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Shilling, Feehan spar in 32nd Senate debate

LA CROSSE, Wis. - The candidates in the 32nd State Senate race squared off Tuesday in their only debate. It was held on the UW-La Crosse campus.

Incumbent Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) is facing Republican challenger Bill Feehan in a race that will play a big role in shaping which party will control the State Senate.

The candidates touched on a wide-range of issues, including sand mining, job creation, and property taxes.

The first question, however, was about something Feehan says was an unfair attack.

"I think that it is sad that politics has descended to this level in our community," said Feehan.

Feehan was referring to a flyer Shilling's campaign sent out to thousands of people in the district. It accuses Feehan of being an abuser, citing his arrest in a domestic incident 12 years ago.

Shilling says it's something voters need to know about.


"Violence against women is never acceptable. I don't care if it happened one year ago or 12 years ago. My opponent pleaded guilty to a charge in this case and he expects us to believe he is innocent," said Shilling.

Feehan points out he pleaded guilty to a lesser charger of disorderly conduct and that a battery charge against him was dismissed.

"Senator Shilling seeks to put me on trial for a charge that was dismissed 12 years ago by the district attorney and nobody knows what really happened that night except me and the women who was involved," said Feehan.

The candidates sparred on most of the questions, including education funding.

Shilling says she'd like to restore many of the cuts put in place under the current budget.

"Unfortunately, the corrections budget now exceeds the university systems budget. What does that say about priorities? I think we need to make sure we are investing in our young people," she said.

Feehan says the cuts were necessary to balance the state's deficit.

"I still haven't heard an answer as to where the money comes from. I'd like to know who's taxes will be raised or what other parts of the state budget will be cut to pay for these increases in funding," he said.

Moderator Joe Heim, a political science professor at UW-La Crosse, expects the race to be close. He says the recent redistricting added more Republican voters to the district.

"This is a targeted district....one of the four or five most important districts that are being targeted by the Republicans for possible takeover," said Heim.

Shilling won the seat in a recall election in August 2011. At the time, she defeated Dan Kapanke with 57% of the vote.

If you were not able to make it down to see the debate in person, News 8 is broadcasting it on Saturday October 27th. It will air at 10:35 p.m.

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