A debate between Congressman Paul Ryan, John Heckenlively, and Joseph Kexel was held at the Kenosha Gateway campus on Oct. 26, 2010. They are all vying for the coveted position of US Representative in the first district in Wisconsin. I attended the event and recorded it.
As spectators entered the event, they were given paper the size of an index card to write questions on that they had for the candidates. The papers were then passed up to a table in the front where three ladies decided which questions to give to a Dr. Deborah Ford to ask the candidates. Dr. Ford also served as moderator for the event.
One of the questions asked at the debate was on public transportation for Southeastern Wisconsin.
“What is the role of improved public transit in improving the economy of Southeastern Wisconsin?” Dr. Ford asked.
Mr. Kexel (Libertarian)-
“Well, I would say that transit systems need to be based on market principles. It’s, you know, a market-driven system. People who want a transit system will use it. Right now there’s a lot of talk about KRM. People don’t realize that at one time Kenosha had over four rail lines that went to Milwaukee. They’re all gone. They all went bankrupt because people got tired of it. They enjoyed the freedom and they moved in a different direction. That is why I think when you tax people heavily to create an expensive transit system, what happens is you take from one part of the economy and move it to another one. Now if you are going to have transit, the only transit that seems to pay are buses. It’s not as pretty as a nice rail line, but that’s the reality we have to live with. We have to make very sharp and precise decisions now because there’s not a lot of money out there and the downside of the KRM plan is that we borrow money and are given grants from the government but Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee get to pay for it forever and that’s very expensive per passenger mile. $25 per passenger to take the rail line. At that price you could buy everyone who takes the rail line a car. You know it doesn’t make any sense to go down that path but I’ll leave it at that.”
(In fact, the fare from Kenosha to Chicago on the Metra rail line presently is $7.50 one way or $15.00 round trip. If you get off the train before downtown, for example, in Waukegan, the fare would be $3.50 one way. On the weekends, you can ride anywhere the Metra trains go for $7.00 round trip. The ticket is good for two days for the one fee of $7.00 (www.metrarail.com). There are discounted tickets if you ride the train Monday through Friday in the form of monthly passes.)
Mr. Ryan (Republican)-
“An even bigger issue is the high speed rail from Milwaukee to Madison. That’s $800 million boon doggle in my opinion, and the cost just does not add up. Look, I’m a meat and potato guy when it comes to public transit. Our roads are crumbling. Bridges are problems. Let’s fix those. Those are the things we use. I think there is a problem with the transportation bill that in that we are recycling the gas tax, no pun intended, and all these other things. In all these bike trails and rails and trails and all these things that congressmen think they can earmark with and make themselves more popular. Let’s have a clean transportation bill, a user fee system. When we use these systems, they go straight back to its maintenance and expansion. I’ll make sure that the interstate out here is getting widened because we had a lot of congestion out there. Those are the meat and potato ideas that I think are necessary to get the arteries flowing in this state in this area for southeastern Wisconsin. Infrastructure’s a big deal. I can’t tell you how often I call CEOs to try and recruit them to bring their factories and their jobs here to this county and this area and this is one of the things that has been discussed which is, you know, highways you know rail lines and truck lanes and things like this so let’s focus on our regular infrastructure and let’s not siphon the money off onto these other programs that the cost benefit analysis just does not add up.”
Later in the debate, Ryan said “Take the money that comes from that federal government recording tens if not possibly of hundreds of billions of dollars, invest it into basic scientific research so we can get ourselves more diversified, off of fossil fuels. Get us off of foreign oil. We send so much money to the Middle East, so much money to other OPEC countries.”
He goes on to say “Use our own fuel to create thousands of jobs, tens of thousands jobs in this country. It lowers our price of fuel and gives us C capital to invest in innovation and research to get ourselves off of dependency off of fossil fuel in the first place. Me as a three time winner, more American jobs, lower fossil fuel prices, and a bridge we need to get to a better carbon free innovative system so that we can actually have our own home grown energy that is clean and efficient and cheap.”
(It sounds as if he wants to take the money that would go into public transit and spend it on research instead, which doesn’t help the people of southeastern Wisconsin find an affordable way to get to work. Drilling in other places, as Mr. Ryan proposes, would not bring jobs to the southeastern Wisconsin area right now.)
Mr. Heckenlively (Democrat)-
“Well I certainly agree that we need to focus on infrastructure in that we have huge infrastructure needs in the United States, upwards of $2 trillion and adequately funding infrastructure projects in the US would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. So in terms of getting the economy back on track, it’s absolutely the right idea, but, that being said, in that you don’t simply neglect public transportation. A lot of people can’t afford cars in this society who rely on public transportation to get from place to place, and I think if you look at Europe, which has a very high functioning public transportation system, both in terms of buses and rail, is that you know more people are able to get around. It’s simply a more efficient society and I think KRM is absolutely essential for southeastern Wisconsin, especially in terms of job creation and not simply in terms of infrastructure jobs it would create in actually building the rail lines, but also future jobs that are going to spring up as people build businesses, build houses around the rail lines. It’s going to provide people who live in Racine and Kenosha an opportunity to get to jobs in Milwaukee and get to jobs in the Chicago area. So from an economic development standpoint, I think public transportation is essential and I think if we neglect funding it, we are making a serious mistake.”
In an answer to a later question in the debate about ANWR and the Gulf oil spill, which are clearly associated with public transportation issues, Heckenlively answers the question in this way:
“Well it probably will not surprise you that I am opposed to drilling in ANWR and it’s not simply a question of liability or clean up. Its one of the last pristine places on the planet and certainly one of the last pristine places in the United States, and we simply don’t have all that many areas of absolutely untainted wilderness left in this country and the problem is even the most environmentally conscious oil drilling is going to have a tremendous environmental impact on a place like ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska). There’s simply no safe way to drill up there without damaging the environment, so we shouldn’t do it. I think I am going to go some of the same places Congressman Ryan went. I think we need to move beyond carbon and move beyond oil and coal. Right now the United States has enough wind and solar power that we could fully meet our energy needs forever, completely eliminate our reliance on foreign oil. The problem is that we don’t have the infrastructure. We need to make a massive, I mean we’re talking martial plan investment in infrastructure so that we can get the energy where it is, which is in the Plains states and in the desert Southwest and to meet up with the electricity grids in cities that need it. We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars, but considering what we’ve spent on the Iraq war $500 billion to never again have to rely on foreign oil and keep our national security, hey, that’s a bargain.”
In summary, the answers candidates gave regarding public transportation in southeastern Wisconsin were varied.
Kexel is for buses and not rail development and for a market-driven system. Ryan is against increasing transit options other than automobiles and the expansion of roads. At the same time, Ryan says he is for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. In his statements, he wants to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels through research while at the same time expanding the roads. Heckenlively is for developing public transit so that everyone can afford to have a way to get to work and not be dependent on an automobile. He would like a system similar to what has been in place for many years in Europe and Chicago.
All three candidates are excellent speakers and applause erupted during the first few questions for each of the answers they gave. There were fans of each candidate in different sections of the audience. Dr. Ford made a request for the applause to end because of time constraints during the debate.
The quotations here were taken word for word from a tape recording of the event.