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Education, big farms topics at Marklein, Novak session
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MONROE - State lawmakers Howard Marklein and Todd Novak heard feedback on topics including public education and the large-scale farm industry from local citizens during a listening session Friday afternoon in Monroe.

Marklein, the Wisconsin senator representing District 17, traveled throughout the day alongside fellow Republican Novak, who represents the 51st Assembly District. The pair visited Dodgeville and Argyle before making their final stop of the day in Monroe.

Nearly two dozen people came prepared with comments and questions to fill their allotted five minutes of discussion time. Themes which remained consistent throughout the listening session were the growing industry of super farms, the decline in quality in public education, income disparity and the division between political parties.


Public education was one topic closely felt for a few speakers, who introduced themselves as former educators. Jerry Mortimer was one: He expressed gratitude to lawmakers for increasing aid to schools, but questioned details of the plan that does not give schools an increase in dollar amounts toward students until the 2016-17 school year.

"I think we have a lot of rural schools in danger," Mortimer said.

Others echoed similar concerns regarding public schools with smaller numbers than urban areas. Marklein said he supports public schools, and said he, his wife and his children are all products of that type of a system.

"I want our public school systems to thrive," Marklein said.

A number of speakers also voiced discontent with the idea that money from taxes paid by state residents was going to vouchers for charter schools instead of funding public school systems.

Income and taxes

While some said they primarily hoped to see more security for middle-class workers, others voiced their approval at the idea of a higher income tax with an accompanying lower property tax. One speaker touched on the American Legislative Exchange Council as being particularly lethal to the concept of keeping big money out of politics, another topic given some attention during the session. The group says it is the nation's largest nonpartisan organization made up of state legislators who join on a voluntary basis. It describes itself as a council which combines legislators with businesses, scholars and others to provide a diverse forum. However, it is seen by many as a thinly-veiled method to allow politicians to take money directly from corporations in order to fuel the businesses' desires rather than best represent everyday citizens.

With what a few referred to as a "growing income inequality" among state workers, speakers also touched on Act 10 as a measure which demonized teachers, dragging education down in quality as it limited the number of future graduates becoming teachers. The state measure limited bargaining rights for unions, affecting a number of workers' groups in the state.

Big farm industry

At least five of the dozen speakers at the session brought the representatives' attention back to large-scale farms. George Vernon spoke of a farm, which has expanded over time near his home. Vernon said since the farm has been operating at a large capacity, the nitrate measurement in the family well has doubled. At the rate of 7 parts per million, Vernon said the water is now dangerous for his infant granddaughter to drink.

"This idea that big agri-business outweighs local farms isn't going to work," he said.

A former farmer said the large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations verge on "communism" and does not agree they should be present. Others voiced their opinions at the property values, and general health in the area declining with the inclusion of super farms. They told the representatives to respect those family farms who were already in place before the large business farms began their operations in the area and to protect residents.


Mortimer began his time slot with talk of partisanship and dismay over the idea of closing off an open-records requirement for lawmakers. He said Wisconsin citizens should have a government they can trust. The Government Accountability Board was included in every discussion surrounding a lack of representation "across the aisle." Attendees showed support for the organization that investigates activity in politics for wrongdoing, with sentiments echoing the need for further evaluation before making changes to the entity. Phyliss Ziegler voiced concerns about the two Republican representatives being able to work as a team with others in session and "accurately represent all citizens of their districts" regardless of whether "we were the ones who voted for you."

Marklein and Novak took the comments in stride, providing feedback in a limited capacity. They also agreed when attendees voiced the need for redistricting to make partisanship less overreaching in districts, leaving lawmakers more beholden to represent the people so they aren't voted out of their office the next term.