Election Preview: Wisconsin 1st Congressional District
Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is being challenged by Democrat Rob Zerban, a former member of the Kenosha County Board, and Libertarian candidate Keith Deschler.
It’s the Paul Ryan race who is flying beneath the radar: In addition to running for vice president, the Janesville congressman is on the ticket for his current seat in the U.S. House.
Ryan’s campaign and his Democratic opponent offer sharply contrasting views of the incumbent. There is also a Libertarian candidate in the race, Keith Deschler, who says he is running to balance the federal budget.
Ryan’s Democrat opponent, Rob Zerban, argues that Ryan’s rising national stature has only soured some back at home who were unaware of his positions.
Those positions, Zerban told Patch, he considers extreme. He noted that Ryan worked in Washington right after leaving college — as a congressional aide and for a think tank.
“He’s a Washington insider, “ said Zerban.
Zerban said he was particularly troubled by Ryan’s Medicare proposal, which he says would remove the safety net for elderly.
“What I am hearing here is that people are concerned about it, and they are afraid about what would happen,” he said.
However, Ryan’s campaign spokesman sharply disagreed.
“Wisconsinites know better,” Communications Manager Kevin Seifert wrote Patch. “Paul is a fifth-generation Wisconsin resident. He was born and raised in Janesville and lives with his family on the block he grew up on. He has brought Wisconsin values to Washington, offering sensible solutions to the fiscal and economic challenges before our nation.
"Paul Ryan remains one of the most accessible members of Congress. He has held over 550 town hall meetings since coming to Congress and helps thousands of 1st District residents annually resolve problems with the federal government," Seifert added.
Zerban also accused Ryan of presiding over unemployment spikes in his own community and called Ryan’s budget proposal a disaster.
Zerban is pro-union, pro-choice
Zerban said he has been a small business owner. Raised by a single mother, who helped the family get by with government cheese and free milk at school, Zerban said he learned the importance of social safety nets. It’s not, he said, that people want handouts or aren’t willing to work.
“I understand why programs are important,” he said. “My mom didn’t feel entitled.”
Zerban is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America In New York. He ran two small businesses in the food industry. Since 2008, he’s spent his time working in public service, particularly environmental concerns. He has served on the board of directors of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.
He describes himself as pro-choice and says he believes in workers’ rights to unionize and would like more emphasis placed on education investment. The candidates have clashed over a Zerban campaign ad. The candidates have not debated.
Ryan is 'offering leadership' to district
Ryan’s campaign spokesman painted a different picture of Ryan.
“Paul Ryan is offering the leadership and the solutions that we need at this critical moment in our nation’s history," Seifert wrote. "He has successfully broken through the legislative gridlock, passing a budget through the House of Representatives, and has worked across the aisle to advance common-sense reforms, like the line-item veto, which would cut spending and save hardworking taxpayers’ money.
"Paul Ryan has been an effective advocate for southern Wisconsin and our interests, leading with solutions that get America back on a path to prosperity and that ensure our best days are ahead," he added.
As for the notion that Ryan wants to gut Medicare, Seifert responded: "Paul Ryan has offered solutions to protect and strengthen government programs, like Medicare and Social Security, so they are placed on sound financial footing. Both parties acknowledge Medicare is quickly approaching insolvency, and Paul Ryan believes we must act if this program is going to deliver on the promises made to current and future seniors."
Ryan was first elected to the U.S. House in 1998, and has been handily re-elected six times. Zerban is a former supervisor on the Kenosha County Board.
District has a new look
The 1st Congressional District has new boundaries this year in the wake of redistricting prompted by population shifts in the 2010 census. The district includes all of Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties, as well as western Rock County and southern Waukesha and Milwaukee counties.
Ryan is allowed to run for both Congress and vice president at once. If he were to win both seats, a special election would be held in the Congressional district.
Members of Congress serve two-year terms and earn $174,000 annually.
There is also a Libertarian candidate running in the race, Keith Deschler, who did not return a message requesting an interview sent through his campaign Facebook page.
On that page, Deschler writes: "I want to Save America...and I want America to begin Saving for its financial future again...and I want America to join my campaign to LIVE FREE..."
Deschler is a factor worker in Sturtevant. He has run unsuccessfully for state Assembly three times.
Update: Deschler later contacted a Patch reporter. He provided this comment: "My main reason for running is to promote the balancing of the federal budget now, and not 28 years down the road (Ryan), or some undetermined time in the future(Zerban). I want to cut spending substantially across the board, not just limit the increases a few percentage points. I also want to replace the complex and counterproductive tax code with the FairTax, a sales tax with a prebate to insure that no one is taxed on basic necessities up to the poverty line. I want to use the prebate as a savings account that can be added to on a regular basis, and be used to encourage savings for emergencies, retirement, health care, major purchases, etc. I also want much less regulation of business, much less intrusion into your personal life, end the wars overseas, reform the entitlements to insure a basic safety net at a much lower cost, return to free market health care, and decentralize power from Washington to the states. Ryan does aspects of this to a point, but his measures don't go nearly far enough to balance the budget and pay off the national debt(another $11 trillion added by 2040 to the debt)."