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Aug. 10--Voters in Tuesday's primary will choose between three distinct brands of Republicans vying for the GOP spot on the ballot in Wisconsin's3rd Congressional District: a Ron Paul-style libertarian concerned about attacks on freedom; a Tea Party constitutionalist calling for impeachment; and a self-described Reagan Republican who says he just wants to fix the problems plaguing the nation.
On the ballot are Ken Van Doren, a retired contractor from Mauston, Chippewa Falls attorney Karen Mueller, and Tony Kurtz, an organic farmer from Prairie du Chien.
All are relative newcomers to politics, and all agree on one thing: the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare reform law commonly known as Obamacare, must go.
The winner will take on Rep. Ron Kind, a La Crosse Democrat vying for his 10th term in Congress.
The least ideological of the bunch, Kurtz is a 47-year-old retired military officer with a "get it done" attitude.
With endorsements from prominent Republicans like former Sen. Dan Kapanke and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, he has the appearance of party favorite, though he bristles at the notion he is an insider.
"I'm considered the establishment, which just mind boggles me, because I just don't see myself as the establishment," he said.
Admittedly the most moderate of the three, Kurtz is a pragmatist whose primary focus is political dysfunction.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, Kurtz spent 20 years in the Army, serving as a warrant officer specializing in aviation safety, and now operates an organic crop farm in Prairie du Chien as well as a military contracting firm that trains accident investigators.
Kurtz said Obamacare, the debt and jobs are the issues he hears most often while campaigning.
He would work to repeal the first, instead limiting patients' abilities to sue doctors and allowing the purchase of health insurance across state lines.
"Competition is going to drive these prices down. Where consumers go and pick what they want," he said. "You do that with your auto, you do that with your homeowners insurance .... Why can't you do that for health insurance?"
Kurtz says it will take across-the-board cuts to bring federal spending in line.
That will include cuts to healthcare and defense, which together account for more than $1.4 trillion in spending, or 41 percent of the federal budget. But it's foolish, he said, to think spending can't be controlled by instilling a culture of frugality throughout the federal bureaucracy.
"Those little drops in the bucket, over time, they do add up," he said.
A self-described "Reagan Republican," he's never run for office and admits that until recently he was among those who had given up on politics. In the end, he said, frustration got the better of him.
"Everybody does a good job of pointing at each other. The Democrats are guilty of it and the Republicans are guilty of looking at each other -- it's their fault," Kurtz said. "In the military we couldn't do that. We had to get stuff done."
Positioning himself as the outsider in the race, Van Doren, 66, is a retired building contractor and tool salesman from Mauston who thinks his largely libertarian platform will appeal to some on the left as well as those on the right.
He opposes foreign intervention and decries the rapid expansion of government power within our borders.
"We're losing our freedom," Van Doren said.
From warrantless searches to high incarceration rates, indefinite detention and the Patriot Act, Van Doren believes government has trampled the Fourth Amendment.
"We no longer can say we are becoming a police state," he said. "We are a police state."
Van Doren, who served one term on the Mauston city council, is a member of the Juneau County GOP and has worked on other campaigns, including Mark Neumann's unsuccessful 2012 Senate bid. He describes himself as a "conservatarian" -- a libertarian who is anti-abortion and supports border security.
He favors regulatory reforms throughout the federal government, with the Environmental Protection Agency top among his targets, but Van Doren's primary objective is the repeal of Obamacare, which he considers both an assault on freedom and the latest example of government involvement pushing up medical costs.
Van Doren said the law should be phased out and replaced with a free market system.
"Let the market work and I know we'll have a lot less expensive care and probably a lot better care," he said.
He would also work to repeal the federal gas tax while promoting the use of coal and nuclear fuel and eliminating the EPA.
"Polluters should answer directly to property owners in court for the damages they create -- not to Washington," his website states.
While not a pacifist, Van Doren said he opposes the "senseless wars" of the past decade as well as U.S. intervention in foreign governments.
"We can't be so involved in the internal affairs of other countries," he said. "Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein were not good guys. But I'll tell you what, both those countries, Libya and Iraq, were better off under these bad guys than they are now."
Defending the Constitution
At the far right is Mueller, a strict constitutionalist who is a follower of Justice Antonin Scalia and whose positions tend to align with the Tea Party, though she has no official affiliation.
She has called for impeachment of President Barack Obama and says Congress must stop him from abusing his executive authority even if that means continued gridlock.
"That is what our founding fathers intended," she said. "The founding fathers did not intend for legislation or change to be easy."
Among her top priorities are securing the border -- whether through the addition of "many more" agents, military deployment or building a fence -- and deporting the estimated 11.5 million people here illegally.
"If we don't do that then citizenship in this country means nothing," she said. "And we no longer have a sovereign nation."
Unaccompanied minors whose parents don't claim them, she said, should be put up for adoption by U.S. families.
Mueller, 59, is a staunch supporter of First Amendment rights, which she says are under attack by the federal government, as well as gun rights.
She would work to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which she said has resulted in higher costs and has been "a major drag on our economy" and which she views as "a craftily designed Trojan horse, ready to destroy the constitutional rights of the American people once fully implemented."
Mueller instead favor legislation to encourage Americans to open health savings accounts and require co-pays and deductibles for all insurance plans.
On her website, Mueller advocates privatization of the Veterans Administration, abolishing the Department of Education, Department of Energy and possibly the Department of Agriculture.
She is against solar and wind energy and favors an energy policy that promotes fossil fuels and nuclear power.
A strong opponent of abortion, she is endorsed by both Pro-life Wisconsin and Right to Life Wisconsin.
Mueller said her training as an attorney qualify her to draft legislation and determine which laws are appropriate and which are unconstitutional. She also hold a degree in finance and has two years of nursing school, which she said would help her to craft better laws.
A cash disadvantage
Whichever candidate emerges from the primary faces a tough battle.
Since first winning the seat in 1996, Kind has had only one close election, edging out state Sen. Dan Kapanke in 2010 by just 9,542 votes in a three-way election where Libertarian Kevin Barrett got 8,001 votes.
And the district has since grown more Democratic as the GOP shifted more conservative voters into the 7th Congressional District to help Rep. Sean Duffy.
Despite his newcomer status, Kurtz has proven himself the best fundraiser in the group, garnering about $57,000 in donations, which he's bolstered with more than $55,000 from his own pockets.
He acknowledges his primary cash advantage -- he has about $35,000 on hand -- pales against Kind's nearly $1.4 million war chest but believes a strong volunteer network will allow him to compete. He has a campaign manager on board, along with one of the first GOP candidates in the race, UW-La Crosse graduate Chris Anderson.
Van Doren trails in the cash race. Raising just under $19,000, he has only about $2,000 in the bank. But he embraces the underdog role.
"You have to take advantage and play the cards," he said. "Nobody has done more with less than Ken Van Doren."
Mueller has had the least success in fundraising. She has largely bankrolled her campaign, contributing nearly $13,000 of the $16,522 she has raised, spending all but about $1,000.
Mueller is also the only one of the three without a campaign manager.
As for plans to put together a staff should she win on Tuesday, Mueller said that would depend on her fundraising success.
Mueller said she assumes she would get support from the state GOP, but admits "I haven't spoken directly to them."
(c)2014 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)
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