Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories about the race for the 56th Assembly District.
Leading up to Election Day, candidates for Wisconsin’s 56th Assembly District have taken part in interviews and forums where they discussed key issues facing the state.
Republican incumbent Dave Murphy, 65, of Greenville, is facing Diana Lawrence, 58, of Appleton, in a district that includes northern Appleton, northern Grand Chute, southwest Outagamie County and much of northern Winnebago County.
This is the second time the two have run against each other for state Assembly. In 2018, Murphy beat out Lawrence with nearly 60% of the vote.
Murphy was elected to the Assembly in 2012. Lawrence first launched a bid for the office in 2012, but didn’t make it out of the primaries.
Both participated in a League of Women Voters of Appleton forum in September. As much of the discussion among candidates has focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s what Lawrence and Murphy had to say about some of the other issues in Wisconsin.
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Lawrence said she is in support of Wisconsin expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
“Women are the main beneficiaries of this program, and their children,” she said. “I think anything we can do to make their lives healthier is going to be cheaper for the state in the long run.”
Wisconsin is one of 12 states that has not adopted the expansion. Gov. Tony Evers campaigned on expanding Medicaid and his plan would make an additional 82,000 low-income residents eligible for BadgerCare using funding available through the Affordable Care Act.
Murphy said it’s important to protect the program Wisconsin already has in place and not expand it to the point it becomes unsustainable.
“We would get additional Medicaid money from the government, but every citizen that is on Medicaid increases the insurance cost of every other citizen because Medicaid does not pay at the same level as private insurance does,” Murphy said.
He said it is better for the state to provide subsidized insurance for people, rather than expanding Medicaid, because that insurance will pay the full rate and it won’t drive up the cost of health insurance for others.
Lawrence said she has “never liked” Wisconsin’s voucher school program, known as the Private School Choice Programs, which provide parents with tuition vouchers to enroll their children in private or religious schools.
She doesn’t think the state should expand the program, especially when budget shortfalls are likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is two school systems parallel to each other and one of them is going to fail down the road if we keep going down this road that we’re on,” she said. “We can’t have the public school system fail, because it’s in the Constitution.”
Murphy said he strongly supports the school choice program. He called education “the biggest racial issue of our time.”
“As a percentage of population, there are more minority students in the choice program than there are any other students,” Murphy said. “And they’re making great strides in many of our big cities to help educate our minority population. That’s a hand up. That is an opportunity that those students need to get ahead.”
Murphy said Wisconsin has a good and fair voting system, pointing to the state’s early voting and absentee ballot options. But Murphy questioned the security around mail-in voting, citing a number of ballots that were found on the side of the road in Greenville last month. (The Wisconsin Elections Commission later said no Wisconsin ballots were found among that mail.)
“The state doesn’t run the postal system and we don’t have the ability to say that some postal employee somewhere isn’t going to do something, isn’t going to throw away some mail, isn’t going to get rid of it,” he said. “So it does make it difficult for us to say 100% that we know that system is going to work.”
It might be possible to secure the mail-in voting process in the future, Murphy said, and suggested adding bar codes to envelopes.
To make mail-in voting as secure as possible, Lawrence proposed municipalities open more drop boxes so voters can return their own ballots and don’t have to rely on the postal system.
Lawrence also expressed concern with some municipalities’ decisions to reduce the number of polling sites open during the pandemic in April. Recruiting younger poll workers could help keep more polling sites open, she said, since the majority of poll workers are older and at a higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19.
Murphy repeated that education is the “most important thing” when it comes to racial injustice and inequality.
When looking at recent incidents of police brutality — such as the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police or the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha — a package of bills proposed by the governor “would not have helped many of those situations,” Murphy said.
The bills Murphy referred to are aimed at police reform in Wisconsin and include banning police chokeholds and no-knock search warrants and making it harder for overly aggressive officers to move from one job to another.
Murphy said the ability for police departments to have access to new officers’ records if they previously worked for a different police agency would help.
Lawrence said reducing poverty in Wisconsin is one way to help combat racial injustice and inequality.
“I think an awful lot of societal ills go back to people being in poverty and the effect that has on your life,” Lawrence said. “More people who are poor end up in prison, your educational level is going to be different. I think that really does play into racial problems and I think if we can get a better handle on poverty, we can make inroads into racial injustices.”
Lawrence said she “would take a look at” legalizing recreational marijuana.
“You’re walking a tightrope here,” she said. “It is technically a drug, but it’s not as bad as some of the other stuff we have out there. So I think that if we just legalize it — and I really hate that tax bit. That’s not important to me that you can put taxes on it. But I do think that we should legalize it.”
Murphy is against the legalization of recreational marijuana. He said he’s based his opinion on conversations with law enforcement officers, many of whom are against legalizing it.
He pointed to issues in other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, such as California and Colorado. In those states, marijuana continues to be sold illegally, he said. Marijuana use can also impact worker productivity, Murphy said, which hurts the economy.
Murphy said he would consider legalizing the drug for medical use.
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