Two candidates are squaring off in next week’s Democratic primary election to advance in the race for Wisconsin’s Seventh Congressional District seat.

Mary Hoeft and Joel Lewis are vying for the position currently held by incumbent Republican Sean Duffy, who’s also being challenged in the primary.

Hoeft, 67, and Lewis, 34, both see creating and retaining jobs, raising the minimum wage and affordable higher education among the top issues in the campaign, and the candidates pledge to be transparent and accessible if ultimately elected to the seat.

Hoeft, a teacher at UW-Barron County, said she has seen students work full-time jobs to help pay for their education and sometimes assist their family members who have been hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs in the state.

She said tax structure should be changed to eliminate loopholes that encourage outsourcing work overseas.

“I realized that Wisconsin ranks No. 1 in states with the most rapidly disappearing middle class and that poverty in Wisconsin right now is at its 30-year all-time high, and I said, ‘My goodness, somebody has to be in Congress who cares about what’s happening,’” she said. “Sean Duffy, our present congressman, is with Wall Street – his attention is No. 1 Wall Street. We need someone who’s going to serve Main Street.”

Lewis, a Marathon County Board supervisor who conducts homecare work for his grandparents, said he was drawn into the race after being unable to connect with Duffy in his Washington, D.C., office while lobbying on issues of Social Security and Medicare.

He said issues of economic inequality and working to invest in more green energy jobs are atop his platform. Lewis, like Hoeft, wants to raise the minimum wage and move toward a living wage, although he notes the impact raising the federal standard can have on small businesses.

“With economic inequality, I believe we need to raise the minimum wage – in either phases like other states have done … or there’s also ways you can tie minimum wage to profits of the companies,” Lewis said. “Basically, in short, the Walmarts of the world can afford a $15 minimum wage, but the small mom-and-pop shops down from Walmart probably cannot.

“We need to do whatever we can to support the small businesses while making the very big businesses accountable to their workers.”

Hoeft said she is pleased that the Affordable Care Act was passed because it insured millions who didn’t have health insurance coverage, but she also noted she wants to push for a single-payer system because it’s more affordable than private insurance coverage.

She said she’ll use her 45 years of experience as an educator and her collaborative personality if she moves on in the primary and is elected in the fall.

“We have to have somebody in Congress who doesn’t see in just black and white but who can bring these political factions together,” she said. “That’s all of my training – everything I teach in the university classroom is about finding common ground, finding where your opponents could possibly agree with you and solving it so that your opponents are going to find to gain in that solution.”

Lewis said he supports treatment for those addicted to drugs and affected by mental illness to help ease the burden on the criminal justice system, and he, like Hoeft, reiterated his position against the influence of “big money” in elections and the political process.

“I’m willing to listen – I’m willing to listen to people who maybe think I’m wrong,” he said. “I’m representing all 720,000 members of the Seventh Congressional District if I win.”

The Seventh Congressional District includes the towns of LaGrange, Lincoln, Scott and Byron and villages of Wyeville and Warrens in Monroe County and the towns of Knapp, Bear Bluff and City Point in Jackson County.

Duffy has held the seat since January 2011, when he was elected to replace retiring Democrat David Obey.

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