Dem’s 3rd CD Candidates Talk PFAS, Abortion Rights in La Crosse Debate

Democrats in the race to retire U.S. Representative Ron Kind’s 3rd seat addressed issues ranging from PFAS contamination to abortion rights during a debate, reserving criticism for Republican opponent Derrick Van Orden .

In yesterday’s UW-La Crosse debate co-sponsored by WisPolitics.com, neither candidate directly attacked. But each explained why voters should elect them over Van Orden.

“It’s a bit easy, it’s not a high bar”, La Crosse Ald. Mark Neumann said in a swipe at Van Orden.

Neumann said he would appeal to the principles of voter freedom and fairness.

Former CIA officer and Army Captain Deb McGrath, of Menomonie, said she knew how to work in the political aisle and always put her country before politics.

State Sen. Brad Pfaff, Onalaska’s former agriculture secretary, said voters don’t want to play “partisan politics” or “ideological games,” without directly naming Van Orden . But Pfaff, in his closing statement, called Van Orden a “threat to democracy.”

Eau Claire businesswoman Rebecca Cooke said Van Orden was on the “radical right” and that “John McCain-style Republicans” had voiced support for her campaign.

“He’s not part of a Republican party that a lot of us grew up with,” she said.

The candidates, responding to questions from a media panel and moderator, UW-La Crosse, Professor Anthony Chergosky, stressed the importance of talking to rural Wisconsinites and finding common ground with more conservative voters.

Also during the debate, the Dems discussed how they would get more funding to address PFAS contamination in the district.

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a series of chemicals found in industrial and everyday products, including fire-fighting foam. They are commonly referred to as “eternal chemicals” because they do not easily break down in the environment and are linked to several diseases and cancers in humans.

Pfaff said there needs to be a federal standard for PFAS levels. He added that the government should provide federal funding to help homeowners and small business owners who have PFAS in their water.

Cooke said she would like to see federal legislation similar to the CLEAR Act proposed by the Wisconsin Conservation Voters. The legislation would require the Department of Natural Resources to establish PFAS standards for drinking water, surface water, groundwater, soil and air, and would require cleanup of the substances.

Neumann said it was important to invest in clean water and to get more information about the health risks PFAS pose. McGrath said PFAS are a federal problem that requires a federal response.

Democrats were also asked how Congress could provide clarity on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overruling Roe v. Wade reinstated the state’s 1973 abortion ban.

Cooke said Congress should codify the right to abortion into law. The House passed a bill to do so, but the legislation will likely fail in the divided Senate.

“I think it’s an invasion of privacy and I respect women and LGBTQ people to make these decisions for themselves,” Cooke said of the abortion restrictions.

Neumann said the issue isn’t just about abortion — it’s about the sovereignty of the body, and Congress needs to pass legislation to protect it.

“For a third party to approach a woman who is carrying a pregnancy and tell her that she does not have the possibility of taking care of this pregnancy as she wishes, or of interrupting it, it is an aggression”, has said Neumann, who is a pediatrician. .

Meanwhile, Pfaff and McGrath shared some personal stories.

McGrath said she had an unplanned pregnancy while in the military and was stripped of her command.

“I know families have to make those choices themselves, and it hits marginalized communities even harder,” McGrath added.

Pfaff said his wife gave birth to their second child early and although they wanted to have more children, they decided against it when their doctor advised them not to take the risk.

“There was no place in this doctor’s office for politicians. It was a personal decision. We have to remember that,” Pfaff said.

When asked if President Joe Biden should seek another term, Pfaff — and his fellow candidates — did not provide a straight answer.

Pfaff praised Biden for his work getting Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 and standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“But do I think more work needs to be done? Oh yeah,” Pfaff said, citing rising inflation and drug costs.

Cooke also did not say whether she would back Biden’s candidacy again, but said she supports term limits to limit the number of lawmakers beholden to special interests.

The candidates will face each other in the primary elections on August 9.

Listen to the audio:
https://soundcloud.com/wispolitics/uw-la-crosse-dem-3rd-cd-debate

Jack L. Goldstein