This week, we’re taking a look at races in four congressional districts in the WORT listening area. Today, one of Wisconsin’s most powerful Republicans seeks to make the jump to the federal stage.
Republican Scott Fitzgerald was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate more than 25 years ago. Since then, he has climbed his way through the ranks of the state’s GOP and has led the caucus as the Senate Majority Leader for most of the last fifteen years.
Now, Fitzgerald — one of the most powerful Republicans in Wisconsin — is looking to try his hand in the national arena.
Come this November, he’ll face off against Democratic candidate Tom Palzewicz to represent Wisconsin’s fifth district — which includes portions of Milwaukee’s western and northern suburbs.
The winner of that race will replace outgoing Congressman James Sensenbrenner, who’s held the seat since 1979. The Republican stronghold may prove a difficult hill for Palzewicz to summit — Fitzgerald already represents portions of the district in the state senate, and has since 1994.
Fitzgerald, a frequent opponent of Democratic Governor Tony Evers, told Wisconsin Eye last month that he blames the state’s weak leadership for the property damage following protests over the death of George Floyd.
“Those elected officials that, early on were silent or protecting those actions, are starting to reconsider their positions,” he said.
Despite those critiques, Fitzgerald says he’s not opposed to police reform. He’s backed a bipartisan task force empaneled last month by his congressional counterpart Robin Vos to research potential reforms for the state’s police.
That came after Vos and Fitzgerald did not meet for a special session of the legislature called for by Governor Evers to vote on a package of police reforms introduced by the governor.
“We have to be methodical,” Fitzgerald said. “The package the governor rolled out, there was no input from Republican legislators on the bills. We’re up to about 25, 26 bills that could ultimately end up in a package.”
Palzewicz is also a supporter of police reform, although of a different stripe than Fitzgerald. He says that reform needs to be viewed through a lens of systemic racism, and that viewpoint should dictate funding for the nation’s police forces.
“Every single one of our systems in our society needs to be looked at through the lens of racial equity, Palzewicz says. “That probably means redoing budgeting along those lines. And it’s moving money around to where it makes more sense, not defunding the police.”
On the subject of the Affordable Care Act, Fitzgerald says that he would prefer that states administer and regulate their own healthcare systems. Echoing rhetoric from other republican candidates this season, he argues that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to health insurance isn’t feasible.
“We love that the states have done a really good job in managing many of these healthcare issues, and I think if the federal government would continue to defer to the states, we would have a lot less problems.”
Palzewicz argues that preservation of the Affordable Care Act is crucial to saving the lives of countless Americans. He also says that lifting the financial burden of providing healthcare to employees would be a net gain for the nation’s business owners.
“Healthcare is a right,” he says. “Everybody should be able to have access to it, and it should never be a source of anxiety — about, when you’re sick, if you’ll be able to pay for it or not…If everyone had access to affordable healthcare outside of their job, it would create more businesses.”
Fitzgerald has supported many of President Donald Trump’s immigration measures, including his continuing plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s also an opponent of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program enacted under the Obama administration.
“If you’re a child of DACA, here under an Executive Order, and have been living in the society and going to school in this society…Those individuals need to be handled by the Department of Homeland Security and they need to work with those individuals to reunite them with families in their country of origin,” Fitzgerald told Wisconsin Eye.
Palzewicz says that America is a nation built by immigrants, and no one should be termed as “illegal.” He supports creating a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and illegal immigrants. He also argues that, even if people are here illegally, they’re still actively contributing to the American economy and deserve recognition.
“This country was built on immigration. People can’t be illegal, that’s not possible. What it is is, do they have the right status in this country to be able to move about freely and take advantage of achieving the American dream?”
The two are on the ballot this November in the fifth Congressional district – which represents portions of Jefferson, Washington, Dodge, Milwaukee, Waukesha and Walworth counties.