Election Preview: Wisconsin 6th Congressional District
Republican Tom Petri faces challenge from Democratic Party leader and teacher Joe Kallas in the Nov. 6 election.
While the two candidates for the Wisconsin 6th Congressional District agree that reinvigorating the economy and creating better-paying jobs is the most important focus after election, they take different paths in achieving such goals.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Petri — a Republican, Harvard-educated lawyer and a former state senator, who has served as the 6th District's Congressman since 1979 — puts his focus on a balanced budget to stimulate job growth.
"Unemployment is a big concern, and we in Wisconsin are fortunate that our unemployment rate is below the national average, but it’s still much too high," Petri said. "I think the main things that I can do if I should be elected as a member of congress is to work to get our national budget into better balance and (rid of) the gridlock, which is causing major uncertainty in the business community and adding to their reluctance to hire new people."
Petri's challenger, Democrat Joe Kallas — who is the vice chair of the Democratic Party of Green Lake County and has taught college and GED courses to inmates and coordinated area group homes — doesn't pinpoint this "gridlock" as the reason that employers aren't hiring.
"We have trade agreements that are not favorable to the United States. The best way and the quickest way to bring jobs back to America, of course, is to renegoiate those trade agreements," he said, adding that such agreements "really hurt us," encouraging manufacturers to move out of the country.
Kallas also said the country needs to get more serious about green energy, specifically pointing out that a strong focus on solar panels would generate a lot of jobs building and installing the products while also producing a lot of energy in the county.
"We talk about it, but we’re not moving on it," he said.
Petri and Kallas are running to represent a newly drawn 6th Congressional District, which encompasses all or portions of 10 counties in Wisconsin, including all of Ozaukee County.
Petri's current committee memberships include serving on the Transportation and Infrastructure and Education and the Workforce Committees in the U.S. House. He is also an author of books on government policy issues.
Kallas has also held local positions, serving on the Green Lake County Board of Commissioners and the Princeton Town Board. He also ran against Petri in 2010, and lost.
Fixing higher education
Petri and Kallas both recognize that there are inefficiencies in the state's secondary education system, and both offered suggestions to helping individuals better afford a college degree.
"The cost of education has to be controlled — it's totally out of control," Kallas said. With tuition lingering around $10,000 at many schools, "there’s no way you can work in the summer and make your tuition (which is what I was able to do, but now) — its not possible."
Kallas also said the Paul Ryan budget virtually eliminates Pell grants, which will make it extremely impossible for anyone who isn't wealthy to pursue higher education — and that's a mistake.
But Petri believes the issue is in student loan repayment, and that copying other countries could help out on the home turf.
"I have been working with some other members of Congress on putting into law a what is already done in England, Austraila and New Zealand," he said. The idea is to make it easier for students to consolidate loans, and for repayment to come directly from payroll — capped at 15 percent of the student's income.
"That would make th payment more manageable," he said, adding that it would also fix the problem of defaulting that many people face because they often shift around after college, which inevitably adds up to late fees, other fines, and poor credit ratings.
Members of Congress serve two-year terms and earn $174,000 annually.
See more of Patch's complete coverage of the 6th Congressional District.