Candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot for Wisconsin’s 75th District Assembly seat are Republican Dave Armstrong and Democrat John Ellenson.
Each candidate was asked to respond to five questions compiled by Chronotype editor Ryan Urban, with a combined word limit to be split among all five questions. Their responses are printed as follows without editing.
1. In terms of public health, how can Wisconsin best get through the COVID-19 pandemic?
Armstrong: “First, I think we can all do our part by using best practices – washing our hands, social distancing, and wearing a mask when appropriate. Doing those things can go a long way and can get us on a path to getting back to normal. Further, local health departments across the state are doing their part by enforcing local ordinances that make sense for their communities. What works for Milwaukee County does not work for Barron County, therefore a statewide approach is not right for Wisconsin. Over the past few months, testing has increased and improved across the state, which has a significant impact in slowing the spread of the virus. Continuing robust testing will allow people to get the care they need and work toward eliminating COVID-19’s presence in Wisconsin. We will get through the pandemic together and be better than ever.”
Ellenson: “We must all do our part by following the CDC and county health guidelines, working together and looking out for each other. We have only three defenses: masks, social distancing, and sanitizing. Is it fun to wear a mask? No. But I see kindergarteners do it every day! We’re raising great, resilient, strong kids in our community. We need to do this for them. We’re strong enough to work together and get through this!
“We would be in much better shape now if political leadership in Madison had worked in a bi-partisan way to give guidelines and enforce regulations. We can blame it on a political year, with the presidential election coming this November. Confusion at the top with one side trying to stymie any efforts from the other side has put us in a terrible mess. I don’t think there is a better case for a moderate in the legislature than what we have seen this year with all the partisan fighting.”
2. What can be done to bolster the state economy during and after the pandemic?
Ellenson: “COVID is the economy, and the main effort for most rural Wisconsin small businesses right now is to simply hang on. Wisconsin small businesses, especially retail, restaurant and hospitality, need a “bailout,” just like big banks and automakers got in the last recession. Not a few years ago the legislature thought it was smart to massively subsidize Foxconn in the Racine area, to the tune of $230,000/job. That hasn’t worked out so well, as we know, but it made the point that the State continues to focus on urban growth. It’s our turn now in rural Wisconsin to expect support.
“It’s an important fact that the COVID economy is very uneven. Large manufacturers, some ag business, food production and large box retail stores seem to be doing OK. Yet there is 8% unemployment around here, mostly in those small businesses. State support needs to be targeted. We need an investment into us, we need to support our friends and neighbors, and fund growth here in our communities.”
Armstrong: “This summer, Wisconsin has already seen a quick comeback in many sectors of the economy. We went from a high of 15.8% unemployment down to almost 4%. It’s still not to the level it was pre-COVID but vastly improved from its worst this spring. In Barron County, our tax revenues are actually up from where they were at this point in 2019, but we are certainly not out of the woods yet. Businesses are still on the verge of closing, and our unemployment numbers are not where they should be, but we are climbing out slowly but surely. At this point, the only thing we need to “bolster” our economy is for the government to get out of the way and let the free market bring Wisconsin back to the way we were pre-COVID.
“In the beginning of 2020, Wisconsin’s economy was the best it had ever been and there is no reason it can’t rebound back to that exact point. Businesses will find a way to survive in a pandemic if the state government gets out of their way and allows them to do what they do best. Bars and restaurants cannot survive by only allowing 25% capacity, just like everyday citizens could not survive on 25% of their income. Business owners know they need to use best practices to keep their customers safe. If their customers feel safe, they will return. Businesses know how to keep their employees and customers safe from COVID-19. If we let them, they will survive and keep Wisconsin’s economy going strong.”
3. For many, substance abuse and mental health issues have worsened during the pandemic. What can be done to address these issues?
Armstrong: “Over the past few sessions, the legislature has worked hard on this issue and made some great progress. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is causing addiction and mental health issues to surge again. The most obvious answer is to get Wisconsin’s economy back on track so that people can get back to work. One of the biggest reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol is a sense of hopelessness, which is a result of losing a job/income.
“Getting people back to work and being productive again will help this issue immensely. When people are employed and providing for their families, there is less of a desire to turn to self-medication. However, that may not be the only answer. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature when I am elected to continue to tackle this problem. I am happy to work with anyone on legislation that could help people dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues.”
Ellenson: “Getting this pandemic behind us is the first thing, of course, but however long or short it takes, it will be difficult, and for some more so than for others. It doesn’t help that so many have lost jobs and health insurance. The Covid crisis highlights the need for a public option to let people buy into BadgerCare. It would be a competitive offering for self-employed folks, and in that way can support the small business owner. But even people insured through their employer are seeing very high rates and incredible deductibles. A public option would be a reasonable cost insurance for those folks as well.
“The other insurance issue is expanding Medicaid insurance coverage. Taking that Federal money and increasing the family income limit for Medicaid was something Wisconsin should have done when times were good. Now the need is even more obvious as people try to return to work and find their hours, paychecks and benefits are limited.
“And there is another problem, a severe shortage of mental health workers in our part of the state. There should be an incentive program for those professionals to come work in rural Wisconsin, a program similar to the one meant to incentivize teachers. It would need to be adequately funded and could be tied to helping payoff student debt.
“The pandemic is a time for people to watch out for each other. Isolation and loneliness are often triggers for substance abuse and mental health problems. This is a good opportunity to check on friends, family and neighbors. It could be as simple as a phone call or a socially distanced, mask wearing visit. Knowing someone cares is vital to one’s mental health.”
4. What other issues would you prioritize as representative?
Ellenson: “It is time to prioritize workers and families. We need to appreciate work that is done by people who with very good reasons did not finish college or high school. We’ve put way too much emphasis on valuing colleges to the point of devaluing other life experience and education. People appreciated manual labor much more only a few decades ago when unions assured that people got a family supporting paycheck at the end of the week. Those days are gone now, for most people, yet the need for family supporting incomes, affordable health care, and especially affordable child care are even more important now.”
Armstrong; “In my job as Barron County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Director, I have helped entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground and business owners grow their already successful companies. I have also worked a great deal on increasing the stock of workforce (affordable) housing in our area. Working with people who are enthusiastic about creating their own future and working for themselves is rewarding. I look forward to working on legislation that incentivizes people to start their own businesses and for existing businesses to move to Wisconsin. Our economy is dependent on small businesses employing Wisconsinites and contributing to our tax base.
“Affordable housing is something that is needed desperately, not just in Barron County, but across the state for a variety of reasons and industries. In our area, we have manufacturing and food processing plants that rely on thousands of workers in need of somewhere affordable to live and the availability is lacking. I have spent countless hours and days trying to fix this issue and I believe that I can get some meaningful reform passed at the state level to help curb this vital need.”
5. Give a closing statement. Why should the people of the 75th District vote for you?
Armstrong: “I have made my career about fixing problems. I have owned businesses and worked with entrepreneurs to create new ones. Over the years, I have learned how to work to solve complex issues when there is seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel. In doing that, I have never asked my coworkers, employees, or clients who they voted for or if they are a Republican or a Democrat. A good idea is a good idea and it shouldn’t matter what side of the aisle it comes from. That is the kind of approach I will take when elected to the State Assembly. The people of Northwestern Wisconsin expect their representative to work for them, without worrying about petty politics. This can all be done while never compromising my core conservative principles of small government, lower taxes, and personal freedom. I will always fight for the 75th Assembly District and our way of life in Northwestern Wisconsin and never let you down, whether you voted for me or my opponent. I can’t wait to serve you in the State Legislature and work to move Wisconsin Forward.
Ellenson: “Teamwork. We invest in ourselves, we build and strengthen our infrastructure, our health system, our communities, our families and ourselves. We bring competition back and level the playing field, bringing opportunity for everyone to have their shot. I know what it takes to be successful and with leadership, enthusiasm, determination, a belief in team-building, and hope for a brighter future we will strengthen our communities together. I have a strong moral compass which will guide me to do what is right in my continuous fight for the families and communities of the 75th.
“It is time to stop finger pointing and playing the blame game--that gets us nowhere. We can’t change the past; it is time to create our future by building our future together as Americans and putting party politics aside. I truly believe that together we can do tremendous things and continue to build the strong communities that make us proud to live in Northern Wisconsin. A vote for me is a vote for hope for a brighter future, hope for the generations that follow and a belief that we will team up and do this together.”
The 75th Assembly District includes all of Barron County, southern Washburn County, and townships in Burnett, Polk, St Croix, and Dunn counties. Current Representative Romaine Robert Quinn, a Republican, did not seek re-election.