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Congressional candidates emerge from industry

By Paul Snyder

Construction and development experience does not guarantee industry support for two Wisconsin congressional candidates.

“It’s always a tremendous opportunity to have a member of your industry running for office because they’re people who actually know the business,” said Jerry Deschane, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Builders Association. “But it’s never enough in itself to get full industry support.”

Still, two of Wisconsin’s congressional candidates are trumpeting their backgrounds prior to next year’s elections.

State Rep. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, worked as a homebuilder before joining the state Legislature and has thrown his hat into the ring as a challenger to U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wis.

Middleton developer Terrence Wall also has announced his Republican candidacy against U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.

Both candidates say the industry is in desperate need of a turnaround, and the solution is through tax breaks and grants for small business that let companies invest in new employees and new opportunities.

“We have to restore confidence in the free-enterprise system because people don’t know what Washington is going to do next to the industry,” Wall said. “We need to free up lending and stop penalizing the creditors that do because Main Street America is not seeing the recovery yet.”

Wall called the federal stimulus program, which was promoted as a way to invigorate the industry, a “scam” that was never intended to stimulate the private sector and primarily served to bail out local governments unable to balance budgets.

Roth said it’s a shame that only 10 percent of the $787 billion authorized in federal stimulus spending has gone to infrastructure projects.

“Those projects have created 90 percent of the jobs,” he said. “Knowing that, why not invest the money that’s been authorized, but not appropriated, back into infrastructure?”

The federal stimulus might not have played out the way some industry members predicted, but criticizing the spending might not be the best way to drum up votes, said Terry McGowan, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139.

“I dread to think where we’d be without it,” he said. “From my view, I see the stimulus working. Things for our union would’ve been a lot worse without it. I know of a lot of workers that would have otherwise been sitting home without it.

“I’m not a complete lefty. I do believe in the private sector, but investment will follow improvements of our surface transportation system.”

Wall said rebuilding the country’s roads is an important step. That starts, he said, with preventing governments from spending transportation money on nontransportation purposes.

But it should not include another stimulus package, Roth said.

“You look at the time when Ronald Reagan came into office. He was dealing with some of the highest inflation and unemployment rates in history,” he said. “But he was able to make tax cuts and cuts in regulation that brought forth a great economic expansion.

“It didn’t happen immediately, but there’s going to be a little bit of a lagging effect to getting us back on track.”

The question for the industry is how long it can afford to wait for the rebound. Deschane said 2010 should bring a slow but sure recovery for builders and agreed government involvement in credit markets and lending could revitalize the industry.
It’s good that the two candidates recognize that, he said.

“But industry organizations are still going to take a look at every candidate,” Deschane said. “We’ve had people in the industry who won elections in the past that proved to be a tremendous help. But especially at the federal level, there’s a lot to be considered.”

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