Wisconsin’s Choice Candidate Questionnaire
Name: Senator Kathleen Vinehout
I am finishing my third term as State Senator. In those 12 years I have worked to make health care affordable, bring more equity to school funding, and find alternatives to incarceration. In each of the last four budget cycles, I have written alternative budgets that reflect my choices of how to spend the money available.
In my first year in the Senate, I was one of three authors of the universal health plan Healthy Wisconsin. When this plan did not gain support in the Assembly, I worked to pass a package of bills later called by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “the most extensive changes in a decade.”
At the end of my rookie term, the state school administrators gave me their legislator of the year award saying, “No state legislator had a greater positive impact on Wisconsin schools than Kathleen Vinehout.”
Being Co-Chair, and later Ranking Minority Member of the Joint Committee on Audit for nearly a decade, has provided me knowledge of the little known but vitally important operations of state government. I have advocated for and been successful in changing many programs to increase efficiency and better achieve policy goals.
In the past four budget cycles I wrote alternative budgets to show how important policy priorities (expanding healthcare, fully funding the UW, investing $100 million in broadband expansion, directing additional public education funding, adding dollars to community mental health and addiction treatment programs, making tuition free at our technical colleges and 2 year campuses and much more) can be achieved with the same dollars. Our priorities and choices need to be changed.
Prior to my work in the Senate I spent a decade as a full time dairy farmer. I managed and operated a 50 cow herd. Our herd was known for high quality milk and breeding stock. Our farm is now certified organic. We produce hay and grain. Agriculture is one of Wisconsin’s largest industries contributing over $88 billion to our economy. Dairy contributes nearly half of the ag economy. Wisconsin farmers would benefit greatly from a Governor with direct experience in agriculture during a time of crisis in the farm economy.
The values I brought to the Senate and will take with me to the Governor’s office are rooted in my family history. My dad was a union laborer. He dug ditches and poured concrete for a living. My mom was a nurse. We didn't have much, but we had enough. I knew what it was like to have to cut corners, and I wanted to go to college, but it was really hard. Eventually, I became a college professor and was treasurer of my AFT Local. My areas of research and teaching included health policy and politics, program evaluation and leadership. I worked for ten years prior to teaching in various health management roles. I worked for five years as a nurses aidd in my first job.
I have a Bachelors’ Degree in Education – teaching secondary school; an Associate degree in Agriculture; Masters of Public Health and Ph.D in Health Services Research. Health is the largest and fastest growing part of the state budget. Education is the largest part of the General Funds budget. Both of these policy areas are now facing serious challenges, as is Agriculture, a significant part of Wisconsin’s economy.
I will take that variety of personal history, education, experience and background to the Governor’s Office. Putting People First when it comes to making state policy and spending state dollars comes naturally to me.
Hometown: Rural Alma, Wisconsin
Environment and energy
We put people first when our air, water, natural resources are preserved and enhanced for everyone’s use and enjoyment. My plan is to rehire scientists who have been fired and put them to work addressing problems like climate change and chronic wasting disease. I will hire enough inspectors to monitor sand mines, CAFOs, groundwater, and industrial and municipal discharges into our water and air.
I support going back to having DNR run by an independent Secretary appointed by the Natural Resources Board rather than a Secretary appointed by the Governor. I would restore authority to the Conservation Congress.
I would restore the Office of Energy Independence and expand support for alternative energy including community-based manure digesters and solar farms. My appointees to the Public Service Commission would be sensitive to public and environmental concerns. I want our great grandchildren to inherit the blessings of the land, sky and water from us.
It was not having health insurance that led me to run for the state senate. And I saw too many others suffering because they were paying way too much for awful insurance.
As Governor, I would take the Medicaid expansion dollars, extend health coverage to an additional 79,000 people, and use the state dollars saved to fund community mental health and drug addiction programs.
I would create our own state healthcare marketplace, patterned after the Wisconsin Badger Health Benefit Plan I sponsored in the Senate. Our own marketplace could stabilize the market, lower costs, and use the state’s regulatory authority to review, justify and, if necessary, stop rate increases, keeping plans affordable for small businesses and those who buy insurance on their own.
Our own marketplace would also provide Wisconsin the vehicle to offer BadgerCare to everyone as a public option.
Education (all levels)
We must rethink how we go about educating our children and what we want to accomplish. The creativity, excitement and challenge of teaching is stifled by rules, regulations and testing requirements. Teachers don’t have time to teach or resources and energy to try innovative approaches. Teachers are leaving the profession. The response is lowering professional requirements. As Governor, I will reverse the downward spiral.
I will push for a different funding formula. Our demographics have changed. Student needs have changed. Our economy has changed. School funding must change. I will increase state aid and reduce our reliance on the property tax.
In my alternative budgets, I increased aid for schools by taking dollars from private school subsidies, corporate tax breaks and cash payments.
I also showed, with existing dollars, how to restore UW money taken by Walker and add $100 million in needs-based student financial aid.
Voting rights and campaign finance
Democracy is a set of rules that allow all of us to participate in making community decisions. Democracy is at its best when the rules make voting easy, allow more public discussion, and more disclosure. Restrictions on voting, floods of corporate money, and speed and secrecy in the making of laws are the tools of those who seek to centralize control and take power from the people.
Laws passed by the Republicans have diminished democracy and made our politics worse. Voting is more difficult. Restrictions on campaign contributions have been eased. Oversight of elections has been turned over to a partisan board. Speed and secrecy in the passing of controversial laws has become commonplace. Participation by the public has been made more difficult. More and more decisions are removed from the control of local voters and local officials.
As Governor, I am committed to rolling back these changes.
Public safety, policing, and mass incarceration
New research shows neighborhood people working together to keep streets clean, build playgrounds, mentor children and employ young men also reduces crime.
Converting abandoned lots to green spaces reduces gun violence. As do afterschool programs, community-based mental health care, sports programs, and wrap-around services.
Neighborhoods are vital to policing themselves. Neighbors can address complex roots of violence far beyond what the police can. I will promote a culture in which police see themselves as community guardians, not warriors. Our goal is fair and impartial policing with everyone treated with respect and dignity.
Poverty, racism, mental health and addiction too often result in prison. Our justice system is racist. Truth in Sentencing, without evaluating the length of sentences created horrible injustices that must be remedied.
We need programming for those incarcerated, reform of our parole and probation system to stop revocation, reintegration help for those released and alternatives to incarceration.
Wages and workers rights
Workers should be respected and rewarded -- as the full partners they are -- in producing our state’s wealth. Workers have the right to join a union, and to collectively bargain. I will repeal right to work.
I was one of the Wisconsin 14, proud of it and haven’t run from the label. All my life, I have supported labor. As Senator, I have fought against, talked against, and led the fight against all the recent legislation that has diminished wages and worker protections.
As Governor, I will raise the minimum wage to $15 and index it to inflation.
A dream job should not just stay a dream. This is why I introduced Freedom to Learn, making two-year UW and technical colleges free for everyone in Wisconsin, including those with a family and a job and only able to attend college part-time. Freedom to Learn will be in my first budget as Governor.
Our roads and bridges are falling apart. Hundreds of thousands are without broadband. Communities don’t have resources to improve wastewater treatment plants.
The Governor failed to fund communities, borrowed to pay for roads and failed to do anything to fix the unfair, antiquated shared revenue formula.
Governor Walker’s payment to municipalities for shared revenue in 2017 was $63.8 million LESS than in 2009. Over ten years, the payment has DROPPED 7.5%.
These problems are solvable but require changes in state priorities. A gas tax increase will be in my first budget. We need other sources of transportation revenue. I would charge freight rail lines a modest $10 a car to use the 624 miles of state-owned rails. In my alternative budget I showed how, using the same money we spend now, to invest $100 million in broadband expansion; increase shared revenue by 10%, and invest in local roads and bridges.
As Governor I would make Wisconsin a welcoming state for all immigrants. As Senator, I am a cosponsor of a bill to allow immigrants to get a state driver’s license. I worked to grant undocumented students access to in-state tuition. I have long advocated for additional spending for bilingual-bicultural students and included funding in my alternative budgets.
I would work to end racial profiling, harassment and tearing apart of families.
I would do all I could to stop the deportation of members of our communities, communicating with people about their rights and directing state agencies to help those in need find legal services. I would provide additional resources to school counselors who are often on the front line in helping families – many of whom have young children.
Jobs and the economy
Study after study demonstrates businesses want to locate where there are great schools, good transportation, safe streets, and recreation opportunities — all products of the public sector. If the public sector does its job well, communities will thrive, businesses will locate, jobs will come.
Walker spent hundreds of millions luring corporations. Environmental and other regulations were gutted. We still don’t have the promised 250,000 new jobs.
In the last 3.5 years Eau Claire added 3,000 jobs – the same number promised by Foxconn. And it didn’t cost $4.5 billion. Companies started in Eau Claire because Eau Claire is a great place to live, work, play and raise a family.
What government CAN do is create an environment where the private sector thrives. The public sector should enrich the economic soil so all plants start and grow, not just the few selected by our political leaders.
That will be my goal as Governor.
Of the issues above, which three areas will you prioritize as governor of Wisconsin?
You can’t compartmentalize jobs, healthcare, education, incarceration, wages or worker rights. They are all related. You can’t fix student achievement and school funding without also addressing mental health needs, increasing poverty and long standing racism -- all forces driving our “school problem.”
In the best case scenario, what does good governance look like? Who should the governor of Wisconsin work alongside or in coalition with?
Local people are best able to address the problems they face in their communities. Our state is diverse. Across our state are many community groups working to improve communities. These groups struggle for funding. The work they do makes a real difference in the lives of community residents.
As Governor, I plan to work with local people to bring counties, municipalities and tribes into a true partnership delivering state funded support services. From wrap around services and after school programs, to arts and conservation groups, the work of nonprofits will be supported and uplifted in my administration. I will seek the insight and experience of workers in public service and public funded projects. Those who do the work are the ones who should be listened to.
Programs should be designed to maximize success for the “client,” not maximize convenience for the provider.
Good government is characterized by open communication, public participation, and wise and frugal use of public dollars. Good government takes into account the interests of all, not just the interests of those who are organized or who can hire lobbyists. Good government takes into account the long term, not just the short.
Good government is pragmatic, not ideological, in addressing problems.
Good government recognizes that competing interests must be accommodated, compromise is necessary, the pursuit of absolutes is dangerous and creativity in finding solutions is essential.
What efforts is your campaign making to recruit and engage volunteers?
The majority of the resources of our campaign are devoted to recruiting volunteers and engaging them in outreach in their neighborhoods.