Local leaders discuss issues before Democratic presidential debate

Views shared from both sides of political spectrum

Barrett discussed the presidential race with White House correspondent Alexis Simendinger at a RealClear Politics pre-debate luncheon Thursday.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, WISN-TV Channel 12 UpFront host Mike Gousha and other leaders weighed in at a RealClear Politics luncheon at the Wisconsin Athletic Club in downtown Milwaukee today ahead of tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Milwaukee.

Barrett discussed the presidential race with White House correspondent Alexis Simendinger at a RealClear Politics pre-debate luncheon Thursday.
Barrett discussed the presidential race with White House correspondent Alexis Simendinger at a RealClear Politics pre-debate luncheon Thursday.

Among the issues addressed at “Decoding 2016: The Issues Shaping the Debate” was gun violence and solutions to the problem of mass shootings across the country.

Barrett, for his part, advocated for background checks in private gun sales.

“I really do believe that’s an issue where 80 percent of the public agrees,” he said.

But he said Wisconsin has two very different gun cultures, from northern areas of the state where hunting is popular to Milwaukee, which has been plagued by gun violence.

Also on the docket was Gov. Scott Walker’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants.

Barrett pointed to the recent conversion of the We Energies coal plant in the Menomonee Valley to natural gas as a positive step for Milwaukee.

“Regardless of what happens in Washington, we are at a transitional period when it comes to energy,” Barrett said. “There’s an inevitability that we’re going to go to greener and quote ‘cleaner’ power sources.”

Ahead of tonight’s debate, local leaders also had some advice to give to the candidates.

Barrett said Hillary Clinton needs to connect to young voters, who have overwhelmingly supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in early exit polls. While he is a Clinton supporter, Barrett said his college-aged daughter supports Sanders.

“If I were (Hillary), I would be thinking, ‘Holy smokes, I’ve got to connect to these millennials,’” Barrett said. “My advice to Hillary would be to get on those college campuses or get to those technical colleges and start talking to those kids.”

Farrow weighed in on the mood of voters in Wisconsin.

Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow and Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council president Dan Bukiewicz discuss Wisconsin voters with Simendinger.
Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow and Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council president Dan Bukiewicz discuss Wisconsin voters with Simendinger.

“I don’t know if it’s as much an angry voter as individuals who don’t feel as though their voice is being heard,” he said.

Oak Creek Alderman Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council, said special interests are dictating too many political decisions.

“I would say what we see right now from the labor side is frustration,” he said. “We’re not getting the service we should from our legislators.”

Farrow said taxes and spending are still one of the biggest issues facing political leaders right now. Walker has had “an incredible impact” on the presidential campaign and on Wisconsin by implementing Act 10, which Farrow said has allowed Waukesha County employees to do their jobs more effectively.

But Bukiewicz said, “(Act 10 is) not really a viable, long-term, sustainable tool municipalities can use. When it comes to Act 10, those savings came on the backs of employees.”

In the Republican primary campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio has a better foothold in Wisconsin than Donald Trump, Farrow said, because he’s offered concrete plans about what he would do if elected.

“We’re hearing very little solid base solutions,” he said. “They look at Rubio as saying he’s one of the few out there who’s actually got some ideas.”

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she’s gotten some flak for scheduling a debate in Wisconsin at this point in the primary schedule and for initially scheduling just six debates total.

“The party chair, as a matter of definition, gets bumped and bruised along the way,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It’s better to have me be bumped and bruised than our candidates, who need to stay above the fray.”

She said the candidates’ willingness to continue participating in sanctioned DNC debates shows their approval of the schedule.

As a battleground state for decades, Wisconsin voters are tuned in to this debate, Gousha said.

“People are, I think, very interested in the political discussion,” he said. “In a debate featuring two candidates, which is kind of refreshing, honestly, you’re looking to see how (the candidates) handle themselves in big moments. I think they both have opportunity here, and how they handle that opportunity will be crucial.”

See a photo gallery from the debate and related events shot by Milwaukee photographer Lila Aryan for PBS NewsHour.

Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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