With exactly one week to go before the Nov. 6 elections, the biggest issue incumbent Rep. Jim Ott and challenger Cris Rogers see both in Assembly District 23 and the Legislature is summed up in one word: Jobs.
"The unemployment rate in Wisconsin is better than the national average, but it’s still not where we would like it," said Ott, the Republican incumbent. "It’s even higher, if you consider the people who’ve given up looking for work. We would certainly like to do more to foster job development in Wisconsin, meaningful jobs, family supporting jobs."
Wisconsin's unemployment rate for September came to 7.3 percent, an improvement from 9.2 in June 2009, but still not enough, Democrat Rogers said.
"I would like to see a venture capital bill passed and regional clustering strategy studies done to invest in what will work to grow our economy," she said.
Ott, 65, currently lives in Mequon had has spent six years in the Legislature after a lengthy career as a meteorologist. Ott also has a law degree and is a military veteran.
Rogers, 48, of Whitefish Bay, is making her first bid for public office. She has worked for Community Advocates, The Guest House, and the Ray Graham Association for people with Disabilities, among other organizations.
She said the biggest challenge she's faced so far in this race is the size of the new 23rd District. New boundaries were drawn earlier this year in the wake of redistricting prompted by population shifts in the 2010 census. The district includes much of the North Shore, including Whitefish Bay, Fox Point, Bayside, as well as Mequon and Grafton. (See map)
No shortage of work in Wisconsin
While each candidate comes from very opposite sides of the political spectrum, both agree that there are jobs in Wisconsin and the bigger issue is a shortage of qualified workers. Ott said there needs to be more focus on eliminating the stigma surrounding factory work.
"There’s actually a shortage of workers in certain fields. Specifically, there’s a shortage of welders," Ott said. "Meanwhile, we’ve got an unemployment rate that’s too high. There’s been an emphasis away form those kind of jobs in the last few decades and there’s a bad thought about what those jobs are like. I visit a lot of manufacturing places and the modern factory today is very clean compared to maybe the thought that’s in people’s mind."
Rogers agreed, specifically wanting to focus on funding technical colleges, so they can partner with the private sector to fill jobs that are already available.
"We should close the “Las Vegas” loophole, which is costing our state $40 million-plus in revenue," Rogers said. "Ninty percent of tech college graduates stay in Wisconsin to work. I do not support tax breaks for companies that outsource our jobs and do not create family-sustaining jobs. Tax incentives should be given (if necessary) for companies that hire the chronically unemployed and returning veterans, provide low-cost or free child care for employees."
While their opinions on how to approach the unemployment issue in Wisconsin mirror one another, each candidate brings very different skills to the table. Rogers said she felt it was important to jump into this race because she doesn't believe Ott's "hard-right beliefs" are representative of the new district, but Ott said his experience means he's a better candidate.
"While my personal beliefs may be more conservative than some residents, and more liberal than others, it is not about me," she said. "I will hold monthly town halls, send out regular newsletters, and make sure you are aware of key legislation before I place my vote. I want your input and involvement."
Ott said voters should re-elect him because he has six years of experience in the Legislature and already has new bills in mind he wants to work on in his next term.
"In addition to doing everything I can do support measures that will enhance our employment opportunities in Wisconsin, I plan to reintroduce legislation that would toughen our drunk driving laws," he said. "We did pass a bill in 2009, and it was good, but I don’t think it went far enough."
Wisconsin state representatives serve two-year terms and earn $49,943.00 annually. They also receive a per diem of $88 per day for each day they work in Madison.
- Republican Jim Ott (R) (incumbent)
- Democrat Cris Rogers (D)