.
Kaiser mentioned he has personal ties to the issues of addiction and mental health problems after the overdose death of his uncle this spring.
“He was someone that had been clean for several years but had lingering mental health effects. I think if we can expand mental health funding, behavioral health funding statewide, that would be huge.”
He also noted the problems with opioid addiction and said he would be supportive of having medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment where appropriate.
Jacobson talked about expanding funding for the criminal justice system to help with the backlog of cases in many counties, along with funding to law enforcement to address the problem. He also acknowledged there needs to be better addiction and mental treatment.
“It’s not just about, you know punishment and incarceration, we have to be productive while they’re in the system so that when they come out, they’re a productive member of society. And to say it, you know, a lot of it comes down to money, right? It always does, and you know, local governments are strapped for cash, whether that’s a county, a municipality. So the state really has to focus on more investment and mental health resources.”
“I believe that people don’t change until they experience a certain level of pain,” Tomczyk said. “You can’t start your way back up until you get all the way to the bottom and you would be amazed at how far down people bottoms are. So, if they’re going to go down that path, I for one will help them to the bottom. Let them experience pain. Let them experience sorrow and then provide the pathway up and out. And if they choose not to follow that, you get what you choose.”
Tomczyk called himself a “hardliner.” He explained he would take privileges away from people in prison as a deterrent for people committing crimes in the first place.
“I think that if you’re in prison you should be living no better than the person who on the outside at the lowest level is living.”
He said there are plenty of programs available for people facing addiction and/or mental health scenarios, “there’s a lack of good choices.”
People working with individuals facing these issues have stated otherwise over the years to NewsChannel 7, saying there are not enough programs, therapists, or beds to accommodate the need for treatment and help.
The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic
All three candidates mentioned they did not agree with how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled. When asked how they would have handled it had they been in the legislature at the time, these were their responses that most directly answered the question:
“When Governor Evers made the lockdown mandate and I was in the legislature, I would have kicked his door in. That was illegal. It didn’t take rocket science to know if that was that was illegal,” Tomczyk said. “It wasn’t the zombie apocalypse. People weren’t bleeding from their eyes and their ears and dying dead in the street it was it was, it was mass panic. Do I deny there’s a COVID virus? No, there is a COVID virus, but is it the end all pandemic that the government made it out to be? Absolutely not, and I think all they really did was damage the public in case a real pandemic ever happened. People are going to be doubtful and not as concerned if something that’s really a pandemic comes.”
He said he would have fought to stop the Evers administration’s mandates.
Kaiser said the elderly needed to be protected, and that there needed to be an informational campaign so people could make their own decisions.
“From all the billions of dollars we spent on, you know, giving out unemployment and everything, I think we could have just funded, you know, we could have funded masks we could have funded, you know, people that felt like they needed to stay home. We could have funded them and that would have saved us half of the money that we spent on forcing people to stay home.”
“It wouldn’t have been a mass shutdown,” Jacobson said. “It wouldn’t have been an ongoing mask mandate. Voters are intelligent. I mean Governor Evers isn’t a medical doctor. And you know, folks in our area, you know, know how to take care of themselves, make the right decision for their own health, the health of their children, and I think that’s the approach we should have taken.”
Jacobson said for individuals who had increased health risks, they needed to take action to protect themselves.
NewsChannel 7 spoke with the candidates about more issues and will continue to update this article with their responses.
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