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Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial candidates agree on major topics during debate in Milwaukee

Republican candidates for Wisconsin governor from left to right: Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Michels Corporation co-owner Tim Michels, and State Rep. Tim Ramthun.
Republican candidates for Wisconsin governor from left to right: Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Michels Corporation co-owner Tim Michels, and State Rep. Tim Ramthun.

The top three Republican candidates for governor of Wisconsin vied for voters during a debate in Milwaukee Sunday.

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, businessman Tim Michels, and State Rep. Tim Ramthun attended the Marquette University and TMJ4 debate event.

According to a June Marquette Law School poll, Michels and Kleefisch are neck-and-neck as frontrunners. Michels is endorsed by former President Trump.

During Sunday's debate, there wasn't much debating. The candidates had similar answers to many of the questions. For example, abortion.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade reverted Wisconsin to an 1849 abortion ban still on the books. The ban only allows abortions to save the mother’s life.

None of the candidates said they intend to relax that law.

"Life begins at conception," said Ramthun. "Life is a gift from God. It is not the child’s fault on how they were conceived. That said, I do not support abortion in any form."

Ramthun said as governor, he would direct more funding to pregnancy crisis centers, which dissuade women from abortion, and he would make adoption easier.

"I will make sure that we do everything we can to help these young women and these young ladies come up with a lot of counseling through public-private partnerships so they can make the best decision for them, and hopefully they’ll make the decision to save life," Michels said. "Because there’s two victims in an abortion – there’s the baby, whose life was just taken away, and the mother who's going to have that emotional baggage the rest of her life."

Wisconsin’s abortion ban has raised questions about miscarriage care. The Washington Post reported on a Wisconsin woman who bled for more than 10 days from an incomplete miscarriage because healthcare providers were hesitant to remove the fetal tissue due to the uncertain legal landscape around abortion.

Moderator Shannon Sims of TMJ4 asked Kleefisch about scenarios like that.

"Would you be open to looking at exemptions that would help women make choices, and not until their life is at risk, which is the current law?" Sims asked.

"So let me be very clear here, miscarriage care and ectopic pregnancy treatment are not abortion," Kleefisch said. "Abortion is illegal. Ectopic pregnancy treatment and miscarriage treatment are not abortions."

Kleefisch said she supports the current law on the books.

The candidates were asked about Wisconsin’s record budget surplus, which TMJ4 reports could total over $5 billion.

The three Republicans agreed it’s evidence of over-taxation. Kleefisch said she would target income taxes.

"We have the wherewithal right now to move to a 3.54% flat tax," she said. "That would be our first goal to ensure people are keeping more of their own money, to fight this Biden-flation within their own budgets. My goal is to eventually eliminate the income tax. That will require some sacrifices in government. But I've already committed to moving state agencies out of Madison and cutting state agencies."

Ramthun also supports a repeal of the state income tax. He went even further – to property taxes that fund schools.

"I would like to push very hard to eliminate the tax levy for schools on our property taxes," Ramthun said. "We talked earlier about the surplus. It’s a transformational time for our state and nation to think out of the box and do things of, by and for the people. And one of the things we need to do is take the burden of taxation off of their backs. "

As for other school-related questions, all three candidates advocated for putting more control over what’s taught in parents’ hands. They all supported a bill to break up Milwaukee Public Schools. And Kleefisch and Michels said they would push for universal school choice—allowing all families to choose between public and private schools using government funding.

"Absolutely I want to give parents more control, and the way you do that is through universal school choice," said Michels. "It empowers parents. The tuition dollars go to the parent, and they can attach that to the son or daughter and go to the school of their choice. Competition is the great motivator."

Voters will choose which candidate they want to run against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the primary election Aug. 9.

Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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