JANESVILLE — Four well-known Janesville Democrats will square off in a primary Tuesday, Aug. 14, for the chance to unseat Rep. Joe Knilans in the 44th Assembly District.
Debra Kolste, Sam Liebert, Kevin Murray and Yuri Rashkin all are known to Janesville voters through their service to the community and election to the Janesville School Board or Janesville City Council.
Knilans, who defeated incumbent Democrat Mike Sheridan in 2010, is not being challenged on the Republican side of the ticket.
The district includes most of Janesville.
The four Democrats each responded to the following questions:
Q: If elected to the Assembly, what is the single most important issue you will address, and specifically what do you propose?
Kolste: The biggest issue is the state's budget and the misallocation of funds in the last budget, she said.
"I intend to make the case in the Assembly that we must invest in education, health care and jobs, no more tax credits for not creating jobs," Kolste said.
An example of the misallocation of funds is education funding, she said, noting that Gov. Walker's budget increased spending by $1.1 billion while making drastic cuts to education.
"With the exodus of educators, it is no wonder that Wisconsin has lost more jobs than any other state," she said. "Meanwhile, that budget delivered $2.36 billion in tax breaks to special interests and corporations."
She said that while the tax breaks continued, classrooms are more crowded, infrastructure is failing and families are struggling.
"Wisconsin has a huge investment in its public schools and the university and technical college system," she said. "Our institutions of learning drive a tremendous amount of economic activity. They ought to be affordable, accessible and excellent. Gutting the funding to these public school systems will hurt our economy in the short and long run."
Kolste said that if elected she would act quickly to reverse damage to education, health care and job opportunities.
"I will work with members of both parties to re-establish Wisconsin priorities and values in the budget," she said. "Balancing the budget on the backs of school children, college students, elderly and middle-class workers has turned out to be a terrible, expensive error."
Liebert: He said job creation and retention would be his top priority if elected to the Assembly.
"I believe the job incentives, which were bipartisan, in early 2011 were a good start, but I believe they should have tied more directly to actual job creation and not just a hand out to large corporations," he said.
Liebert said he would like to see tax increment finance district laws strengthened to allow more leeway for business attraction, particularly in brownfields.
"I believe local governments have a better point of view when it comes to job growth and what is best for their individual communities," he said.
Murray: He said his primary focus would be job creation and retention.
"Specifically, I want to enhance our education system that includes K-12, Blackhawk Tech and UW-Rock County while incorporating our highly skilled workforce and infrastructure," he said. "I want to be a leader in mobilizing our community leaders, including labor, Forward Janesville and energetic young entrepreneurs."
To foster better collaboration at the local level, Murray said he would fight for better policy and funding in Madison.
"An example would be the Creative Venture Capital Plan that encourages new ideas and allows for the creation of local jobs," he said. "If implemented, policies like this will create a strong and vibrant work force with family-supporting wages and benefits.
"These types of jobs are, in my view, the best for business, workers and consumers in our community."
Rashkin: Jobs is the top priority, Rashkin said.
"Looking at the latest economic development in Janesville, it is clear that health and bio-sciences will pay a pivotal role in our future," he said. "Additionally, as the population locally and beyond continues to age, there is a continuously growing need for new medical professionals.
"Medicine will both redefine our community and provide good-paying jobs."
If elected, Rashkin said he would work to bring a medical college to downtown Janesville.
He said he would create a partnership between the state and local health care and education providers.
"... Under effective leadership, I am confident that there can be a medical college in downtown," he said. "This facility will bring many people to our downtown on a daily basis.
"It will be used for recruitment by local hospitals and medical companies, and it will provide the economic impetus for extensive new development of our downtown and community."
Q: With a state that's perhaps more politically divided than ever, what will you do to return civility to the Legislature?
Kolste: She said she's never had a problem working with people with different views and ideologies.
"I served on the school board with commissioners who had different visions for the schools, yet we conducted ourselves with remarkable civility," she said. "I have respect for people who have honestly reached conclusions that I cannot endorse. On the school board, I made my case as strongly as possible and then accepted the decisions of the board."
In the Assembly, she said, she would listen to all views with respect and ask questions to elicit information rather than make political points.
"If I am a member of the majority, I intend to do what I can to ensure that bills proposed by the other party get prompt hearings in committee," she said. "I would like to establish respectful relations with Assembly members from the other side of the aisle.
"Political and philosophical divisions are real, but I pledge to do my best to repair relations with receptive members."
Liebert: He said he would work with Republicans to find middle ground.
"Being on the city council now for over a year, I know that you must (work) with others who you may normally disagree with," he said. "The recall is over, and the voters have decided to retain Gov. Walker.
"I'm willing to work on the important issues that matter with voters: jobs, education, debt reduction and moving forward—all of us together."
Murray: He said he would take to Madison the same mindset he took to his work in Janesville.
"While on the Janesville School Board, I introduced and passed a proposal that allows all employee groups a formal seat at the table during our meetings," he said. "I believe in a participatory government based on respect for different points of view and transparency."
If elected, Murray said, he would have office hours in Janesville and would encourage people with differing viewpoints to share their ideas.
"I will encourage my colleagues in the Assembly to do the same," he said. "Ultimately, I view the 44th Assembly District as a community in which everyone deserves a seat at the table.
"This is something that, unfortunately, has not been the norm in Madison, lately."
Rashkin: He said he's not afraid to admit when someone else has a good idea and then help him or her implement it.
"All legislators need to remember we are elected to work together for all of Wisconsin, reaching across the aisle whenever possible," he said. "Whether it is by bringing Janesville and Beloit councils together or getting downtown businesses to work together as part of the Janesville Mile, my strength has always been building relationships between businesses, educators, constituents, fellow lawmakers or building collaborations between them all."
Q: What specifically will you do to foster job creation and economic development for the 44th Assembly District?
Kolste: In general, she said, the best legislation is policy that improves the business climate and creates jobs throughout the state.
Economic development legislation should be tailored to individual communities only in very specific cases. Examples, she said, are the engineering program at UW-Rock County and specific infrastructure improvements.
"I will support any specific programs at UW-Rock County or Blackhawk Technical College that benefit area business," she said. "I will support any infrastructure improvements that will benefit the local business community, if costs and benefits are in line."
Kolste said she would support legislation that helps investors in state businesses. Examples, she said, are early stage seed and angel investment bills that died in the last legislative session.
She said she would also support an increase in the maximum loan guarantees from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority as well as a Department of Commerce grant program for entrepreneurs that's contingent on private funding and a viable business plan.
"Most importantly, I will support a fair tax code that puts money in the hands of the working and middle class," she said. "More money in the hands of the middle class allows for a purchase power that can drive the local economy."
Liebert: "As my main priority, I believe linking tax incentives to actual job creation is imperative," he said.
"I also believe portable tax credits, venture capital and increasing the power of TIFs are important tools we can use and give to our local governments to bring in new business."
Murray: The district, he said, has the advantage of having a first-class education system, an eager and experienced work force and an environment and infrastructure that can support new business and help existing businesses thrive.
"I see it as part of my job to ask local business what is working and what we can do to improve and create good family supporting jobs," he said. "From this interaction, I will work to develop new policy that emphasizes economic development."
An example, he said, would be a partnership between local industries and Blackhawk Tech to secure the skilled trades education necessary for filling existing job opportunities.
"To the degree that state funding can facilitate this, I will be a strong advocate," he said.
Murray said he also supports the state Focus on Energy program. He said it deserves more funding.
"This program not only helps reduce energy bills and sustain the environment, but it creates jobs in the 44th District," he said. "New businesses that produce clean energy equipment such as ANGI employ nearly 160 people.
"Programs like this, when partnered with Janesville's resources, will create good jobs for our citizens."
Rashkin: The keys to economic development, he said, are attraction, retention and expansion.
"On the council, I have looked for ways to help our local businesses start and grow with ideas such as the Janesville Mile and Discover Janesville, as well as worked hard to attract new companies to Janesville," he said.
"We need to apply the same proactive, out-of-the-box creative approach on the state level, while remembering and respecting Wisconsin values of cooperation, fair pay, secure retirement, education and protection of the environment."
44TH ASSEMBLY—DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY
Address: 4105 Park View Drive, Janesville.
Education: Bachelor's degree in medical technology, University of Nebraska; post graduate hours, MBA, Wichita State University.
Community service: School PTO and PTA boards, director of the Mock Drunk Driving program at Craig High School for two years, board member of Rock Futbol soccer league, chairperson of Children's Hospital tours, president of Mercy Volunteers, working with Janesville Literacy Connection fundraisers, board member of the YMCA of Northern Rock County, volunteer at HealthNet of Rock County.
Elected posts: Three terms on the Janesville School Board, where she served as president.
Address: 841 Milton Ave., Janesville.
Job: Private security contractor for Rock County Health Department Crisis/Detox Unit.
Education: 2003 Parker graduate, associate's degree from UW-Rock County.
Community service: Community Development Authority, board member of Community Action, "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes," Janesville Noon Lions Club.
Elected posts: Janesville City Council
Address: 35 S. Randall Ave., Janesville.
Job: Retired Janesville firefighter/paramedic, U.S. Air Force veteran.
Education: Associate's degree in fire science from Blackhawk Technical College, paramedic certification from Mercy Hospital, 1974 graduate of Janesville Craig and U.S. Air Force fire rescue technician training.
Community service: Wednesday Morning Optimists, VetsRoll organization bus leader, Red Cross fundraiser team, Agrace Hospice capital campaign committee, United Way co-chair and board member, Jackson School breakfast program volunteer, Vince Lombardi Classic for Cancer research volunteer.
Elected posts: In his eighth year on the Janesville School Board
Address: 4406 Windfield Way, Janesville.
Job: Musician, court interpreter and college instructor.
Education: Bachelor's degree in music from University of Utah, master's degree in communication from UW-Whitewater.
Community service: Member and past president of Janesville Noon Lions, president of United Arts Alliance, past president of Janesville Toastmasters and volunteer at the Janesville Senior Center.
Elected posts: Two terms on Janesville City Council, retired this year as vice president.