JANESVILLE—In the battle for Wisconsin’s First Congressional District and the U.S. House seat that represents it, incumbent Republican Rep. Bryan Steil and challenger Ann Roe face off in a newly shaped legislative district.
The First District now includes parts of Beloit and some outlying areas near Janesville that have added 15,000 voters to a district that covers most of Walworth County, all of Kenosha and Racine counties, and some suburbs in southern Milwaukee County.
Both are from Janesville. The reshaping of the district is one factor that both Roe and Steil say they hope will give them an edge in the election.
Roe, 56, is a Democrat and a small business operator who runs a service to help students pursue a college education. She has voiced support for a public option for health care and is in favor of personal choice on abortion, two issues she said she believes are predominant in the First District. She said she has backing from farmers whoM she believes have flipped from red to blue over health care issues.
Steil is a 41-year-old corporate attorney who is seeking another term after being elected in 2018 and reelected in 2020. The Republican has said he has knocked on 1,100 doors in Beloit alone and has tried to reach new voters along with supporters with his message. He said he seeks ways to knock back inflation that is hampering families in Rock County. He said he would do that, in part, by lowering energy costs.
Both candidates answered the following set of questions from a Gazette reporter:
Gazette: If you look at the reshaping of the First Congressional District, which has about 15,000 more Rock County voters than it did previously, how has the voting dynamic or the human dynamic or the demographic dynamic shifted? What has that meant for you in this campaign?
Roe: Roe said she believes that the reshaping of boundaries to include more of the cities of Beloit and Janesville has made the district more politically “balanced” than it has been in years.
“Right now, as on either side, it is about getting people out to vote. You know, we have a competitive race with a competitively drawn district for the first time in a couple of decades. And that is just good for democracy. That is exciting. We have a competitive race.”
Steil: “I’ve viewed it as an opportunity to talk to voters I haven’t met before. When I started four years ago, I had 0.001 name (recognition), I didn’t count my grandma. By now we’ve worked and introduced myself to a lot of people in the district. I am going back to them but also to some new people to share why I think we have policies with integrity that answer the challenges of the day. I think they’ve been really receptive in Beloit, Whitewater, communities that were added (to the district). They’ve been very responsive.”
Gazette: There are different individual factors or individual concerns for people from one part of the First District to another. What is one aspect that you look at and see that makes Rock County different or unique now, compared to other parts of the district, and how does that inform your approach to representing people in the Rock County portion of this district?
Roe: The Dobbs (reproductive rights) decision has been most unique. What I am seeing here in Rock County specifically is the number of farmers coming to support me who say they’ve been pretty active on the other political side. When I’ve knocked doors in Janesville and Beloit and Walworth County, it’s reproductive health care and health care in general that’s the No. 1 and No. 2 issues at every door, no matter the demographic. It’s been the resounding theme.”
Steil: Steil said he has witnessed the city of Kenosha and its business community move through environmental work to ready for redevelopment a former Chrysler engine plant that had closed in Kenosha in 2006. Although the Kenosha site is only about half the size of the 250-acre former Janesville General Motors assembly plant site shuttered in 2009, Steil said the Kenosha work helped inform his approach to the prospect of redevelopment of the old GM site in Janesville.
“We’re still working on bringing business to the old GM facility. Kenosha had lost the Chrysler facility. They’ve completed environmental testing a few years before Janesville’s (GM site), so they’re a step ahead on that, but in certain ways, it’s very similar.”
Gazette: What do you think members of Congress who represent Rock County as part of their territory are missing when it comes to the unique concerns of Rock County?
Roe: Roe said that even though it’s not a federally controlled issue, Wisconsin’s state government laws on state shared revenue has left some Rock County communities frozen in place on state funding levels for years. She said she’d like to see some federal action outside of spending that could help with a model she called broken.
“We need more support and more advocates for investing in our communities, both urban and rural, in a way that allows them to fully staff their first responders, both law enforcement and fire protection. The (state funding) formulas don’t give the communities the resources they need to fully realize their public service needs and their first responder needs. That has become dangerously critical across the district. Police and firefighters and first responders are sounding an alarm.”
Steil: “It’s inflation. It’s clobbering people. What they (Democrats) should have prime-time hearings on is bringing down costs for families. It’s the No. 1 issue. But it’s not the No. 1 issue to the left.”