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Candidates weigh in as election looms
Hopefuls focus on health care, roads, education

MONROE — For candidates running in the state Senate and Assembly races, a handful of topics have dominated conversations with voters about the upcoming election Nov. 6, but one has prevailed during these talks: health care. 

Rep. Todd Novak, a republican running for his incumbent seat in the 51st Assembly District, has the subject as one of four core issues in his campaign. He co-authored the Wisconsin Healthcare Stability Plan, which is meant to help reduce the costs of premiums for consumers who receive insurance on the individual market by 2020 by ensuring there will be more than one carrier in regions of the state where there had not been before. 

He also expressed frustration over a bill meant to protect those who want to keep insurance despite pre-existing conditions that passed in the Assembly, but failed in the state Senate. The bill would protect those with pre-existing conditions even if the lawsuit being brought forward by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration to deem the Affordable Healthcare Act unconstitutional is successful. 

“It’s unfortunate that it’s become a partisan issue,” Novak said, noting that it will be an important issue for lawmakers to consider in the next legislative session. 

For state Senate candidate Kriss Marion, it shifted a campaign. She started out with a focus on fixing roads and ensuring clean water, but quickly found in talking to people that health care has been on the minds of many people within the 17th Senate District. But not just physical health; a number of people are concerned over mental health in the face of high numbers of farm bankruptcies and opioid addiction. 

“There’s kind of this underlying sadness about where we’re at,” Marion said. “We need to become a consumer advocate” and focus on a “crisis of behavioral health,” she said. 

Instead of working to remove the ACA, Marion said the best option would be to take Medicaid expansion funding from the federal government to improve the market for residents.

Incumbent Sen. Howard Marklein has sided with the governor’s decision to only partially expand the ACA coverage within the state. Marklein has said in speaking with voters that the topic on nearly everyone’s mind is property taxes. Not so much what they’re allocated to, from county to schools to municipalities, but that the overall number is kept low. But Marion, his opponent, said Marklein’s priorities are misguided if his goal is to help those people who want lowered tax rates.

“If Marklein is concerned about property taxes, he should have voted to close the dark store loophole,” she said, referencing lawsuits brought by large retail companies which argue that the total value of the business should be based on the sale of previously unsuccessful businesses which were vacant when sold rather than the cost of constructing the building and the business’ income potential. 

Democrat Jeff Wright, who is running for the 51st Assembly District against Novak, referenced the loophole in his own criticism of his opponent. On Sept. 6, Jim Walton, who serves on the Walmart Board of Directors, contributed $1,000 to Novak’s campaign. 

Currently, Walmart is suing Monroe under the dark store argument, and if they win, Wright said it translates to higher taxes for residents because of the loophole. 

“That’s not working for rural Wisconsin,” Wright said. 

Though he has said his campaign focuses on a number of issues, as an assistant school principal, Wright believes the school funding formula needs to be addressed to “decrease a reliance on referenda” and on local property taxes. 

“We need to find a new way to support rural schools,” Wright said.

Education was the one topic which all of the candidates mostly agreed. The way in which public schools are funded has affected rural districts negatively. Marklein serves on the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding and said declining enrollment has impacted rural schools.

“We’ve got to take a good, hard look at the whole funding formula,” Marklein said, echoing Novak, who said roughly all of the school districts he represents continue to return to referendum questions to fund operating expenses.

“It tells you this formula is not working,” Novak said.

Marion noted that referendum requests used to be allocated for special projects, but now that districts have to continually depend on elections to fund operations, it has placed added stress on administrators who are already working to gain grant funding and oversee the district.

Candidates also agreed that more funding is needed to address crumbling highways and bridges. 

Wright said safety is a concern, but so is “economic well-being.” Marion noted that “roads are the pipeline to everything.”

Novak said he has been calling for better funding options for years, noting that borrowing to fund infrastructure needs to end and a stable budget option needs to be put in place. 

“It needs to be done,” Novak said. “I’m tired of all of the money going to the east side of the state.”

Neither Novak nor Marklein, both Republicans, indicated concern over the current political climate affecting their races. Marklein said he will work hard to represent his constituents regardless of partisan politics. 

“I’m a proven commodity,” Marklein said. “Nobody in the legislature has done more for rural broadband than I have. I’ve been effective.”

Novak said he knows every race could mean the end of his tenure as Assemblyman. 

“I’m always concerned about losing my seat in this district,” Novak said, noting voters’ independent position on elections. “I never go into a race thinking, ‘I’ve got this in the bag.’”

And neither Marion nor Wright, both Democrats, expressed reliance on a “blue wave,” instead preferring to hear a variety of viewpoints to more accurately represent the people.

“I want to work for everybody in our district,” Wright said. “I’ll stand up for rural Wisconsin — in a different way.”

Marion said she prefers the independence of the area. 

“I want to work in a district that’s independent thinking,” Marion said. “I don’t want to be obligated to a partisan agenda, or to a party.”

Both also championed a need for change, noting their opponents’ time in office and a feeling by voters that little has been accomplished. 

“I have a lot of excitement for the future of southwest Wisconsin,” Marion said. “I think we can totally turn this ship around if we invest in local communities.”