There is a contested primary on the Republican side for the District 62 State Assembly Race. Republican Rep. Tom Weatherston announced he would not run for re-election. The district stretches across the northern half of Racine County.
Former state Rep. John Lehman, who hopes to return to Madison, is running unopposed as a Democrat.
There will be a primary race between Racine Unified School Board President Robert Wittke and John Leiber, former president of the Caledonia Parks and Recreation Commission.
Work: Retired educator and retired legislator
Family: Three adult daughters, 6 grandchildren
How long in the district? Decades. (Even before the gerrymandering.)
Political experience: Racine Common Council, 1988-2000, former president; Wisconsin State Assembly Representative, elected 1996-2004; Wisconsin State Senate, elected 2006 and special election 2012
John S. Lieber 30 second bio
Work: Former legislative aide
Family: No children
How long in the district? About 30 years
Political experience: Former President of Caledonia Parks and Rec Commission, Housing Authority of Racine County – Commissioner, Former Assembly Staffer
Robert Wittke 30 second bio
Work: Tax professional working with Fortune 1000 companies
Family: Four children ages 16, 18, 29, and 31
How long in the district? I have lived my entire life in Racine County mainly in Caledonia and Wind Point.
Political experience: In my second year as President of the Board of Education of the Racine Unified School District. Elected to the Board in April 2017.
Racine County Eye asked all the candidates about Foxconn, education funding, environmental concerns, and rail transportation. Here are their responses.
Should the state of Wisconsin and its agencies assert more control of the Foxconn Technology Group project? Please explain the rationale behind your answer.
Lehman: Yes. While most Racine area citizens support a large company coming into our county to provide jobs, in this case, the per-job cost to taxpayers ($306,000), total taxpayer payout ($4.5 billion) and payback terms are nothing more than a gift to a foreign company. Way out of line. Very poor deal for taxpayers.
Lieber: The state should fulfill its obligations, while also making sure Foxconn lives up to its end of the contract. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify.” Both sides have acted in good faith so far, I see no reason to change course at this point.
Wittke: No, because a strong foundation has been put in place to facilitate the success of the development and protect the taxpayers of Wisconsin. The incentive plan is a performance-based agreement that only allows tax credits when development and job creation benchmarks are met. Environmental protections were strengthened, and the project must comply with state and federal air, water quality, solid and hazardous waste standards. Wisconsin made a good deal that provides incentives in return for economic development and local jobs. Business owners are telling me there is already an amazing impact on the area. It is imperative our next state assembly representative be prepared to address the future needs of the project, surrounding municipalities, and related development. Let’s make sure that promises are fulfilled, and everyone benefits from this great economic opportunity.
What grade would you give the state on preparing a workforce for the future? Why?
Lehman: B. While our universities, tech colleges, and high schools generally do very good work we continue to struggle to get members of low-income families into the workforce. And all educational institutions have to constantly scramble to prepare students for an ever-changing future.
Lieber: I would give Wisconsin a B+, we have a world-class university and a great technical college system, but there is more we can do. I would like to see a greater focus in coming years on promoting careers in the trades. With the new potential for manufacturing jobs in our area, Wisconsin residents should be the first choice for employers.
Wittke: If grading on a curve, then I would say a B because I feel there is room for improvement. We have made significant strides from where we were at in 2010. State investments in workforce development programs are addressing the challenge of connecting those looking for work with companies that are hiring. Businesses in the construction trades, manufacturing, healthcare, and other service industries cannot find enough qualified employees. Through my role on the Board of Education, I have direct experience in transforming our workforce development at the high school level (Academies of Racine) aligning it with local business, community organizations, technical colleges, and university partners so our students are trained, mentored, and prepared to join the workforce with 21st century skillsets. We must continue to evolve our training programs and curriculum to match the technology advances in the workplace.
True or false: The State of Wisconsin is doing a good job funding education needs? Why?
Lehman: False. The up and down inconsistency of the Walker administration and the politics played with the university tuition freeze make it very difficult for our educational institutions to excel. Problems with the school funding formula and revenue caps on public schools send more and more districts to a referendum.
Lieber: True. Wisconsin is now spending more in actual dollars on K-12 education than ever before. The problem is not the funding level, but how the money is spent. We need to do a better job of making sure the money gets to the classroom, and not siphoned off by a bloated school administration.
Wittke: There is too much focus on the amount of funding and not enough on getting results from the way that it is spent. As the President of the Board of Education, I have a working knowledge of the intricacies of the District’s $300 million budget and understand the importance of making evidence-based decisions in allocating resources for improving and sustaining student achievement. We need to ensure parents have a choice where their children go to school, protect the taxpayer, and invest in programs that make a difference. Teachers need resources to be effective in the classroom and students need hands-on programs to develop skills that will enable them to be more career ready when they graduate. The issue is not the funding, the challenge is managing and spending it in an effective manner. We must continue investing in our technical colleges because they play a critical role in building our workforce. I also support extending the current Wisconsin University system tuition freeze so the cost of a four-year college does not overburden our students and families.
Do you consider the loss of reasonably priced health insurance coverage for many more citizens a crisis in Wisconsin?
Lehman: Governor Walker and the Republicans not accepting federal Medicaid expansion has really hurt many folks. Accepting those dollars would free up General Purpose Revenue dollars to support provider reimbursement rates. Wisconsin hospitals are suffering from the cost of charity care and writing off bad debt for, by one estimate, 4500 patients every day. By not doing its part, Wisconsin state government is costing all of us more through increase health care premiums.
Lieber: Last year the Assembly passed a bill that would stop insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, but the bill died in the Senate. I look forward to working on a similar bill next year, so that Wisconsin residents who have been sick, with congenital diseases, cancer, or other serious illnesses, can receive the health coverage they need.
Wittke: As I meet with people around the District, I often hear about their challenge affording rising health insurance prices. Whether it is retirees, small business owners, or parents, nearly everyone is feeling the pain. We must be proactive in finding a solution. I support the provisions of the Health Care Stability Plan as a step in the right direction to decrease healthcare insurance costs and stabilize coverage in the state. First, Wisconsin’s application for a 1332 Waiver as a means to begin lowering premiums for people in the individual market. Secondly, legislation to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Third, obtaining a permanent waiver to support SeniorCare so that seniors have access to affordable drug prescriptions.
Are environmental protections taking a back seat to business growth?
Lehman: Yes. If you want an example of how readily the Republicans “genuflect” to business interests just look at the fight we had in 2013 over their mine deregulation law that Gogebic Taconite insisted they needed for Iron and Ashland Counties. I saw first hand that Walker and the Republican legislature showed a shameless disregard for wetlands, tribal rights and water quality in general. Look at CAFO legislation and groundwater regulation in central Wisconsin. Look at Foxconn. Republicans can not be trusted to preserve air, water, and groundwater for the future.
Lieber: No. Like anything, there should be a balance of competing interests. Current law should be enforced, but I believe that the state can do more to address the concerns of residents around a new or existing development.
Wittke: I don’t believe that these two goals have to be mutually exclusive. We can protect our communities and natural resources without compromising economic growth. We shouldn’t have to choose between creating jobs and saving the environment. For example, it was reported in 2017 the United States had the largest decline in CO2 emissions in the world while achieving record low unemployment. Your State Representative should be focused on creating a positive environment for small business and local job growth while remembering our natural heritage.
Has the state abandoned rail as a human transportation solution? Please explain your answer.
Lehman: It seems that way. Walker nixed Milwaukee-Madison rail and while we fought hard, we did not succeed in getting commuter rail funded in southeastern Wisconsin. We are left with the more limited Amtrak service to Chicago and the Twin Cities.
Lieber: There hasn’t been much talk lately about new plans for passenger rail. Any improvements to make a viable passenger service would cost a great deal. With the current debate about how to pay for our existing infrastructure, I don’t see any new rail projects being a priority in the near future.
Wittke: It is not that the state has abandoned rail. I believe the state has been focused on addressing other transportation system priorities. We are already facing a financial challenge funding our current transportation system needs without considering rail. My focus is on protecting the taxpayer as we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. We need to finish the I-94 freeway improvements, Zoo Interchange rebuild, and some of our local highway projects before we begin to divert funds and increase taxes for rail expansion.