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Candidates running for Wisconsin's 8th Senate District hold their only debate before Election Day

Atty. Jodi Habush Sinykin (D) and Rep. Dan Knodl (R) wait for Wednesday's night debate to begin at the MATC-North Campus in Mequon. The group Braver Angels organized the event.
Chuck Quirmbach
Atty. Jodi Habush Sinykin (D) and Rep. Dan Knodl (R) wait for Wednesday's night debate to begin at the MATC-North Campus in Mequon. The group Braver Angels organized the event.

In a highly-watched Wisconsin Senate race in suburban Milwaukee Wednesday night, the two candidates, Jodi Habush Sinykin and Dan Knodl had their only debate before next week's election.

Jodi Habush Sinykin and Dan Knodl are offering voters clear choices on legislative powers, abortion rights, crime reduction and taxes.

Longtime GOP State Senator Alberta Darling retired in December. That set up the April 4 special election in Senate District 8, which curves from Whitefish Bay out to Richfield.

If Republican State Rep. Dan Knodl wins the Senate seat, it would give the GOP a two-thirds super-majority in that chamber, allowing them to remove state officials from office and take other steps to make life difficult for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Democratic Senate candidate Jodi Habush Sinykin is an attorney. She spent part of Tuesday's debate in Mequon drawing attention to recent comments Knodl made about looking at impeachment of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and State Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz.

"Essentially, a witch hunt of local officials, judges, politicians and the like. This is exactly what I'm hearing from folks at the doors that they don't want more of," Habush Sinykin said.

Habush Sinykin said the problem is unfair election maps that have allowed Republican legislators to gain near-super majorities in a politically divided state. The State Assembly is nearly two-thirds Republican. But Knodl defended the process of state lawmakers drawing those lines.

"It's the process. It's the process that we are bound to hold in the legislature. Other states might have a commission, a non or bi-partisan commission. You find the appointees on those commissions selected by partisans," Knodl said.

The two candidates also resumed their battle over abortion rights. Knodl backs the 1849 state law that took effect last year, banning almost all abortions in Wisconsin. He accused Democrats of not caring about babies.

"Abortion is the terminating of a life, and until I recognize from the other side that there's a life there, we're not going to be in agreement," Knodl said.

Habush Sinykin objected to Knodl's comment: "As a mother of four kids, someone who highly values life, the sanctity of life, I'm very concerned about how he is portraying this particular issue and the commitment."

Habush Sinykin favors the state going back to reproductive rights people had before the U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision last summer ending Roe v. Wade protections. She criticizes a bill Knodl recently co-sponsored to add more exceptions to the 1849 ban, saying Senate GOP leaders quickly announced the bill had no chance of passage.

Crime is another issue in the District 8 Senate race. Habush Sinykin said during Knodl's fourteen years in the State Assembly, he has helped block more state shared revenue from going to cities to hire police.

"And what is so concerning about these constraints that have been imposed by this legislature is that they say they are pro-law enforcement. But in effect, in practice, in actuality, they are defunding the police," she said.

Knodl said Republican legislators will approve more shared revenue to local governments this spring, during debate over the proposed state budget. But he blames the criminal justice system in Milwaukee County for not reducing crime.

"We have a revolving door justice system in Milwaukee County. We have the D.A. Judges have failed. The laws are on the books, but they've failed to enforce them," Knodl maintained.

There was some agreement between the two Senate candidates over cutting taxes. But Knodl supports a flat tax, while Habush Sinykin said that would give an unfair benefit to the wealthy.

A local chapter of the non-partisan group Braver Angels organized last night's debate. The national organization said it was created to bridge the partisan divide.

Need help learning how to vote on April 4? Our voter guide has the information you need on the voting process and how to participate.


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