State Sen. Alberta Darling has been on the defense ever since petitions to get her recalled from office were validated by the state in May, but she went on the offense in her first face-to-face meeting with challenger Sandy Pasch.
With a little more than two weeks to go until the in the 8th Senate District, the two appeared on "UpFront with Mike Gousha" on WISN-TV this weekend in what quickly became a heated forum.
It became evident quickly how heated the trail leading up to the recall election has become as Pasch, the Democratic lawmaker from Whitefish Bay, addressed Darling, the Republican incumbent from River Hills, directly during most of the debate, while Darling refused to acknowledge her opponent, speaking only to Gousha. As moderator, Gousha had to step in and direct the discourse as both candidates would interrupt each other.
The recall against Darling was largely initiated over her support of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, which eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public workers.
Darling defended the measure, saying school administrators now have the freedom and the tools they need to balance their budgets after the necessary cuts.
When Gousha asked if she would work to reinstate the abolished collective bargaining rights, Pasch said it's vital to restore those rights.
"Have I agreed with unions all the time? No. But does that mean they don't have a right to sit at the table," Pasch responded. "The way we do things in our state is bring people to the table and work things out."
Pasch said while collective bargaining is part of what sparked the recall, it wasn't the only issue in the race. She said residents in the 8th District have seen Darling become more conservative over the years.
“She did get my vote 20 years ago…she used to be the moderate Republican from the 8th Senate District, and that is not true anymore,” Pasch said.
The state budget, jobs
Darling said after former Gov. Jim Doyle and Pasch's policies failed, the residents of Wisconsin voted in a Republican majority and the message was clear: control spending and get the state back on the right track. Darling said she is doing what she was elected to do.
And, Walker’s two-year budget plan for the state is working, Darling said, noting that half the jobs created across the country in June were in Wisconsin.
“We didn’t raise taxes. We did the hard job, we made cuts,” Darling said. “It was difficult but we held up our part."
Pasch countered by saying Walker's policies have divided the state.
"They have stopped listening to half of the people in the state of Wisconsin," Pasch said.
Pasch said the state was struggling when she joined the Assembly, however, Darling has been in the Senate for 20 years and on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance for 10 years.
“Before you hurt your arm patting yourself on the back for the job creation…we have to look at are these temporary, seasonal jobs," Pasch said about the latest job numbers. "Are the kids graduating from the UW system going to find jobs with benefits or be able to stay in Wisconsin and raise a family here?"
“It’s a very disingenuous attack to say it’s one party’s fault," Pasch added. "We have to work together.”
Gousha asked Pasch whether creating jobs are important to her, as her campaign has focused on education, health care and collective bargaining.
Pasch said the state needs to focus on creating family-supporting jobs, and that Darling and Walker have gutted the state of the core things that attract that sort of employment, like strong schools.
“I will reach across the aisle and grow jobs together,” she said.
There should be more discussion centering around shared sacrifice, Pasch said. Darling has let a lot of people down in her Senate district with cuts to education and state programs, she added.
“Yeah, there is a huge deficit, but are we going to make the children of the state of Wisconsin bare the burden?” Pasch asked.
Darling said, however, that schools are better off for next year.
“The real question has to be, did we get results?” Darling said of actions taken by Republicans. “In education alone, the sky didn’t fall, we prevented massive layoffs. The government didn’t shut down like Minnesota.”
Gousha asked Darling if she puts the interests of the business community above those of the public education community. Darling said creating jobs and living within the state’s means are the party’s priority but education has always been important to her.
“Education has always been a priority, whether you’re Republican or Democrat and I’ve always been a pro-education candidate,” Darling said. “We gave the schools the tools…and as you have heard, there are no massive layoffs, there are no massive cuts in the classrooms.”
Pasch accused Darling and the Republicans of ramming through legislation like the budget repair bill, but Darling said she and her GOP colleagues are simply listening to their constituents.
Pasch said the that takes Shorewood out of the 8th Senate District was done because the GOP is afraid it will lose the district if the boundaries stayed the same. It was done without any local input and the plan disenfranchises minority groups.
"It was a rapid way to grant power for the next 10 years," Pasch said.
Darling said she has nothing to do with the GOP redistricting plan but if it is a political tactic or usurps minorities' rights, it will be challenged in the courts.
"It has to be fair, but there are controversies every time redistricting happens," Darling said. "The party in power is always perceived as doing power grabs."