Round two of the state senate recalls begins with the Republican general elections on August 9.  Six GOP senators square off against Democratic challengers (real ones this time) in a battle that started with the passage of the Budget Repair Bill, or Wisconsin Act 10.

The biggest coup would be the defeat of Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) in the 8th district. As c0-chair of the state’s Joint Finance Committee, Darling was instrumental in drafting the final language of the BRB and 2011-13 state budget. Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay) currently represents the 22nd district in the state assembly, but stepped up to challenge Darling after citizens of the 8th filed a recall petition.

During the past week, Pasch spoke with TCD, appeared at the Milwaukee Press Club and participated in a forum with Darling sponsored by the Menomonee Falls Rotary Club. While there was a wide range of questions, five major areas emerged that Pasch discussed in length.

Why should Darling be removed from office, and how would you be different? 

Pasch, a nurse, made her first political run in 2008. She said her reasons at the time were to make Madison more responsive to the people and to champion issues such as education, women and mental health. Those still remain, but during this recall cycle she stepped up to answer the call of the people in the 8th.

“30,000 people signed petitions to recall Alberta Darling because she stopped listening to them,” Pasch said. “The 8th district rose up and said ‘enough, listen to us and support the things that are important to us.'”

She said residents have told her that Darling did not answer e-mails or return phone calls during the budget battles earlier this year, evidence of Darling’s lack of responsiveness.

“She’s just not listening to us,” Pasch said.

Pasch explained that during her time in Madison, she has regularly held public hearings in her district to interact with constituents, explain her reasoning for votes and to gain insight to the needs and wants of the people.

“I have almost 55,000 constituents and they may not all agree with me, but you keep listening and speaking to them. I promise to do that if elected.”

How have Alberta Darling’s actions harmed the district and what would you change? 

Pasch holds Darling responsible for the budget repair bill and budget, citing the limitation of collective bargaining rights, funding cuts to K12, technical colleges, universities and FamilyCare, tax cuts to corporations and tax increases through Homestead Credit and Earned Income Credit changes as harmful to her district and the state as a whole.

Instead of the “tools” being helpful, Pasch said they took away a seat at the table for teachers, corrections workers and others. She said public workers would have contributed towards their benefits if asked, but now the “tools” have removed their say in what happens regarding workplace safety or classroom management.

“She cut funding and didn’t allow for school districts to make up the difference,” Pasch said about her opponent.

Pasch said it is untrue that there are not large layoffs happening in school districts. She says 97 percent districts will experience cuts, including the loss of teachers to early retirements. And the savings being touted from health insurance are only temporary, according to Pasch.

“Insurance companies are making low bids now but those will go up in the future, wiping out these initial savings,” she said. “District officials are telling me they are ‘getting by’ this year, but they don’t know what will happen in the future.”

Instead, Pasch points to her work on the 2009-11 state budget, which also cut K12 education, but by only $300 million, not $800 million over two years.

“We knew cuts had to be made and we asked for across the board cuts of 5 to 10 percent,” she explained. “But, we prioritized education and only made a 3 percent cut. And we didn’t cut categorical aids or school nurses like this budget did. I would prioritize education, because a strong public education system, a strong technical school system and strong universities will create jobs and improve our quality of life.”

Pasch would also work to restore FamilyCare, removing the waiting lists put in place by the 2011-13 budget. She said it is unfair to seniors and their families who now face entering nursing homes for care instead of staying in their homes.  She added that limiting FamilyCare is also foolish fiscally, since nursing home care will cost the state $4,000 per month, instead of the average $2,800 per month for FamilyCare.

Pasch also said she would work to restore higher income limits for the Homestead Credit and Earned Income Credit. She says lowering the limits excluded too many people, too many middle class families, from receiving the tax credits which, in turn, is a tax increase on Wisconsin families.

Campaign ads accuse you of being soft on crime and in favor of releasing violent criminals into the community. Why did you support former Gov. Jim Doyle’s early release of state prisoners and what are you doing to ensure public safety are released?

Pasch said she supported the early release proposal, not as a cost-saving measure as implied in the campaign ads, but because correction officers recommended the measure. She said the state correction system didn’t have any type of plan or incentive for prisoners to behave in the system. She saw early release as an incentive for prisoners to re-enter society.

She said state prisons and county jails need more mental health programming and alternatives to incarceration for those that are “sick.” Pasch said she would continue to work with the state’s correctional system to develop changes to incareration, but is not advocating throwing open the doors to violent offenders.

“We have to be thoughtful in how we work with prisoners,” she said. “And look at how other states handle this, such as Minnesota, which has a similar crime rate but much lower prison populations.”

You state that Sen. Darling is “in favor of a plan that would end Medicare as we know it,” but this is not a program she has control over. Why do you make this claim and what does it accomplish? 

Pasch agreed Darling is not in a position to affect Medicare, a federal program, but her position on the Paul Ryan plan to make changes to the current system says a lot about her character and values.

“Medicare is the most efficient medical program there is,” Pasch said. “And I agree that costs are going up and technology is overused at times. But now they want to make seniors make more decisions about their health care, at a time when they are more confused. That is wrong.”

” A voucher that doesn’t pay the full cost of medical care doesn’t show that you care.”

What will your number one priority be if elected senator? 

“We need to grow jobs, but not on the backs of the elderly, middle-class and disabled,” Pasch said. “We need jobs that are family supporting, we need jobs with benefits. We have to stop giveaways to corporations without job creation. We have to prioritize education and health care and we have to listen to what the people want.”

“I have a history of making things better as a nurse, and I have worked across the aisle.  I know if we can find common ground we can make this a better state.”

Bonus question: Your campaign has been accused of collusion with a third-party advocacy group, Citizen Action of WI, in this election.  How do you respond to these accusations, and are you willing to step down as a board member as suggested by the editorial board of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Pasch told reporters following the Rotary forum that she believed e-mails released on Wednesday by Media Trackers (a conservative journalism watch-dog group) were only one-way discussions and a distraction from the real issues of the race such as education, health care and being responsive to the voters. She added that she is looking forward to being cleared of any wrong doing by the state’s Government Accountability Board.

When she was pressed with the e-mails which show two-way discussions, Pasch deflected and asked voters and the media to look into a lawsuit filed against the Darling concerning an open records request. (Darling answered this question for us and will be in tomorrow’s story.)

“I haven’t done anything wrong. I have not seen these emails and I can’t control what comes into my office,” she said. “And this is the same editorial board that endorsed Scott Walker, so I won’t be taking any advice from them.”

Pasch will face off against Darling 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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