In their second and final face-to-face meeting before Tuesday’s recall election, Republican Alberta Darling and Democrat Sandy Pasch clashed on the usual issues that have surfaced during the campaign – health care, education, budget cuts and more.
But challenger Pasch also used the forum in Menomonee Falls to accuse the incumbent of no longer listening to the concerns of the constituents of 8th Senate District, a claim Darling strongly denied.
“This election is about the 30,000 people who signed a petition saying Darling has stopped listening,” Pasch said at the event, hosted by the Menomonee Falls Rotary Club. “Our state has become incredibly divided. The priorities Darling has talked about don't reflect the priorities of the people of Wisconsin."
At one time, Darling was considered at moderate, Pasch said, but she has moved so far to the right that "Republicans say they no longer recognize her.”
Darling countered by repeatedly citing the outcome of the 2010 elections as solid evidence that she was indeed listening to her constituents. Republicans flipped both houses of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion in November.
Darling said those results made it clear that voters wanted her and other lawmakers to balance the state budget without placing the burden on taxpayers.
“I have kept my promises to voters, even though it required a lot of tough choices. I did that, and for that I am being recalled,” Darling said. “People have supported me in this district for a long time. I’m a fighter. I stand up for taxpayers.”
Darling said for the first time in more than a decade Wisconsin is in the black, and Republicans have helped erase a $3.8 billion deficit statewide. That was the promise she made to taxpayers when she was last elected in 2008.
Still, Pasch criticized Darling for supporting the sweeping cuts included in the controversial budget repair bill and 2011-13 state budget. Pasch said the changes made by Republicans divided residents at a time when Wisconsin needs to come together.
Pasch said touted her ability to engage in an open dialogue and work cooperatively to accomplish what was needed in the state.
“The way to grow the state is to bring everyone together and don't leave people behind,” said Pasch referring to seniors and students who she said were most affected by the budget cuts.
Pasch, a state representative from Whitefish Bay, said she has opened her office for sit-down meetings with constituents and held open meetings to hear their concerns – something she claimed Darling has failed to do.
But Darling said that during the height of the heated debate over the budget repair bill, she was advised not to hold town hall meetings out of concerns for her safety.
Darling said she received death threats and needed security during public appearances, which limited her openness with constituents.
During Wednesday’s forum, the two also addressed controversies surrounding the campaign.
On Tuesday, One Wisconsin Now! filed a lawsuit alleging that Darling failed to fulfill an open records requests that were made on June 8. The group requested any communications Darling had with private school voucher groups that receive state funding.
Darling said the issue has been taken care of, and the issue was an unintentional mistake.
“We have sent both records request back to them,” Darling said. “I have to tell you that my office is going to hear about that one because we routinely answer those requests as soon as possible.”
Pasch has also fallen under the microscope after the Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board regarding possible collusion between her and Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a special-interest group that is actively supporting her and other Democrats.
Although Pasch has sat on the board of the organization since February, she said she has not had any contact with Citizen Action. Pasch said it’s a diversion tactic from Darling, who Pasch claims is worried about losing the election.
“They’re trying to throw barbs, and that’s what they are doing. It’s a baseless accusation. I’ve had no contact with them,” Pasch said. “I’ve had no contact with them about anything related to this campaign.”