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Smoking ban a hot issue in election

By Matt Pommer

Finally Wisconsin has a political issue everyone can understand.

Both Republican candidates for governor say they would sign a bill to repeal Wisconsin’s new law that imposes a statewide ban on smoking in public places such as restaurants and taverns.

Mark Neumann said he would sign the repeal, then Scott Walker shifted gears somewhat and said he, too, would sign such a measure. Neumann is a former state legislator and ex-congressman. Walker, now the Milwaukee County executive, has served in the Legislature.

The big “if” is whether repeal legislation would get to the governor’s desk in the next four years.

Each legislative candidate needs to be asked whether he or she would vote to repeal the law curbing tobacco smoking. A simple “yes” or “no” is sufficient. Any other answer is waffling and trying to blow smoke at the voters.

The question has nothing to do with the federal deficit, gun rights, teacher salaries, abortion, ongoing wars or the level of taxation.

The candidates may try to hide their “yes” answer by saying issues as important as indoor smoking should be left to local governments. It’s an old staple in rural politics to denounce state government and run “against Madison.” But the GOP candidates have put the statewide ban into a clear election issue.

At the outset, Walker said it was too early to think about changing the law. But he shifted gears once Neumann said he would sign repeal legislation. Walker matched Neumann’s position.

What can be made of this midsummer Republican campaigning? It might suggest that the race between Neumann and Walker is closer than the GOP establishment whispers. The Republican state convention has endorsed Walker.

More likely the whole business reflects the importance of the tavern industry in Wisconsin. Proof of the tavern industry’s influence came with the Legislatureís tepid response to any drunken driving crackdown.

The state’s drunken driving law remains among the most lenient in America.

The statewide smoking ban was the result of years of effort by medical groups and others promoting healthier standards. It has been 46 years since the U.S. Surgeon General said smoking caused cancer. Secondhand smoke also contributes to illnesses, experts have testified.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, has shown no interest in repealing the new law. He has delighted in chiding Walker for shifting positions on the issue.

In reality, this is an issue each citizen can understand for himself or herself. The candidates should worry about giving weasel-worded answers to a question that ought to be answered “yes” or “no.”

Matt Pommer worked as a reporter in Madison for 35 years. He comments on state political and policy issues.

One comment

  1. I would not worry what Neumann and Walker say. By the time the new legislature comes back from its six month vacation the tavern owners are going to find that for every smoker they lost, they gained two nonsmokers. The La Cross owners will no longer be losing nonsmoking customers to Minnesota, and their lungs will be clearer. This law is set in stone, unless the campaign money from Philip Morris prevails.

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