Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger Tony Evers met Friday night for the first of two debates ahead of the Nov. 6 election. The two are locked in a tight battle with the election just more than two weeks away.
Walker and Evers delivered sharp attack lines in their first debate, hosted by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, over hot topics in the race including taxes, education, health care and roads. Some of the most pointed comments involved the question of credibility.
Walker shrugged off criticism lodged by four of his former Cabinet secretaries that he mishandled education, transportation and safety issues. The former top administration officials announced they’ll be voting for Evers.
“I’m not afraid to have people with diverse opinions in my cabinet," he said. "For years, I had a cabinet member who wanted to raise the gas tax. And I told the voters, clearly, I would never raise the gas tax without an equal or greater reduction elsewhere in their tax burden overall,” Walker said.
Meanwhile, Evers downplayed reports that broke hours before the debate that his education budget proposal included uncredited sections lifted from other sources, saying it was a mistake that’s been fixed.
“Now, the last thing I need in my life is to have Scott Walker lecturing me about the issue of plagiarism, frankly," he said. "He takes budget items directly from national organizations and high dollar sponsors, passes them into law without barely changing a word.”
The two also tackled the issue of taxes. Evers says the Walker administration has been giving tax credits for the wealthy. He says, if elected, his focus would be on the middle class.
"Anybody making $100,000 or less will get a 10 percent income tax credit," Evers said. "In addition, $150,000 as a family, that’s a 10 percent credit. We have to make sure that the middle class in the state of Wisconsin stays strong, and this is one way to do this.”
Evers responded to Walker’s claim that Evers would support increasing the gas tax by up to $1 per gallon. Evers says the idea is ridiculous and is never going to happen. Walker reiterated that Evers has said “everything is on the table,” when it comes to the budget. Walker stated that Evers has talked about raising property taxes and raising income taxes on manufacturers, yet hasn’t said by how much.
"Ladies and gentlemen, when someone from Madison tells you they’re gonna tell you after the election how much, look out, you better hold on to your wallets and purses, because he’s going to raise your taxes," said Walker. "I have shown repeatedly in the past that we can cut taxes on the hardworking people of this state — on working families, on senior citizens, on small business owners and family farmers. We've done it before and we'll do it again.”
The two candidates also weighed in on questions about immigrant labor at dairy farms, granting in-state tuition to DACA recipients and granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Walker assessed those are federal issues.
Specifically referring to the issue of granting the driver’s licenses, Walker said, “we’re a nation of immigrants, but we’re also a nation of laws. And that clearly puts us in violation of federal law. That’s the reason why we need federal officials to stand up and make positive, affirmative changes that allow for legal immigration into this state from anywhere in the world.”
Evers countered that some immigration laws are bad public policy and that a governor needs to be able to call out bad policy at the national level.
“When young people were ripped away from their parents at the border and people asked the Governor of Wisconsin what he thought about that, and he said ‘it’s a federal issue,’ well, it’s not. It’s a human issue. It’s a human issue, and the governor of the state of Wisconsin needs to weigh in on it.”
The candidates will face off in a second and final debate on Friday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. It will be co-hosted by WUWM.