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Same old? Assembly candidates say there are some differences

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Jim Leute
August 12, 2012

— On the surface, the four candidates in Tuesday's Democratic primary for the 44th Assembly District look very much alike.

All are well known in Janesville, which makes up most of the district.

All have extensive resumes of community service.

All have served on either the Janesville City Council or the Janesville School Board.

Yuri Rashkin, Kevin Murray, Sam Liebert and Deb Kolste understand the similarities.

But each says there are clear differences that make him or her the best candidate to defeat Republican Rep. Joe Knilans in the November general election.

The race in the 44th is getting statewide attention, particularly as Democrats try to cut the Republicans 59-39 margin in the Assembly, which also includes one Independent lawmaker.

"This district has been considered gettable since the day Joe beat Mike (Sheridan), which was a big upset by anyone's standards," said state Sen. Tim Cullen, a veteran Janesville lawmaker who returned to Madison in 2010.

"That's particularly true if you look at the historical voting patterns of the district."

Cullen, a Democrat, predicts good voter turnout on Tuesday, and the outcome in the 44th could be tight.

"There might be 5,000 votes cast in this primary, and each candidate has his or her core supporters," he said. "It could come down to a few hundred votes.

"Then it will depend on who did the best job with their voters and getting them to the polls. You can knock on all the doors you want, but you still have to have your people show up and vote."

Cullen said the four candidates are similar in many ways, but the primary difference is the amount of time each has spent serving the community.

"If you really look, two of them have a much longer record of community service and haven't necessarily been doing that with the sole intent of ending up in Madison," Cullen said. "Two of them, I think, got in and built a record with the intention of landing this assembly seat, but there's certainly no crime in that."

Cullen also said differences in community service records are a function of age.

"You can't fault a young person because they're not yet old enough to build up that record," he said.

The four candidates were asked to differentiate themselves from their primary opponents.

Yuri Rashkin

The 37-year-old Rashkin is a musician, court interpreter and college instructor.

"If you're looking at the race from a distance, you're going to come to the conclusion that you have four very similar candidates, and ask what's the difference? That's a logical question," Rashkin said. "I think we all bring a different style to it."

Rashkin served one year on the council with Liebert.

"It was always Sam and Yuri, Yuri and Sam to the point that it became a joke," Rashkin said. "But in the year we served together, we had very different voting records."

Rashkin noted Liebert voted for the city's wheel tax, a roundabout at Milwaukee Street and Wuthering Hills Drive and an incentive package for SHINE Medical Technologies.

Rashkin opposed all three, arguing in the case of the SHINE deal that the city and taxpayers needed more time to understand its implications.

Rashkin said he's the only candidate that's come out with specific proposals for action if elected, and of the four, he said, he was the most vocal in the efforts to recall Gov. Scott Walker.

He said his track record is filled with leadership positions, and he works well with everyone.

"I don't have that inner circle that seems to be a criticism of politicians in general," he said. "They all have this inner circle, and, if you're not in it, they won't talk to you."

Kevin Murray

The 56-year-old Murray is a retired Janesville firefighter/paramedic and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

"I'm an eternal optimist, and I'm not going to talk down about the other candidates," Murray said. "They all have their strengths and certain weaknesses."

Murray said his 50-plus years of experience in the community were built on relationships, many of which were the result of both his family and his wife's family.

"Those relationships involve responsibilities," he said. "History has given me and my family opportunities, and I have a responsibility to my community.

"The community comes first. It's not about me, it's about us: What can we do."

Murray said that while all four candidates talk about labor union issues, he is the only one who has ever been in a union.

"I paid the dues, and I continue to pay the dues," he said. "There's a difference between being and doing and talking about it.

"I lived it, and I'm proud to say I've been a part of collective bargaining process."

Murray said he would use his life experiences and relations to bring the community together.

Sam Liebert

The 27-year-old Liebert is a private security contractor in the crisis/detox unit at the Rock County Health Care Center.

"I think that for me and the other candidates, 90 percent to 95 percent of the things we would work on or support in Madison are the same," Liebert said. "I think we all support the Affordable Care Act and all oppose Act 10 and the budget repair bill.

"What's different with me is my age and that I'm not the cookie-cutter candidate we've seen time and time again."

Liebert said he is growing and evolving with the next generation of taxpayers, a generation hit hard by economic downturns and layoffs.

He said that in knocking on doors, he's developed a rapport with older voters, many of whom he said are excited to see a young person active and engaged in politics.

"I don't think I'm in any way at a disadvantage with older workers," he said.

He also said that because of his political work around Wisconsin and across the nation, he's got connections that will allow him to hit the ground running in Madison.

"I think I have some of the best political connections and clout you can find in Madison," he said. "I think when we lost Mike two years ago and Sen. (Judy) Robson decided not to run again that Janesville and Rock County lost a lot of clout."

Deb Kolste

The 59-year-old Kolste served three terms on the school board, including one as president.

She, too, agrees that the four candidates all are well known, particularly for their community service.

She said she's different because she's been a leader in every organization or cause she's joined.

"I have experience in business, education, health care, agriculture and working with people," she said. "What's important is that I've had successes in all of those experiences."

Kolste said running a clinic is one thing. Growing it into a successful business—which she did—is another.

"In education, it's not about just sitting on the board," she said. "It's being elected by your peers to lead that's significant.

"It's not just working in a lab that's important. It's innovating and advocating while you're doing it that's important."

Kolste said she is passionate about her causes and analytical in finding solutions, traits she said she would take to Madison if elected.

"I'm not a fan of unintended consequences," she said. "I like cause and effect, and I'm a hard worker, which is what it takes to find solutions and understand ramifications."



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