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77th Assembly District forum

The four Democratic candidates for the 77th Assembly District, from left, Shelia Stubbs, Mark Garthwaite, Shabnam Lotfi and John Imes, participate in a forum Tuesday.

Four Democratic candidates for a Madison-area state Assembly seat made their case Tuesday for why voters should choose them in the Aug. 14 primary that will decide the next representative of the 77th District.

Dane County Board Sup. Shelia Stubbs, immigration lawyer Shabnam Lotfi, Wisconsin Environmental Initiative executive director John Imes and Wisconsin Brewers Guild executive director Mark Garthwaite weighed in on issues ranging from electoral redistricting to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency at a forum in the Village on Park on Madison’s South Side.

The 77th Assembly District covers the UW-Madison campus, Shorewood Hills and much of the western and southern parts of Madison. The seat will be vacated by Democratic state Rep. Terese Berceau, who was first elected in 1998, as she announced last winter that she would not seek re-election on Nov. 6.

On a question about how the Assembly candidates would address allegations of Wisconsin political districts being drawn to unfairly benefit Republicans, Lotfi, Garthwaite and Imes all expressed support for creating a nonpartisan commission to draw the district lines, suggesting a similar model to one used in Iowa.

Stubbs touted her co-sponsorship of a law the County Board passed in 2016 that established a nonpartisan body to draw the County Board’s districts, saying “elected officials should not be choosing their constituents.”

Another question dealt with immigration policy, increased national criticism of ICE and how to make immigrants feel better protected.

Stubbs said she agrees with the position of U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, that ICE should be disbanded, while Imes said he believes ICE needs to be fundamentally changed or disbanded.

Lotfi brought up a desire to encourage local protection for recipients of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shields young migrants brought into the country illegally from deportation. Garthwaite acknowledged the topic is best addressed at a higher level of government and urged people to re-elect Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and support the eventual Democratic nominee for governor.

Asked how they would make changes to benefit communities of color, all four candidates said increasing education spending is crucial.

Lotfi questioned whether property taxes should be such a major source of funding for education. Garthwaite suggested a tax on frac sand could generate a large revenue stream for school spending.

Stubbs said money for prisons and the Department of Corrections should be redirected for education, and Imes criticized the state manufacturing and agriculture tax credit he said prioritizes special interests over students.

The winner of the Aug. 14 primary is almost certain to represent the heavily Democratic district as no Republicans or others are running.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.