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Democratic Candidates for Congress Kaleka and Zerban on the Issues

Aug. 12 primary winner will face Paul Ryan in November election

Jul. 16, 2014
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Wisconsin’s First Congressional District has been represented by conservative Republican Paul Ryan for 15 years, but it’s a swing district with deep Democratic roots and only a slight GOP advantage.

Two Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination on Tuesday, Aug. 12, filmmaker Amar Kaleka and businessman Rob Zerban. Both argue that they are more in touch with the district’s needs than Ryan, who is more focused on crafting right-wing budget proposals than delivering for his constituents. Both candidates spoke to the Shepherd about the top issues facing the country.


Amar Kaleka

Franklin resident Amar Kaleka is an Emmy-award winning documentary filmmaker who was born in India, moved to Wisconsin as a child and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. His family first moved to Germantown, then to the North Side and South Side of Milwaukee before settling in Franklin. Kaleka is the son of Satwant Singh Kaleka, who died in the 2012 Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek. The loss of his father spurred him to become an advocate for gun responsibility. He frequently met with members of Congress to help to promote a bill that would require universal background checks on gun purchases. The bill failed, the result of elected officials being “bullied by special interest groups like the NRA,” Kaleka told the Shepherd.

That experience inspired him to run for Congress.

“After two years of going back and forth, I realized that [elected officials] don’t care what you say,” Kaleka said. “I said, if we can’t change the laws, then let’s change the lawmakers.”

Topping Kaleka’s list of priorities is stimulating the economy by reforming the immigration system, raising the minimum wage to $11.47 an hour, closing corporate tax loopholes and reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, which regulated commercial banks.

Kaleka said he supported an $11.47 hourly minimum wage over the current proposal of $10.10, since that’s the amount full-time workers need to earn to rise above the poverty level.

“There are certain things we can compromise over, but not that,” Kaleka said.

Kaleka said he backed universal background checks on gun purchases, “and that’s where I’d stop right now. Some things are so controversial that even moving an inch on them is a cataclysmic shift.”

He said he supported a Reagan-style amnesty for undocumented immigrants that would allow those already in the country to become part of the system. He also is promoting a 4-4-8 plan, which would allow immigrants with a student visa to stay in the U.S. for another four years to work. After eight years in the country, they could apply for citizenship.

“In effect, we would be keeping and retaining a lot of the intellectual talent that we bring to America.”

To learn more about Amar Kaleka, go to votekaleka.org.


Rob Zerban

Kenosha entrepreneur Rob Zerban created two companies in the food industry and said he would utilize his business experience as a member of Congress. He ran against Paul Ryan in 2012, when Ryan also ran for vice president. That race was the most expensive congressional race in Wisconsin history, with Ryan raising $5 million to Zerban’s $2 million.

Zerban said he would like to get money out of politics, since it forces elected officials to raise money nonstop for their re-election campaigns.

“I think legislators need to focus on doing their jobs and not fundraising,” Zerban said.

He said he supported a $10.10 minimum wage, since he paid his employees more than $10 an hour before he sold his second company in 2008. He added that he would prefer to see the minimum wage rise to $15 an hour, which he said was a reachable target for businesses.

“You have to balance benefits and the bottom line,” Zerban said. “You can do it. I did it. It’s a matter of priorities and making sure that you take care of your employees who are helping you to take care of your customers. I found that it was a recipe for success.”

He said he’d like to preserve the social safety net by ending the cap on Social Security payroll taxes on incomes that exceed $113,000.

“We need to scrap the cap,” Zerban said.

Although he supports the Affordable Care Act, he supports creating a Medicare-for-all system that provides universal health coverage with low administrative overhead and high quality of care.

“I support this from a businessman’s perspective,” Zerban said. “When I was paying for private insurance I saw my rates going up year after year and that’s really hard to budget for.”

Zerban’s wife, Cornelia, a German native, became a naturalized citizen last week. He said he supported most aspects of the Senate’s version of immigration reform, which provided a path to citizenship for undocumented residents.

“Some of the hurdles were too high and would hamper its objective to give people a meaningful path to citizenship,” Zerban said.

Zerban said the district’s economy could be stimulated by promoting its assets and investing in infrastructure and intangible benefits, such as a healthy Lake Michigan.

To learn more about Rob Zerban, go to robzerban.com.


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