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Republicans rally in Darlington
Lafayette County hears from Vukmir, other conservative candidates
Candidate Forum 01
State Sen. Leah Vukmir greets people during a candidate rally and auction while campaigning for the 2018 U.S. Senate election at the American Legion Post 214 in Darlington Oct. 21. - photo by Marissa Weiher

DARLINGTON — According to a recent poll by Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of Thomson Reuters and the University of Virginia Center for Politics, the state of Wisconsin’s voters would choose Sen. Tammy Baldwin over candidate Leah Vukmir by a margin of 15 points if the election were held today.

But at a rally at the American Legion in Darlington Sunday, Vukmir expressed great confidence that she could win the Senate seat, despite what the numbers indicate.

Speaking in front of a group of roughly 20 people, Vukmir talked about her performance in the state senate since first being elected in 2010 because of a concern over her children’s education and working with Gov. Scott Walker. She said the Republicans who took control of the state government “turned our state around.”

Vukmir talked about being the daughter of Greek immigrants and family members she recalls entering the U.S. “the right way.” Referring to herself as a grassroots candidate, Vukmir touted low unemployment as an achievement of the conservative majority of the state government.

“It’s because of Republican principles, it’s because of Republican leaders like the governor and members of the legislature, but it’s also because of you,” Vukmir said. 

Vukmir gained applause for her declaration of breaking public sector unions. She also touted the current state surplus as an achievement of the Republicans in power by celebrating tax regulation. 

Candidate Forum 02
Sen. Howard Marklein, a Republican incumbent of the 17th senate district, greets people at a Republican rally hosted by the Republican Party of Lafayette County at the American Legion Post 214 in Darlington Oct. 21. - photo by Marissa Weiher

“We balanced our budget, unlike Washington,” Vukmir said, gaining laughter from the crowd as she continued. “They need to learn how to do that.”

She boasted of upholding the Constitution by enforcing pro-life and pro-gun laws.

Then her words turned to criticism against her opponent. Baldwin, an incumbent who took the office in 2013, has failed the state, Vukmir said.

“Tammy Baldwin has let us down,” Vukmir said. “She doesn’t represent our Wisconsin values, she doesn’t represent our American values, and this election is about a clear contrast.”

While Baldwin has called for immigration reform and has expressed a desire to ensure minors under the DREAM Act, part of an immigration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, are given a chance to renew their status within the country, she has not expressed a desire for allowing violent gang members across the border into the United States as Vukmir claimed during the event.

Much of Vukmir’s criticism centered around health care. Referencing her travel RV, which has a shadowy image of Baldwin and a url for highlighted on the back, Vukmir focused on the death of a U.S. Marine veteran named Jason Simcakoski at the Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She attacked Baldwin for the scandal at the VA involving the over prescribing of painkillers to veterans. 

Vukmir said “as a military mom” the scandal “makes her blood boil.” She noted that though Baldwin was the only member of Congress to receive the report from the president in 2014, she did not take action and a veteran “later” died. 

Politifact Wisconsin has rebuked this repeated claim as misleading because the report was only received by Baldwin a day before the report was given to her office. Vukmir claims Baldwin worked to hide the report from public view and even fired an aide who attempted to bring the report to light. However, while Baldwin did not take any action publicly to address the scandal until a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting exposed the problem, there is no evidence she attempted to hide it either, even sharing the report with a constituent who had expressed concerns over the VA.

Vukmir also spoke about health care in legislation; namely, addressing the Medicare for All bill co-sponsored by Baldwin. It was originally authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders and calls for an overhaul of the current health insurance system to hand the responsibility of coverage largely to the government. Under this plan, Vukmir said Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, Tri-Care for veterans, the Affordable Care Act and private insurance would all be eliminated. A total of 3.4 million Wisconsin residents would lose their insurance under an employer, she added.

The bill, which is meant to replace those forms of coverage, has not been passed nor has the funding method been finalized. However, according to funding options, people using employer insurance could maintain the current method of coverage, but pay significantly less for insurance because employers would contribute a 7.5 percent payroll tax. The goal, according to papers published in favor of the bill, is to reduce insurance costs for middle-class families and would be implemented by age group over roughly four years.

Vukmir also called the claim that those with pre-existing conditions would no longer be given coverage if the ACA were to be repealed the "biggest lie" told by Democrats. 

“I always say we were taking care of people with pre-existing conditions before it was cool,” Vukmir said, referencing Health Insurance Risk-Sharing pools which were put in place before the federal health care reform was implemented. 

Though groups like the Wisconsin Cancer Council acknowledge HIRSP was a stable coverage option, it also provided challenges because it was used only if the person was not given insurance through any other means, required 18 months of continuous coverage prior to enrollment and did not allow enrollment until a six-month period of not having coverage was reached.

Marcella Danti, a retired teacher from Livingston, said after hearing Vukmir speak she had learned more about the Medicare for All plan and thought Vukmir “explained it beautifully.” 

“If we don’t vote for her and get Tammy out, then we’re up the creek,” Danti said. “Most of it, especially the pre-existing conditions, are already taken care of. … If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Kristie Popp of Belmont said new methods of health care would likely mean negative change, like an increase in taxes.

“There is no free lunch,” Popp said. “That money to fund these programs has to come from somewhere; we pay for it some way, somehow.”

Other Republican candidates and lawmakers were in attendance, like 51st Assembly District Rep. Todd Novak, State Sen. Howard Marklein and Attorney General Brad Schimel; all of whom face re-election Nov. 6 against Democratic challengers. Sheriff Reg Gill, who’s seeking re-election unopposed, was also in attendance.

Schimel said he has a proven record of putting public safety ahead of politics, which is why he has bipartisan support from sheriffs and district attorneys throughout the state, unlike his opponent Josh Kaul. 

He noted the drug epidemic as a key factor of his job, especially because it impacts others with increased criminal activity like elder abuse and burglaries. He said that while smaller counties have not been able to establish drug court programs, the number of the rehabilitation-like programs has nearly doubled in the state since 2014.

“It’s a lot more work than traditional criminal justice,” Schimel said. “We’ve got to help the people who are struggling, and then to win this battle, we’ve got to have prevention efforts too.”