The Wisconsin Third Congressional District race between Democratic incumbent Congressman Ron Kind and Republican challenger Tony Kurtz is a choice between two very different ideologies. Each strongly identifies with their party’s current platform, though Kind has been known to buck his own party when the fight is right, such as his opposition to corporate farm subsidies in the Farm Bill. Whether Kurtz would be willing to do so can only be conjectured, as he is lacking in any past political experience.
So why run against an incumbent who has successfully won nine elections as Kind has? Dissatisfaction and frustration, according to Kurtz.
Top of the list of legislation gone wrong for the Republican is the Affordable Care Act, which Kurtz wants to see repealed.
“People should not be forced to purchase coverage,” Kurtz said.
The candidate said most of those he has spoken to have not been helped by ‘ObamaCare,’ rather they have been penalized and are having to pay more for insurance due to the loss of BadgerCare Plus.
Kurtz feels competition across state lines for premiums rates, expanding the risk pool, and expansion of health savings accounts are better options for improving health coverage.
“The problem was cost, not availability,” Kurtz said.
“Let’s allow the state to have the plans they had before like BadgerCare Plus. Let’s bring these things back,” Kurtz said.
Acknowledging that cuts to the BadgerCare Plus program were the result of changes implemented by Governor Scott Walker, Kurtz still laid the loss of coverage by many lower income Wisconsinites under stricter income guidelines as a direct result of implementation of the ACA.
Kind is proud of his vote for passage of the Affordable Care Act and continues to support the program, which he acknowledges is imperfect and needs improvement.
“We had a healthcare system that was failing too many people,” Kind said. “We had to disrupt the status quo. And we did. We have over 140,000 more people in Wisconsin alone who have health coverage.”
Kind said the program gives states and the federal government tools for increasing the efficiency, basing payments on the value, the quality, of care instead of volume.
“I wish Governor Walker would revisit his decision to reject money for the expansion of Medicaid,” Kind said. “It would allow people to continue on BadgerCare Plus that were never intended to be part of the marketplace for insurance coverage.”
Kind sees the hostility toward the program as detrimental, overlooking the benefits of having a nation where everyone has access to health care.
“The ACA is not perfect, but it put a stop to lifetime limits, it has ensured you cannot be denied coverage because you have a condition, it has begun to bring down prescription costs, it has improved access to earlier testing and preventative care,” Kind said.
Both candidates agree that national debt is in need of addressing.
Kurtz sees reorganization of the federal government as the path to cutting costs.
“I would suggest a three to five year program of going agency to agency to evaluate what is working and what can be eliminated,” Kurtz said.
Kind, who identifies himself as a fiscal conservative, identified three areas where he feels the legislature can focus for immediate improvements that would benefit everyone – healthcare costs, defense spending and subsidizing corporate farming.
“Just curbing the rapid rise in health care costs in this country would go a long way toward addressing debt,” Kind said. “Second in line would be defense spending. Cost overruns are $3 billion, not million, but billion, just on the weapons program. And we need to reform the Farm Bill. We have huge subsidies going to large corporate farms. They’re not helping small family farms survive.”
But the best route to addressing national debt is working to improve the economy, Kind noted.
“That is the solution ultimately,” Kind said. “There needs to be jobs created, small businesses and start-ups need the resources to grow.”
Kind sees relatively small federal investment through tax credits as just one path to producing larger returns in economic growth.
“People are very insecure about the economy,” Kurtz said. “We really need to highlight what is positive and build confidence. Our technical colleges are a success. Seventy percent of the jobs in our district can be filled with a technical degree. We need to focus on the jobs we have here.”
Part of economic improvement derives in people’s sense that things are going well, according to Kurtz, implying that investment follows the perception of security.
Legislatively, Kurtz cited tax credits, revision of the tax code, and curbing Environmental Protection Agency regulations as pathways to improving the economy.
An issue related to the economy many people struggle with is the social safety net – programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Social Security.
For Kurtz, this boils down to a state vs. federal issue.
“This is where the government hasn’t done so well,” Kurtz said. “We could do better at the state and county level. We need to push this down to local control, assist the counties so they can manage (assistance).”
Separating food stamps from the Farm Bill is one step, Kurtz feels would enable managing the program better.
Protecting and preserving Medicare and Social Security are issues Kind said he has supported strongly.
“I am an opponent of privatizing Social Security,” Kind said. “We only have to look at the stock market crash a few years ago to realize how vulnerable that investment would be if those funds were pushed into private investment. Nor do I see turning Medicare into a voucher program as a viable alternative.”
In addition, Kind supports a fair, and higher, minimum wage and protection of the food assistance programs.
Both candidates see education as an important tool for addressing economic security. Both were in agreement that students should be allowed to refinance debt for better interest rates.
From there the two diverge.
“I don’t want to see this be the next economic bubble to burst, nor do I want to see students start out life so deeply in debt,” Kind said.
“I grew up here and the only way I could afford to go to school was through student loans, Pell grants, and work study,” Kind said. “I scrubbed a lot of toilets to get that degree.”
But the resources that allowed him to make it are diminished and students are left to take on greater debt, Kind explained, leaving the average Wisconsin student to graduate with $28,000 in debt.
“Congress will earn $40 billion from student loans this year,” Kind said.
Kind sees that level of profit from students as unacceptable when the country needs a work force well enough educated to compete in an increasingly global economy.
Kurtz believes encouraging students to look to technical college and tying loans to earning potential would help address the increase in student debt.
“We have a lot of non-traditional students,” Kurtz said, noting he himself had been one.
Both he and his wife turned to military service as a means for financing their education, Kurtz noted. He sees looking to alternatives other than loans and grants as a reasonable means of achieving educational goals.
“We should be able to look at the earning potential of a degree before the student takes out the loan,” Kurtz said. “We need to talk about the cost of college before the student has gone into debt.”
Two topics saw the two candidates expressing similar views: energy and transportation.
Both Kind and Kurtz see a need for a long-term energy and transportation plans. Both see a need to invest in crumbling transportation infrastructure and for encouraging development of environmentally sound energy resources, while addressing the issues inherent to current production.
Bio: Ron Kind
Democrat Ron Kind was elected to represent Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District in November 1996.
Kind is a fifth generation southwest Wisconsinite, born in LaCrosse in 1963. He attended public schools in LaCrosse and was a standout student athlete at Logan High School. Kind accepted a scholarship to Harvard, graduating with honors in 1985.
Kind went on to receive a Master’s Degree from the London School of Economics and a Law Degree from the University of Minnesota. Kind practiced law for two years at the law firm of Quarles and Brady in Milwaukee before moving back to LaCrosse, where he worked as a LaCrosse County prosecutor and as a special prosecutor for numerous other western Wisconsin counties.
Ron Kind is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy, Medicare, Social Security, and international trade. He also serves on the Subcommittee on Health and the Subcommittee on Trade.
Ron Kind served as a member of the Natural Resources Committee from 1996-2010, where he was a committee member and co-chair of the Upper Mississippi Caucus.
Kind and his wife Tawni live in his hometown of LaCrosse, where she is an official court reporter for the county court system. They have two sons, Johnny, 18, and Matthew, 16.
Bio: Tony Kurtz
Tony Kurtz is an organic farmer and retired U.S. Army officer.
Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1967, Kurtz joined the military after high school and attended the U.S. Army Warrant Officer Flight Training Program.
Kurtz attended classes during the evenings and weekends to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1989. He earned a Master of Science in International Relations from Troy State University in 1997. In 2005, Kurtz completed the requirements as a Certified Safety and Health Official (CSHO).
Kurtz retired from the Army in 2005 and founded Kaynick Solutions LLC, teaching military units accident investigation and safety program management.
In 2005, Kurtz bought a farm in rural Prairie du Chien. He certified 100 acres as organic in 2008. The remainder is conventional agriculture and woodlands. The farm is currently under management of a neighbor while Kurtz campaigns.
Kurtz and his wife Kim live in rural Prairie du Chien. Kim is a nurse anesthetist at Crossing Rivers Health. They have a daughter, Kaylin, 17, and a son, Nicholas, 14.