For us, the difference in the race for the 31st Assembly District seat comes down to the issue of fire protection and emergency medical services.
Incumbent Republican Amy Loudenbeck has done considerable work in this area, and even though we don’t agree with everything she has to say about it, we believe she is best qualified to help fix the problems plaguing volunteer departments here and statewide.
Loudenbeck used to be a volunteer firefighter and could “talk about this all day.”
Democratic challenger Elizabeth Lochner-Abel recognizes the need for municipalities to pool their resources, but she had no specific ideas for what the state could do to help fix the failing volunteer fire department model. People need to be encouraged to serve as volunteers, she said, but she didn’t offer specifics about what she would do in the Legislature to help.
Only when prompted by a question from the editorial board about creating fire districts with taxing authority did Lochner-Abel agree with that specific idea.
“I think that’s the direction we have to look for the future to make sure we can provide services,” she said.
Unfortunately, Loudenbeck believes legislation to create fire districts with taxing authority is “kind of a nonstarter,” even though Illinois already does it.
“For Wisconsin, I think people look at Illinois and they think, ‘Oh, well, they have taxing authority for their libraries and for all sorts of other things that we don’t,’” Loudenbeck said.
We don’t agree, but we also recognize the work Loudenbeck has done in this area. She authored a bill that allows for the creation of joint EMS districts. They don’t have taxing authority, but, like similar fire districts, have levy limit flexibility, meaning they can increase their levy limits to match the growth of their fastest-growing member community.
Kudos to Loudenbeck for helping make this happen, but it’s not enough. Volunteer fire and EMS departments are failing. Ambulances are going out the door without enough people. Hoses are going limp for lack of water. Something drastically different needs to be done, and we hope Loudenbeck broadens her thinking.
We also were encouraged to hear that the office of Gov. Tony Evers reached out to Loudenbeck to talk about police reform bills. Some of the bills were slated for a special session called by the governor, but the session opened and closed in 30 seconds with no bills debated. Even so, it’s encouraging that a Democratic governor would call a Republican legislator for a conversation. We hope there are more such conversations in the future.
“I think that some of the ideas that came forward that he put out in the special session are worth considering, but I think there are other ideas as well,” Loudenbeck said.
It’s refreshing to hear a member of one party at least give lip service to considering ideas from somebody across the aisle.
We hope Lochner-Abel runs again and brings more specific ideas for voters to consider.
In the meantime, we are supporting Loudenbeck.