Forum has Assembly candidates talking fast

Student-led event held after GOP incumbents rejected LWV plan gave candidates one minute to answer each question

PARTICIPATING IN A candidate forum at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon last week were (from left) moderator and assistant communications professor Tim Macafee, Rep. Rob Brooks and challenger Chris Rahlf, Rep. Jim Ott and challenger Liz Sumner and Rep. Dan Knodl and challenger Emily Siegrist. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

More than 70 people crowded into a small room at Concordia University Wisconsin last Thursday to hear the six candidates seeking seats representing Ozaukee County in the Wisconsin Assembly talk about the issues.

The candidates included incumbent Republicans Jim Ott of Mequon, who represents District 23, Dan Knodl of Germantown, District 24, and Rob Brooks of Saukville, District 60, and their Democratic challengers, Liz Sumner of Fox Point, Emily Siegrist of River Hills and Chris Rahlf of Cedarburg, respectively.

The forum, sponsored by the Student Government Association, was the lone such event this year after the three incumbent state legislators decided not to participate in similar events hosted by the League of Women Voters of Ozaukee County.

The League, which has hosted candidate forums for decades, had sought to hold forums for each pair of candidates in their Assembly district. While the challengers agreed, the incumbents had conditions — they wanted one event with a second moderator who wasn’t affiliated with the League, saying the organization “is a group of left-leaning activists masquerading as a non-partisan group” — that ultimately forced organizers to cancel the forums.

Last week’s forum was a fast-paced affair, with candidates given only a minute to answer each of 10 questions, many of them written by Concordia students.

The questions spanned such issues as the role of colleges in communities, what candidates would do to ensure a good job market for students and how they would model tolerant behavior to students.

The candidates were also asked how they serve the public outside political office, how to increase voter turnout and encourage bipartisanship and civil conversation, as well as ways to protect the environment and ensure a high-quality transportation infrastructure.

Brooks, a former Ozaukee County Board chairman who has represented the district since 2014, said he would encourage civil conversation by being honest and straightforward with people.

“That’s how you get things done in Madison, by reaching out and communicating,” he said, adding that’s also a way to model tolerant behavior.

Rahlf, a Navy veteran who works as a construction management consultant, said treating each other with respect is a key, adding that she believes it’s also important to eliminate the gerrymandering that’s led to division and parties holding control over elected officials.

Listening to one another without ascribing ill intent or stupidity to the other person is another sky, she said, as is “being open to the possibility you’re wrong once in a while.”

Rahlf also said she wants to “de-politicize” the Department of Natural Resources and reinstate policies that will protect the environment.

Brooks said people need to be educated about such things as the Clean Sweep and drug take-back programs that help the environment, and that the DNR needs to be held accountable for its actions as well.

Similarly, Brooks said the Department of Transportation needs to be held accountable for its spending, saying efficiencies need to accompany funding.

The state needs to find a permanent source of revenue for transportation, he added, saying in order to do that the Legislature needs to enact comprehensive tax reform.

Rahlf said the Legislature needs to recognize transportation is an investment and approach it as such. The current administration is shortchanging the DOT, she said, adding the proposals made by former DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb need to be looked at seriously since 20% of the department’s budget goes to debt service.

Rahlf said she wants to be “a capable servant leader” and said she’s been touched by the struggles of people in the district.

“You start to carry all that with you, the struggles, hopes and aspirations,” she said. “I’ll always put citizens first over party.” 

Brooks touted his accomplishments and initiatives such as legislation on the “dark stores” issue as well as his outreach to constituents through surveys, emails, meetings and responses to inquiries.

“I take my job very seriously,” he said, adding he is willing to work with fellow legislators on every side of the issues and to tackle the hard questions facing government. “I’m not afraid of a fight.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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