Given the pros and cons of both candidates, it's a tough call. But, ultimately, John Gard's experience makes him the more effective legislator for northeastern Wisconsin. He receives our endorsement.
Gard has clear positions on many of the key issues in the race. He favors extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, as well as the child-tax credit and the marriage tax penalty relief act and the elimination of the estate tax and the tax on Social Security benefits. He says this can be accomplished by capping discretionary spending and will lead to the job creation the nation needs.
On health care, he favors the expansion of health savings accounts and association health plans, and says cost disclosure and medical-lawsuit reform will lower costs. On immigration, he takes a harder line than President Bush, including tighter border security and making any illegal immigrants re-enter the country legally, no matter the effects. On energy, he supports opening access to untapped domestic energy sources, along with developing alternative sources.
He supports the Patriot Act and accuses Democrats of "weakness and appeasement." He talks of "a strategy to stabilize Iraq and bring our troops home," without getting into further specifics.
We definitely know where he stands, even if we disagree with him on some issues and are skeptical on others.
But Gard's value to the 8th District is in his political skill. Just as he navigated the ins and outs of the Legislature in rising to a position of power, Gard can be expected to find his way around Congress — to his own benefit, yes, but also to his constituents' benefit.
We admire Kagen's willingness to enter politics to serve the public. As a wealthy allergist, he certainly wouldn't need to.
We also admire him making health care reform the centerpiece of his campaign. He understands how important the issue of rising costs is to people. He has a unique knowledge of the system and some seemingly practical ideas to change it for the better.
He proposes disclosure of all health care-related prices, a single insurance risk pool in an attempt to lower insurance prices for everyone and deductible rates set at 3 percent of a household's taxable income.
Mostly, we're grateful someone is paying so much attention to the nation's health care crisis and is offering bigger-picture solutions.
After that, though, Kagen's stances are less solid. There are ideas and concepts, but some of the specifics are lacking. He's relatively strong on budget and tax issues, including a rollback of tax cuts for the wealthiest people, targeted tax breaks to businesses that create higher-wage jobs and pay-as-you-go budget practices.
But he's fuzzier on issues such as education, energy and, like Gard, what to do in Iraq. They sound good but there's not a lot of substance or practicality behind them.
Mainly, though, our concern with Kagen is with the uncertainty of how he'll react in Washington. Will he talk himself silly? Will "Injun time" type of gaffes be a regular occurrence? Will his sincerity be viewed as naivete? If so, how will that help in serving his constituents?
As we said earlier, it's a tough decision. And, as much as we applaud Steve Kagen, we realistically have to endorse John Gard as the better choice for effective representation.