Redistricting Set the Course for 13th, 14th Assembly District Races
Democratic newcomers take on more entrenched Republicans as Brookfield and Wauwatosa become joined at the political hip.
The cities of Wauwatosa and Brookfield share a long north-to-south border and even longer contiguous corridors of commerce, but politically they are many miles apart.
Wauwatosa, once reliably conservative and Republican, has become the purplest of communities in mostly Democratic Milwaukee County. Brookfield remains a conservative bastion of Waukesha County, the state stronghold of the GOP.
There may not be two more closely joined cities in Wisconsin in terms of jobs and shared interests — thousands live in one but work and shop in the other, a daily back-and-forth beehive.
But redistricting has joined them in another way. Politically, almost all of Brookfield and Wauwatosa are spliced in a line across their middles into the 13th and 14th Assembly Districts.
Through 2002, Brookfield and Wauwatosa were more or less separate political blocks. Redistricting last year that went into force in this year's elections merged the north sides of the two cities into the new bounds of the 14th, and their south sides into the 13th.
Almost predictably, the two Democrats contending for the seats are from Wauwatosa and the two Republicans are from Brookfield.
The lines are drawn – because they were redrawn
For the Democratic candidates, redistricting was the reason for running. John Pokrandt, candidate for the 13th Assembly District, saw sitting assemblyman Dave Cullen drawn out of his home district and decided to run because, he said, he felt someone should challenge that process.
His Democratic colleague from the 14th District to the north, Chris Rockwood, said he also saw partisan lines being drawn around him and decided to run.
Neither Pokrandt nor Rockwood has held elected office before.
The incumbent of the newly drawn 14th District and only previously elected state officeholder is Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield. For him, the redistricting may have amounted to a calculated Republican risk. Adding some of the evenly split north side of Wauwatosa to the heavily Republican north side of Brookfield might reduce his majority but would not be likely to overtake it.
The same goes for Rob Hutton, running as the Republican in the 13th District. He hasn't held state office before, but he's known in Brookfield as a long-time Waukesha County supervisor and businessman. With the south half of Republican Brookfield on his side along with south Wauwatosa, which is evenly split, he stands a good chance.
It looks like an uphill battle for Democrats Pokrandt and Rockwood, but they say they are not running quixotic campaigns. They believe they can compete, run close with, and even win against Hutton and Kooyenga, based on their face-to-face encounters with voters on both sides of North 124th Street.
For them, the main issues are jobs, education and mass transit, and they say that regardless of ideological assumptions, when they've gone into supposedly hostile Brookfield and actually talked to people, they've found common ground.
Kooyenga and Hutton don't disagree that those, and others, are important issues, but they do disagree, strongly, on the ways in which government should approach them.
Republicans Kooyenga and Hutton both say they believe strongly that measures passed last year in Act 10, the budget repair bill, have given school districts powerful tools to control spending and to keep property taxes for schools in check. They point to school districts that have reported reduced expenditures and levies, with demands on teachers and staffs to pay a higher share of health and pension benefits.
Their Democratic opponents both said that many districts – their home district of Wauwatosa in particular – has been penalized and hurt by a funding formula that gave Tosa schools less money in state aid after it did the right thing by cutting its budget and reaching concession agreements with its unions.
Kooyenga and Hutton support school choice and the taxpayer-funded school voucher program and think it should be expanded. They believe it is a good deal for taxpayers because fewer state per-student dollars go to support voucher education than for public schools.
Pokrandt and Rockwood both oppose the voucher system and don't believe it should be expanded, citing studies that show voucher schools perform no better than public schools where they are allowed and oftentimes worse – and that as policy, they are a drain on public school districts.
All candidates on both sides say that job creation is key, but as might be expected, they differ on how to do it.
From the Republican side, less government regulation, more freedom and incentives for business to grow through less government interference, will add up to job creation.
The two Democrats say that simplifying the tax code is the most direct measure the state could take to make it easier for businesses to start and prosper, and that while government can have a hand, programs intended to promote growth lack clear oversight and need to be held accountable.
To that point, all four candidates agree that the creation of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. out of the now dissolved Department of Commerce has been seriously mishandled, with no accounting for millions of public dollars in loans to businesses that aren't proving they are creating jobs.
Kooyenga and Hutton have had little to say about public mass transit, which hardly comes to bear in their Brookfield stronghold. But traditionally, Waukesha conservatives have resisted any efforts at being drawn into a regional transit system.
For their opponents, it's a big issue that they say they would push as legislators, pointing to Wauwatosa and Brookfield as "the job magnet of southeast Wisconsin," in Pokrandt's words.
He cited the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center as the prime example of a huge job pool that relies on transit for a multitude of its lower-paid workers.
Pokrandt said that when he has talked directly to citizens in Brookfield about a regional approach to transit, most supported it as an economic necessity to get workers to jobs.
"When I've talked about it in economic terms, people get it and support it," Pokrandt said. "So much of the economies of these two cities are tied to job support. The population of Wauwatosa is 45,000, but the daytime population is 150,000, and that's a very diverse spectrum of jobs.
"Much the same is true of Brookfield, and the people I've talked to, when they consider it in economic terms, support regional mass transit."
As anyone would expect, the two camps differ sharply on the budget repair bill that stripped most collective bargaining rights from public unions.
But Pokrandt and Rockwood agree that something had to be done – they disagree that the provisions of Act 10 were the right way to do it.
"Just a little bit of compromise," Rockwood said, "that's all it would have taken. Concessions had to be made, and unions were ready to make them."
Pokrandt, too, said that as a representative of all his constituents he would not have supported a measure he considered so heavy-handed toward some – but that as matter of actual budget repair, he would have supported many of the provisions of Act 10 as temporary steps.
Kooyenga, as incumbent, proudly and wholeheartedly endorsed Act 10 with his vote in the Assembly and says that its provisions not only closed a $3 billion budget gap facing the state at the time, it has put Wisconsin on the path of fiscal responsibility for the future.
Hutton likewise believes that Act 10 was a necessary and effective measure and that he would have voted for it without hesitation.
The issue hasn't been in the forefront of campaigns centered on jobs and the economy, but in response to a question at a candidate forum Tuesday, the contenders weighed in on opposite sides.
Kooyenga and Hutton both made it clear that they hold that life begins at conception, is sacred, and that the state has a clear moral responsibility to take measures to protect it.
They would support right to life legislation, they said, and oppose any form of state aid to anyone seeking an abortion.
Pokrandt and Rockwood both assert that the state has no business legislating what they call a matter that is between a woman, her family and her health-care provider, and should no adopt any measures that make it more difficult for a woman to control and manage her own reproductive health and well-being.
As mentioned, Pokrandt and Rockwood say they both got into this race because of the way Republicans carried out state redistricting last year.
While Kooyenga and Hutton quietly defend the process – new district lines being redrawn by legislators every 10 years, following the Census – as part of state law, their Democratic opponents called it baldly partisan and divisive and say they, as legislators, would call for an independent and non-partisan commission to carry it out.
Confidently conservative vs. insistently independent
Overall, Kooyenga and Hutton portray themselves as staunchly and unabashedly conservative and consider the Republican roadmap as the right course for all of Wisconsin.
Kooyenga is confidently running on his record as a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker and party leadership and the bold strokes taken in 2011 by Republicans in control at Madison. He has shown no hint of changing that as his path into a next term.
Hutton, for his part, said Tuesday that he is conservative even by Waukesha County standards for conservatism. He pointed to his record as a county supervisor when, he said, he often challenged the majority on public spending he felt was out of line.
Pokrandt and Rockwood both say they are not liberals-by-definition on any issue, but rather would be independent thinkers seeking non-partisan solutions where possible and political compromise where necessary.
Rockwood said he wouldn't even run for office as a toe-er of the party line. The job of any elected official, he said, is to listen to all constituents, take their temperature on every issue, and diligently support their interests – whether they live in Brookfield or Wauwatosa.