State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is facing the hardest and closest race of her political career against Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay). Following contentious special and regular legislative sessions where the Republican-controlled Legislature passed the Budget Repair Bill (Wisconsin Act 10) and a biennial budget that made drastic cuts to education and health care, Darling is forced to defend her record.

Darling appeared before the Milwaukee Press Club (where I was a panelist questioning the Senator) and at a forum hosted by the Menomonee Falls Rotary Club this week and she answered a wide range of questions. As we did with Sandy Pasch, ThirdCoast Digest is focusing on the five major subject areas asked of the candidate.

Why do you think you’re being recalled and why should voters keep you in Madison?

Darling said she originally thought the recall was based on the single vote in favor of the Budget Repair Bill, but has seen the focus of the campaign move to her votes on job creation in January and the 2011-13 biennial budget.

“Now I’m being recalled for what I said I was going to do and what the voters told us to do in 2010 – to get spending under control, to not raise taxes while ending a $3.6 billion deficit and a 150,000 job loss,” she said. “And you know why Sandy Pasch isn’t talking about Act 10? It’s because Act 10 is working.”

She said voters should keep her in Madison because she has been good for the 8th district. She points to Act 10 and the state budget as examples of doing what the voters asked her to do and advocated the “tools,” including limits on collective bargaining for public employees, as the way taxpayers are going to see more savings and services.

“The tools allowed school districts to balance their budgets despite the cuts without layoffs or cuts to the classroom,” she said. “And it helped communities too.”

Among the districts and communities she noted as realizing health care savings from using the tools to change insurance carriers include the Mequon-Theinsville School District, which saved $2.5 million; the city of Milwaukee saving $25 million and Milwaukee County saving $55 million.

She defended her work to restore cuts to SeniorCare, the state’s elderly prescription program, despite the governor’s desire to revise the program and force Medicare recipients into the Plan D doughnut hole. She also added $10 million to the Veterans’ Trust Fund which provides programming to the state’s 407,000 vets.

You were a member of the Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin board of directors early in your political career, but now have voted to end family care grants to the organization. What has changed and what will you do to help those men and women who will lose health care access with the closure of Planned Parenthood clinics? 

Darling said she has not been a member of PPWI since she began working in Madison, but according to PPWI public affairs officials, Darling served on the board from 1985-95. However, she was elected to the assembly in 1990 and to the senate in 1993. She added that she joined PPWI to help with their teen pregnancy prevention programming.

I belonged to the Planned Parenthood Board when I was a very young woman, before I entered public office.  I joined that board because I was working on family planning, wanted children to be wanted and I was working on teen pregnancy prevention. That was before I was a state Rep.  I definitely changed my opinion about Planned Parenthood myself 30 years ago because it seemed to me they were they were putting much more emphasis into abortion than into family planning and teen pregnancy prevention. But they shifted their focus to abortion and that is when I left,” she said.

However, PPWI said they did not start offering abortion services in their clinics until 1990, five years before Darling left the board and with five years of public service under her belt.

Darling said the money that had been going to Planned Parenthood was put into women’s health grants during this last budget session and will be distributed to the counties, preserving 90 percent of the dollars that had gone to Planned Parenthood.

You voted to end the early release program for prisoners. Why, and what are you doing to ensure public safety when these men or women are released from jail at the end of their terms? 

“I voted against early release because it was not a good plan if the offenders were not prepared to live on the outside,” Darling said. “Plus, it was at a time when we were facing record unemployment and it wasn’t time to let them out.”

She said the corrections system needs to have more community outreach programs and parole contact to ensure safety after people are released, along with jobs. Darling said eliminating tax increases and providing tax incentives to businesses that create jobs is the best way to ensure public safety, by providing jobs to ex-convicts.

Rep. Pasch and her supporters have repeatedly said you are unresponsive and have ignored your constituents, plus you wouldn’t discuss legislation with the Democrats, leading to this recall. Is this an unfair characterization, and how have you demonstrated that you’re listening to the members of the 8th Senate district? 

Darling said those characterizations are wrong and that the best example of her listening to the constituents is doing what the voters asked in 2010 and in the previous six elections she had won.

“We cut spending, we didn’t raise taxes and we ended the $3.6 billion deficit,” she said. “We create an atmosphere of job growth, creating 39,000 jobs since January. That is what the 2010 election demanded with a new governor and legislature.”

She explained that during the budget repair and biennial budget Capitol police and advisers suggested she forgo public hearings due to death threats.  Instead she described holding tele-town hall meetings, where she met with thousands of constituents and kept them up to date on the processes in Madison and heard their concerns.

“Plus it is hard to have a dialogue when my Democratic colleagues left the state,” Darling said. “We have a democratic process – you hold an election, it matters and if you don’t like it you wait until the next election and argue the issues.”

What will be your number one priority in Madison if you win this recall race? 

If she wins, Darling says her priorities will be the same as they were in the last legislative session: balance the budget, create jobs, cut spending and maintain a freeze on taxes.

“I want what’s best for the state,” Darling said. “What is best for seniors is no more taxes, instead of the tax increases from the Doyle-Pasch administration.”

“I want the state to grow jobs and have certainty for families and businesses. I will support the people who vote, not the special interest groups who want to flip the Senate and stop the reforms we have put in place.”

Bonus Question: Your campaign is facing an open records lawsuit for failing to provide emails requested by a third-party group. What is your explanation for this and other allegations that this proves misconduct in office and collusion with third-parties in this election? 

Darling said the open records request issue was a simple mistake made by a staffer who failed to send all of the items requested.

“Believe me, I am not happy this happened and someone will hear about it when I get back to the office,” Darling said following the Menomonee Falls forum. “But all of the materials have now been provided.”

Darling’s office didn’t have specific comment on the lawsuit, but Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party said this was not in retaliation for the lawsuit filed against Pasch alleging collusion with Citizen’s Action of WI.

Darling will face off against Pasch on August 9.  The state senate is currently in the control of the GOP, 19-14. With six Republican senators up for recall, the Democrats have to turn three of those seats and hold the two remaining Democratic seats  up for election on August 16 to gain control of the Senate.

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