Two Beloit residents will face off for the 45th Assembly District seat Nov. 3.
Incumbent Rep. Mark Spreitzer, a Democrat, has represented District 45 since November 2014 and has held off multiple challengers in past elections by relying on his experience as a lawmaker.
Republican Tawny Gustina aims to attract voters as an outside candidate looking to shake things up—similar to the outsider campaign that won Donald Trump the presidency in 2016.
Adams Publishing Group posed these questions to the candidates:
Q: How would you evaluate the way Gov. Tony Evers and his administration have handled the state’s COVID-19 response?
Gustina: “I acknowledge COVID-19 is serious, and we have learned a lot since March. So I don’t want to criticize the initial response of Gov. Evers and his administration. However, their use of broad strokes with the statewide shutdown has greatly affected our economy. I feel that business owners could have been given suggested guidelines and run their businesses in a responsible manner.
“It’s possible that if Gov. Evers had allowed people to feel like they chose to be responsible and had control over their decisions and livelihoods, the pushback we see occurring may not be so prevalent.”
Spreitzer: “Gov. Evers has acted decisively to try to keep people safe and control the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin, but the lack of cooperation from Republicans in the Legislature, and interference from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, have hampered those efforts.
“I strongly support Gov. Evers’ order for most people to wear masks in public places. Wearing masks is a way we can all come together to reduce the chance that we spread the coronavirus, while still being able to go out in public and support local businesses.
“One of the biggest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the backlog of unemployment claims. Gov. Evers inherited an outdated computer system and cumbersome laws that make it harder to approve unemployment claims. My staff and I have been working nonstop since March to get 45th District residents connected with the right people to get their unemployment claims processed and paid.”
Q: Beloit’s development activity has been largely insulated from the effects of COVID-19, but the unemployment rate remains high. What are some ways you would look to promote job creation in Rock County?
Gustina: “Using my experience as a human resources professional and certified school teacher, I would look for ways to offer incentives in both education and business. With the newly expanded Interstate corridor between Wisconsin and Illinois in Rock County, I would promote additional opportunities to attract and grow companies...
“In regards to education, I feel that assisting individuals who wish to learn a trade, including job placement, would not only help our businesses find properly trained employees, but would make a large impact on our unemployment rates.”
Spreitzer: Spreitzer said he is proud to have received the 2020 Champion of Economic Development Award from the Wisconsin Economic Development Association for his support of economic development and opportunity zones legislation.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have been hit hard. ... I’ve worked to connect businesses in Beloit and the rest of the district with grant and loan opportunities, including over $500,000 in state grants for more than 200 small businesses in the 45th District.
“In addition to directly supporting business development, we can promote job creation by ensuring robust job training, internship and apprenticeship programs.”
Q: Beloit relies on state shared revenue for much of of its operating budget. How should the state address the impending shortfall in shared revenue?
Gustina: “State agencies are already looking at ways to find savings. ... I hope we can find efficiencies and reductions elsewhere and are able to avoid any reduction in municipal shared revenue. ... I believe my ideas to attract and grow businesses in Rock County would offer new state and local revenue via increased job creation and business development, which would provide new income and property tax revenues.”
Spreitzer: “Recent estimates by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau suggest that there may not actually be a state budget shortfall, and if there is, it is likely to be much less severe than originally feared. It is not only the city of Beloit but also the School District of Beloit that rely heavily on state funding, and I’m committed to preventing any cuts in this funding.”
Spreitzer said he sees several options if the state experiences a budget shortfall: Use the money in the state’s rainy day fund to balance the budget if necessary, pursue an expansion of BadgerCare, and direct any windfall of sales taxes from online purchases to local communities.
Q: Bipartisan legislation often seems difficult to move forward. How would you work around the partisanship?
Gustina: “I look forward to working with everyone in the Assembly, regardless of their party affiliation. I will do my best to advocate for the needs of the 45th Assembly District while recognizing solutions that consider the needs of the entire state of Wisconsin.
”For example, issues like broadband access should be nonpartisan and is something that I hear about from residents in the western part of the district. I want to be part of a process that allows both parties to collaborate together to help our constituents first, regardless of politics.”
Spreitzer: “In the most recent legislative session, I was a lead author of 11 bills and resolutions that earned bipartisan support, and I cosponsored an additional 200 bipartisan bills. I voted for over 150 bipartisan bills that have been signed into law, including the bipartisan COVID-19 response bill that passed in April.
”While there is often partisan disagreement on the most important issues facing our state, there is also a lot of bipartisan work happening. I have been able to do bipartisan work to support our family farmers, reform our criminal justice system, open up hunting and fishing opportunities to more people, and help our local clerks run our elections more smoothly, just to name a few issues. I’ve never been afraid to sit down and work with a colleague across the aisle on an issue where we can find common ground, even if there are other issues where we passionately disagree.
”I’ve also found it incredibly helpful to get to know my Republican colleagues personally. They know I’m a fierce advocate for my district and the issues I believe in, but that lines of communication are always open. In an era of divided government, it is more important than ever that we work in a bipartisan way to address the pressing needs of our state.”For more election coverage, visit gazettextra.com/election.