Pocan, Lee face off for vacant seat
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MADISON Two small business owners, one with more than a decade of experience in the state Legislator, are facing off to fill the 2nd Congressional seat vacated by Tammy Baldwin, who is running for Senate.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, was first elected to the state Assembly in 1998 and served six years on the Joint Finance Committee, including a term as co-chair. His opponent, Republican Chad Lee, is making his second run for the Congressional seat. The young entrepreneur ran against Baldwin in 2010.
Pocan defeated three opponents in the August primary.
The 2nd District includes the city of Beloit and western Rock County.
The candidates responded to the following questions:
Q: What do you think is the biggest issue facing Congress, and how would you solve it?
Lee: The biggest thing that has been overlooked in the last few years is passing the budget, one of the main purposes of Congress, he said.
"The first thing is pass a budget, then work toward a balanced budget," he said.
He supports reforming the tax code to close loopholes on big corporations such as General Electric and Microsoft and others making billion-dollar profits yet paying little to no taxes, he said.
Tax code reform would bring in additional revenue and provide certainty to job creators such as small business owners, who could then feel comfortable investing in their companies.
Getting to a balanced budget and getting more people back to work would increase government revenue, he said. Ridding the system of waste, fraud, abuse and duplicate or obsolete programs will help trim government to responsible size, he said.
Pocan: The big three issues he hears about the most are jobs and the economy, health care and Medicare and Social Security, he said.
On jobs, "we need to do everything we can to help small businesses succeed," he said.
That means providing access to capital so they can invest and grow, he said. He wants to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States and make sure the country is "really providing assistance and research dollars to help" in research and development for high-tech businesses.
The Affordable Care Act is taking health care in a good direction, and work should continue on it, he said.
Medicare and Social Security need to be protected and preserved, but private ventures and vouchers could be risky, he said. Getting rid of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy could extend Social Security, and it's worth having a "healthy debate" on lifting the cap on what people pay in right now, he said. He also would like to see Medicare negotiate with prescription drug companies.
Q: With the government facing a "fiscal cliff" Jan. 1, how would you deal with the issue?
Lee: He doesn't think the middle class can afford the increase in taxes, especially family farms that would be hit with an increase in the estate tax.
The potential results leave the economy unstable, "and we need to get that security," he said.
It goes back to job creators, who aren't able to invest in companies because they feel tax increases coming, he said.
"We just have to give them certainty—doing that by passing the budget, taking care of this fiscal cliff," he said.
Small businesses have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, he said.
The country is at a competitive disadvantage, he said. The U.S. needs to create an environment where other countries look to—"making America more competitive on a global scale," he said.
Pocan: He's guessing Congress will delay action to the next session of Congress, given the history of the last two years. He hopes after the election there will be fewer tea party representatives so lawmakers can get back to two parties where "something has to happen."
He's guessing a solution will involve cuts and revenues. During his years helping write the state budget, it was a "very balanced approach—go in and get it done," he said. "I think there's great promise with a new Congress and no presidential election."
Tax fairness is part of the answer, he said, pointing to corporations that are based in islands surrounding the United States to avoid paying taxes.
Q: How would you be able to work across the aisle to get things done in Congress?
Lee: Compromise is needed, but you don't want to compromise your values or principles, he said.
People can put out multiple ideas and combine the best parts of each plan, he said.
"That's how I've run my life, this business, that's what I do," he said. "I will always make the right decisions for the people I represent. Unfortunately, we've seen too many politicians in Washington that don't make the right decisions. They want to make sure they stay there for 10, 20, 30 years and put (their) careers ahead of the folks they were elected to represent."
Pocan: Bipartisan work is one of the things he has been recognized for in the Legislature, he said. During his time on the finance committee, he saw it made up of all political formations. To get something done, compromises were needed, he said, but that doesn't mean you have to compromise your values.
It takes a certain skill set to find what motivates and drives people, he said. He cited an even political split on the finance committee. He worked with the co-chair to put together a budget package that became one of the few unanimous votes out of the committee.
Job: Started and ran a residential and commercial cleaning company, co-founder of a research technology company based in Middleton.
Education: Business administration degree from Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois
Community service: None
Elected posts: None
Job: State legislator, owner of Budget Signs & Specialties, Madison.
Education: Journalism degree from UW-Madison
Community service: Member of the Madison Development Corp. board of directors, Big Brother volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters, volunteer with the Colombia Support Network.
Elected posts: 78th Assembly District, 1998-present; Dane County Board, 1991-1996