By Sara Tischauser
The November elections are fast approaching and voters may be trying to get all the information before they cast their votes. To help voters learn more about the candidates running for the representative for the Wisconsin State Assembly District 5, Times Press did a question and answer with the two candidates. Incumbent Jim Steineke, Republican, and challenger Matt Lederer, Democrat, answered questions we asked them and below are their answers to those questions.
What experience do you bring with you for this position?
JS: I’ve been the state representative for this district since 2011, Majority Leader of the state assembly for the last four years.
ML: After obtaining my bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison and my Doctor of Chiropractic degree in upstate New York, I returned home and opened my own small business, a chiropractic practice. I operated that practice in the Fox Cities for almost five years, and I loved taking care of patients and helping them improve their health. Owning this business gave me a firsthand view of the difficulties and rewards of being a small business owner in Wisconsin. I also became acutely aware of the challenges many patients face with access to affordable healthcare. Eventually, I decided to change careers and teach high school science, so I earned my teaching certificate from UW-Oshkosh. Unfortunately, the 2008 housing market crash and Act 10 meant that there was essentially a hiring freeze. So I began to teach as a substitute in Menasha, Freedom, Little Chute and other schools districts. I was also the science teacher for Fox Valley Collaborative Upward Bound program for low income and first-generation college bound high school students. During that time, I saw the struggles our area schools face when dealing with funding shortages and the effects those struggles have on our students.
In 2010, my wife and I became parents of our first child, and I have been a stay-at-home dad ever since. Being closely involved in both my daughters’ lives has made me more aware of the legacy we each leave, and I credit them for giving me a drive to improve this state for their generation.
My experiences as a small business owner, a teacher, and a parent qualify me to understand the needs of Wisconsinites and to prioritize those needs over corporate influences and petty partisanship. And, my education and background as a health care provider and teacher further give me unique insight into two of the biggest issues currently facing our state — health care and education.
Why are you running for the State Assembly?
JS: I’d like to continue to build upon the record of success we have had over the last eight years. If you recall, it was not that long ago that we had record deficits, 9 percent unemployment, skyrocketing taxes and a business environment that had wages stagnating. Today, we have historically low unemployment, budget surpluses, taxes have been held in line and businesses are investing in our state in historic ways.
Beyond these issues, I have worked on legislation that expands the rights of crime victims, enhances Wisconsin’s sporting heritage, sets a course to end homelessness in Wisconsin, reduced building costs for farmers and others, and streamlines government processes.
I would like to continue to work on behalf of my constituents on these issues and more while continuing my record of working across the aisle to get positive results for the whole state.
ML: Like so many voters, I’ve grown frustrated by what I’ve seen coming out of Madison. And I’m ready to do something about it. Current GOP politicians, including my opponent, are not listening to the voters because they’ve drawn gerrymandered maps to keep themselves in safe districts. That means they don’t have to listen to viewpoints in the middle or on the other side of the aisle, which just increases extreme positions and partisanship. On top of that, there is so much outside money pouring into their campaigns that they are beholden to corporate special interests instead of us. This isn’t right, and it’s not healthy for our democracy. Unlike my opponent, I’m not accepting corporate PAC money, because I intend to work for the people of Wisconsin, not corporate interests. And I will fight to have district maps drawn by non-partisan committees so that lines aren’t drawn by whichever party happens to find itself in power.
When the two parties are forced to listen to one another and their constituents, it will be easier to solve the problems that our district is facing, like lack of access to affordable health care, underfunded public schools, crumbling roads and contamination of our groundwater.
In short, I am running to be a voice for the people and to embrace laws and policies that encourage bipartisanship and cooperation to solve the problems real people are facing in our district.
What do you believe are the three biggest concerns of people in the Outagamie County area that you would address if elected?
JS: If I have to pick three issues that I hear the most about, it would be the rising cost of healthcare, the state’s infrastructure needs, and the difficult time employers are having finding quality employees.
I am proud to say that in this last session we passed legislation that will address these issues. We passed a reinsurance program that is already reaping benefits by actually reducing the projected cost of premiums for 2019. This is a good start and people will begin to see the difference soon, but there are more free-market reforms we could pass to increase transparency and drive down costs.
In the assembly we fought hard for a long-term solution to the state’s transportation funding issue. Our roadways and bridges are as important to our state’s economy as anything else and we must continue to invest in them to ensure a healthy economy. We made some progress by increasing road aids to local governments and passing several reforms that will save taxpayer dollars, but I was disappointed we couldn’t do more.
We have also been investing heavily in education and workforce training in the last several budgets. We are fortunate to have gone from an economy that didn’t have enough available jobs in 2010 to one that has more jobs than people available to fill them today, but that points to another problem we have to address which is the growing skills gap. There are too many people working in lower wage jobs while thousands of higher-paying skilled labor positions go unfilled. We need to continue to invest in the training programs that people need to make the transition to these skilled positions. One of the best ways to ensure a healthy economy is to invest in the education and training of our citizens and I’m proud to say that we have made record investments in both as our economy has improved.
ML: I’ve knocked on thousands of doors during this campaign, and the biggest concerns I’ve heard, by far, relate to health care, public education and roads.
Our health care system needs an overhaul, and there are steps we can take immediately to achieve this. The first is to accept federal funds to expand BadgerCare. This would allow another 80,000 Wisconsinites to access health care who otherwise cannot afford it, and it would save taxpayer money. My opponent supported rejecting this funding — that has proven to be a mistake. The second step is to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable by creating a consumer watchdog to review increases in drug prices and stop price gouging. A third step is to withdraw from the federal lawsuit that seeks to undo protections granted by the ACA. These protections, like coverage for pre-existing conditions, mental health treatment, and prescription drugs, are vital.
Another concern is that our public schools are underfunded. For generations, Wisconsin schools were some of the best in the nation. But that took a drastic turn when my opponent and other GOP leadership made huge cuts and reduced the percentage of money provided to school districts by the state. Class sizes are now ballooning, and teacher pay has been stagnant for years, resulting in a serious upcoming teacher shortage. Now that it’s an election year, GOP leadership has finally backtracked slightly on their huge cuts, with great fanfare. But this still doesn’t cover increased costs due to inflation, and a good portion of money is being diverted to private schools via voucher programs. We should keep our public dollars in public schools and return to the formula in which two-thirds of public school costs are paid by the state. This would reduce the burden on local property owners and would provide a more equitable distribution of funds, particularly benefitting our struggling rural school districts.
The third biggest concern is the declining quality of our roads. We need to improve our infrastructure to benefit our residents’ safety, attract business, and avoid the kinds of major overhauls we now face. If roads are properly maintained, costs are lower over time. As a homeowner, I know it’s better to fix problems when they come up rather than waiting for those problems to get worse. If the state would treat our transportation system with the same common sense, we would save a lot of taxpayer money.
What changes do you foresee happening with the Wisconsin State Assembly that will impact Outagamie County residents and how will you try to ensure those changes will be a positive change for the area?
JS: It is difficult to forecast in this political environment what is going to happen in any election cycle. However, regardless of the results on Nov. 6, I think the most critical thing that we can do as leaders is to provide a level of civility in our discourse that will hopefully serve as an example of how we can all disagree on issues without it turning into a fight to try to destroy each other.
In my campaigns I have always made it a point to only stress what I believe and what I will do if elected. I have never and I will never talk in a negative way about my opponent. I will leave it up to the voters to decide based on our positions on the issues. I have always done my best to govern in the same way as well. I have worked with those across the aisle at every opportunity when there are areas of agreement. When there aren’t areas in which we agree I have done everything I can to make sure those disagreements don’t become personal.
ML: I foresee the balance of power shifting in the State Assembly, with more Democrats flipping seats currently held by Republicans. The GOP has controlled the State Assembly, State Senate and Governor’s mansion for eight years now, and I believe a more balanced approach, with voices from both sides of the aisle more equally represented, will be good for the state and its citizens at this point.
As I mentioned above, the district lines in this state have been drawn by GOP leadership with the purpose of keeping Republicans in power. Those who have looked at the district lines for Assembly District 5 know they make no sense – one look makes it clear that the map was not meant to be impartial. I don’t think either party should dictate who gets to vote for them in this way – regardless of whether gerrymandering is done at the hands of Republicans or Democrats, it’s wrong, and it disenfranchises voters. With more equal representation, I believe we can move forward on a model of nonpartisan redistricting, which will give the people of this area a stronger voice in Madison.
I will ensure that the method of drawing district lines is put into the hands of a nonpartisan committee, much like they do in Iowa. This will force the people representing each district – myself included – to listen to everyone in their respective districts, not just their political base. This would be a positive change for our area and for Wisconsin as a whole.
No one party should have a stranglehold over the state. With more balanced representation, I am hopeful that we can achieve bipartisan progress that takes into account the views of more people in Assembly District 5.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
JS: We have accomplished a lot together over the last eight years. I have been honored by the overwhelming support that I have received from my constituents over the years. I believe that support has been there in part because I believe in people over politics, and putting principles ahead of political parties. There is more work to be done to ensure a brighter future for us all and I am asking for your vote come November 6 to continue that work.
ML: Throughout my campaign, I have been listening to voters. I have responded to every phone call and every email and have given attention to everyone who has reached out to me or whose door I have knocked on. People have told me they don’t feel like they have been heard – until now.
I have dedicated my life to listening to people, identifying problems, and helping to solve them. As a health care provider, I listened to people’s health issues, figured out what was wrong, and found a solution. As a teacher with the Upward Bound program, I listened to students and figured out why some of them weren’t doing well, and I worked with them individually to make sure they succeeded. And as a parent, I have listened to my daughters as they develop ideas and opinions. I have helped them with their struggles and their successes, and I have nurtured them and helped them navigate the world.
I know how to be there for people, and I will be there for the people of this district in Madison. I will listen. I will identify problems. And I will do my best to fix them.