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November 15, 2018

11/1/2018 1:25:00 PM
Assemblymen candidates give their point of view

Questions and answers from the 51st Assembly District candidates.
Todd Novak is the incumbent and Jeff Wright the challenger. They squared off in the last election.
What do you see as the state of public education in Wisconsin and what would you do to improve it?
In the 2015-17 state budget, I voted "no" because it did not provide enough funding for schools. We've made important strides since then and I was happy to support the most recent state budget that made historic investments in K12 education. However, there is still much more that needs to be done. The number one thing we can provide to the next generation of children is an excellent education. I am supportive of even more funding going to classrooms and am also eager to see the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. This Commission is taking a deeper dive into fixing our school funding formula which needs to be reworked to bring equity in funding to rural schools. Our school funding formula is severely out of date and we need to find better ways to sustainably fund our rural schools.
Strong public schools are the heart of our communities--essential to both a healthy democracy and a strong economy. It is Wisconsin's high-quality schools that have attracted families, grown businesses, and equipped so many people for success. I am a proud graduate of Wisconsin's public schools and am proud to send my children to local public schools where they are nurtured, encouraged, and challenged every day.
Our schools need to change to meet the challenges of a changing world. When I was in school, I remember being told that I was never going to carry a calculator in my pocket. Now, our cell phones are not only calculators, they give us access to information from all over the world in real time. Improving our schools in this digital era means empowering students to be smart consumers of information.
We also improve our schools by making sure they have the resources to teach all students, regardless of life path. Students should have access to advanced coursework that prepares them for college. Students should have access to equipment and programs that support their immediate entry into careers in our communities. I want to help schools develop programs that match student interest and community need. This may mean advanced manufacturing programs in one community, agri-science opportunities in another, and nursing certification programs in another.
Wisconsin's current school funding formula was created when I was in high school. 25 years later, it no longer works -- especially for rural communities. Districts are forced to rely on referendums to maintain programs. We are creating a system of "haves" and "have-nots" based on which districts pass operating referenda and which do not. Instead, we need to fix the school funding formula at the state level to adequately support our schools and decrease local property taxes.
The 51st Assembly District deserves someone who fights for keeping taxpayer dollars in our public schools, not someone who votes to send our money to unaccountable private schools in other parts of the state.
We are fortunate to live in a state where public schools have long been the center of our communities. For many of our students, the state of public education is strong. We can still do much better for all students -- and supporting our rural schools is one of the main reasons I want to serve you in the state assembly. I believe we can prepare our kids to be ready for every opportunity in the world. I also believe we can make our communities so healthy and vibrant that all kids, whether their journeys started here or some place else, will want to build their own American dreams. Right here. In Wisconsin.
The opioid epidemic is taking its toll in our state. What steps must be taken to fix this?
Rural Wisconsin is not immune to the opioid crisis that is tearing apart our friends and families. That's why I've been an avid supporter of the HOPE agenda - Heroin, Opiate, Prevention and Education Agenda - a bipartisan legislative effort to help end opioid abuse and overdose across our state. Since 2013, 30 bills have passed both houses with broad bipartisan support and were signed into law. We need to continue our collaborative efforts such as this, bringing together lawmakers, experts, addicts, law enforcement and local leaders to put forth policy that will continue to give communities the tools they need to combat the opioid epidemic.
I also believe we need to do more for the rehabilitation of drug offenders and those who suffer from this addiction in order to help solve the problem long term. We need to invest in other options for those struggling, like Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) programs. I have been a strong advocate for more state funding for drug treatment courts, like the two currently operating in Iowa and Green Counties. In the most recent state budget, I championed policies to provide even more opportunities for counties to work with the state to develop these programs.
Opioid addiction affects Wisconsinites of all ages, the rich and the poor, Republicans and Democrats, those living in cities and those living in our rural communities. The number of opioid-related deaths in Wisconsin now exceeds the number of deaths from breast cancer, colon cancer, HIV, firearms, or motor vehicle crashes. Prescription opioid pain relievers contribute to about one-half of the drug overdose deaths in Wisconsin.
The National Safety Council 2018 report gave Wisconsin a grade of "lagging" for our work on ending the opioid epidemic. We have made progress, but still have important work to do. We should take steps to fix this because we are motivated to help our neighbors -- and avoid making this issue political.
Our goal must be to save lives and reclaim lives. Drug addiction should be first viewed as a public health issue, not a criminal issue. Wisconsin needs to adopt opioid prescribing guidelines for the treatment of pain that are based on current knowledge of the risks and benefits of opioid use and alternative non-opioid treatments. Another important step is to expand access to opioid use disorder treatment programs, particularly in rural areas. I will work to expand rehabilitation services and counseling services in counties across the district. Additionally, we need to expand efforts to find alternatives to incarceration for drug abuse crimes that help people reclaim their lives and health.
Wisconsin must also work with medical professionals to control access to opioids, educate physicians and patients, and prevent inappropriate prescribing and medical errors. Wisconsin should continue to increase rural access to naloxone, an overdose antidote. In my current position as a school district administrator, we have worked to bring civic leaders, law enforcement, parents, business people, educators, students, and faith leaders together to coordinate our response and provide education to the entire community about this important topic. No individual group or political party can successfully address this issue alone. I would work to form partnerships to continue to help decrease opioid abuse in Southwest Wisconsin.
What can be done to improve our infrastructure system that seems to be in poor shape in our state? TODD NOVAK (I)
Southwestern Wisconsin needs more rural transportation funding, plain and simple. Transportation infrastructure is a vital piece of our economy and plays a key role in the quality of life of our residents. When our residents drive to the east, we see the construction taking place on urban highways while our roads continue to deteriorate. We need to find a long-term, sustainable solution for transportation. We can begin to accomplish this by taking an all-options-on-the-table approach; there is no silver bullet. We need to continue to look at cost-saving measures and efficiencies to ensure transportation dollars are being spent as responsibly as possible, but we also need to look at options to deal with the lack of sustainable transportation revenues. While bonding for transportation is the lowest it has been in ten years, it cannot be the answer to a long-term solution. Another critical piece to consider is how we can better allocate and distribute funds to our local officials and communities, and grant them more local control and flexibility in determining how those funds should be spent within their own communities. Our local communities will know best how to make use of transportation funds and we need to give them more options to dealing with their transportation priorities.
When I was a kid, I remember crossing back over the state line after family roadtrips and hearing my father proudly boast that Wisconsin had the best roads in the Midwest. You could tell the difference right away. My kids won't hear me make this claim until we make strategic, responsible decisions about investing in our state's infrastructure.
Wisconsin's infrastructure is crumbling and both Democrats and Republicans are to blame. Instead of developing a long-term, sustainable plan to fix our roads and bridges, politicians have misused transportation funds and have relied increasingly on using the state's credit card to pay for road projects. As a result, it is projected that within the next few years, 25 percent of our transportation funds will be used to pay old debt.
This is irresponsible and unsustainable. Decreased support from the state has forced several townships in the 51st District to borrow funds to pay for essential repairs -- a position they do not want to be in. I do not support increased borrowing to address this challenge. Delaying projects is an option only if the decision does not threaten public safety, agriculture, and rural economic development. If we agree that we have a real need to invest more in fixing our state's roads, I feel it is more responsible to find new revenue sources than to spend money we do not have and pass the burden for paying the bills to future budgets.
Another public infrastructure issue is access to reliable, high-speed Internet. This access is key to our rural economic growth, our modern agriculture economy, and our ability to educate ourselves and our children. Wisconsin has done too little, too late to bring high-speed internet to the rural parts of our state. To address this challenge and increase internet access in our area, the state can aggressively increase expansion grants to match those of similar states, eliminate the law that prohibits municipalities from competing in the broadband market (that currently makes it illegal to treat internet like other municipal utilities), and implement a "dig once" policy requiring state road projects to incorporate fiber optic cable in construction when the road is already torn up.
One thing is for sure -- sending the same politicians to Madison isn't working. We need new voices in our state capitol to seriously address this issue and fight to bring our tax dollars back to our communities instead of other parts of the state.
Wisconsin residents are worried about the future of their health insurance and coverage for preexisting conditions. What can be done to help?
Healthcare is expensive, especially for those suffering from serious or chronic health issues. Last session I proudly supported legislation that protected those with preexisting conditions from losing their health insurance. I will continue to support and fight for similar measures in the future. Additionally, I have and will continue to support legislation to help make healthcare more affordable and provide greater access to healthcare, especially for those in rural Wisconsin. Last legislative session, I authored a bill that's estimated to lower insurance premiums for those purchasing in the individual marketplace. I also supported legislation that allowed small businesses, chambers of commerce, or the farm bureau to pool together to buy insurance and drive down the costs for our families and farmers. Healthcare should not be unattainable and I will keep working to make sure those who need it are able to access it.
Worried is an understatement. Rising prescription drug costs, the lack of affordable coverage, and the fear of being kicked off health insurance keep too many of our neighbors up at night. A man in his mid-70s shared with me the nightmare costs for his wife's prescription drugs, her constant pain, and his need to continue to drive school bus to care for her. He bluntly stated, "How can the richest, greatest country in the world not figure out a way to take care of each other?" We have a moral calling to do better.
I believe we can help care for our neighbors by protecting rural healthcare providers. We should accept the federal Medicaid expansion funds to give more Wisconsinites access to care and save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. We need to encourage more physicians to locate to rural Wisconsin. We should also ensure no one is denied care because of a pre-existing condition. It's time that we make healthcare a right instead of a privilege.
My opponent is sure to claim that he will defend and expand access to healthcare. His votes mean more than his words. Mayor/Representative Novak has made it harder to access affordable, quality healthcare. He and his colleagues in Madison voted over and over to refuse millions of dollars that could save lives and save money for Wisconsinites. He has also voted repeatedly against ensuring basic protections that safeguard people with pre-existing conditions, which would make it impossible for them to afford to see a doctor.
How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Does this love extend to making sure a child born with a pre-existing condition can qualify for medical care throughout his life or making sure a man in his mid-70s can take care of his ill wife? I believe it does. I believe you can judge the true health of a society by how it takes care of its most vulnerable. Representative Novak has had the opportunity to take action, but has failed. As state representative, I will prioritize health care access for our community.
NOTE: Todd Novak is a single father of two and besides serving his first term in the assembly is Mayor of the City of Dodgeville. Novak is a Republican.
Jeff Wright, 43, is a Democrat and narrowly lost to Novak in the last election. He is employed by Sauk Prairie Schools and lives in Bear Creek Township. He and his wife have two children, ages six and eight.

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