A three-term Republican state representative is defending his seat against a first time Democratic candidate for state office in November.
Kathy Hinkfuss of Green Bay, a former business executive with deep experience with local nonprofit agencies is running against incumbent State Rep. David Steffen, of Howard, in the Nov. 3 election for the 4th Assembly District.
The district includes portions of western Green Bay, Allouez, Ashwaubenon and portions of the villages of Howard and Hobart.
USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin sent both candidates a questionnaire and asked them to limit each of their responses to approximately 100 words. Here’s what they had to say.
Occupation and highest education level: I am a licensed nurse, a community leader, a commissioner on the City of Green Bay Redevelopment Authority. I completed my Masters in Business Administration at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh at the age of 51.
Relevant experience: I was born and raised in Brown County. I’m a mom, wife, nurse, and former healthcare executive. In my professional life, I was a vice president at Humana, responsible for the work lives of 5,000 employees and a $170 million budget. I became CEO of the YWCA Greater Green Bay in 2011. During my time with the organization we completed a $3.3 million capital campaign and opened the Women’s Empowerment Center. I am currently a commissioner for the City of Green Bay on the Redevelopment Authority. I have served on the Children’s Museum Board, the Chamber of Commerce, the Girls Scouts of North Eastern Wisconsin, and most recently the Art Garage.
Occupation and highest education level: State Assembly representative and small business owner. B.A. in political science, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Relevant experience: In my six years as a state representative, I have a proven track record of delivering results: reducing the cost of health insurance and prescription drugs, providing health insurance coverage for every Wisconsinite in poverty, increasing school funding by $1.3 billion in just 4 years, returning $17.7 million in sales tax to Brown County communities, eliminating the state property tax ($13 billion in total tax relief over 8 years), eliminating fraud and abuse of our welfare system, and developing the most comprehensive, successful drug addiction initiative (HOPE Agenda) in the country.
Why are you running for office?
Hinkfuss: I was driven to run for office when I saw just how ineffective and disengaged our legislature has been. The current state Legislature hasn’t properly addressed the crisis stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak and has shown a deep inability to get things done, even when it comes to popular bipartisan legislation. Our current state representative doesn’t keep his constituents properly informed and won’t participate in public forums. We simply deserve to have a state representative who will deliver results and listen to all voices. I will be a representative who is engaged, present and ready to lead.
Steffen: I believe my efforts, ability and passion have allowed me to deliver results for the residents of the district and state. Knowing these successes have helped the residents of Wisconsin is incredibly satisfying and motivating for the future. I wake up every morning looking forward to addressing the challenges and opportunities facing the residents of my district. Moreover, my collaborative, bi-partisan approach to problem solving is valuable to in Madison, especially at a time when our state and nation are so polarized.
What makes you the better candidate in this race?
Hinkfuss: I intend to be a representative who works with everyone to put the needs of the people first. I am not running to play politics; elected officials must represent all constituents — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — for the betterment of our state. Listening, really listening, to people (the customer) has been a key to my success, and one I will carry on in the state Legislature. I have a proven record of successful leadership in the business and non-profit sectors, and I want to put this experience to work for the people.
Steffen: I have been successful in delivering common-sense, positive results by working incredibly hard and by developing creative solutions that incorporate input from all sides of an issue. This collaborative approach makes my proposals attractive to both parties. As a result, over 90% of my legislation generates bi-partisan support — a rarity in politics! While it takes exceptional effort and patience to find principled compromise without compromising my principles, it’s worth it to me. Conversely, I believe my opponent’s radical positions on welfare expansion and law enforcement are hyper-partisan and only serve to inflame and widen the political divide in Madison.
What are residents telling you are their most important issues, and how would you address them?
Hinkfuss: Partisan gridlock and inaction are huge concerns. People are tired of the games. They want real leaders who will address the issues and engage with people on all sides. COVID-19 is top of mind, as our communities struggle to get back to work and our kids back to school. Everyone wants to stay safe, but we also need to get our lives back on track. The people I talk to are also concerned about health care costs and how to pay their bills. They want someone in government who they can trust to represent them faithfully.
Steffen: Almost daily, I contact, listen and respond to the people I serve. This input informs and directs my priorities. Without question, the most important issues communicated relate to the impacts of COVID-19 on jobs and the economy. Sadly our government dropped the ball on handling the surge of unemployment compensation claims. No Wisconsinite should have to wait months to receive benefits. Beyond COVID-19 matters, the second top request I’m hearing from residents is a strong belief that we not raise taxes during this time of recovery. For this reason, passing a fiscally responsible budget next year is a top priority.
What are the top two issues Legislature should address?
Hinkfuss: First, accessible and affordable healthcare. By covering more people, we can lower costs for everyone. We need to accept the Medicaid expansion money — our own federal tax dollars.
Second, the undemocratic practice of gerrymandering allows elected officials to pick their voters rather than the other way around. Right now Wisconsin’s legislative districts are one of the most rigged in the nation, depriving the citizens of their right to fairly choose their representatives. We can fix this with a fair and nonpartisan redistricting process that still respects the constitutional duty of the legislature to pass the final legislative and congressional maps.
Steffen: Besides the immediate COVID-19 related response, which includes healthcare system support, unemployment eligibility/processing reform, and emergency business assistance efforts, the top issues my constituents have asked for me to address are a renewed commitment to law and order, more/higher paying jobs, and a tax-hike-free state budget. I am committed to delivering on each of these issues next session.
What should Legislature be doing to help address the COVID-19 pandemic?
Hinkfuss: Unfortunately, current leadership in the legislature is treating COVID-19 like a political football. They should be helping to administer larger-scale testing, contact tracing, and consistent messaging regarding health guidelines, as well as resources to implement those recommendations. Instead, they are working against every action taken to alleviate this pandemic and help businesses survive. The State Assembly hasn’t even met since early March. Leadership is about addressing crises head-on, not putting heads in the sand. The sooner we start addressing the pandemic, together, the sooner we can get our kids back in school and our businesses back to full capacity.
Steffen: While the press may not fully report it, the legislature and Governor Evers have worked collaboratively on our state’s COVID-19 response. We worked together to enact a series of COVID-19 response bills this spring, and I have supported most of the governor’s allocation determinations of the federal CARES Act funds, which includes over $1 billion for schools, hospitals, nursing homes, farmers and local governments. While I’m optimistic that we will begin exiting this pandemic when we reconvene in January, both political parties will need to work together to address the post-pandemic economic and employment fallout of this year’s crisis.
In your view, how big of a problem is racial injustice and discrimination and what should be done about it?
Hinkfuss: It is our responsibility to fight racism in all its forms, especially in a state with one of the largest racial inequality gaps in the nation. The Legislature can immediately get to work on bills already introduced: legislation that would add de-escalation training for police departments across the state, promote accountability, and prohibit chokeholds and no-knock warrants. To be very clear, I support our police departments, and there is nothing controversial about placing checks and balances on the use of force against citizens. There is nothing controversial about working with our communities and our police departments to develop better practices.
Steffen: I am a recognized leader on several parts of this movement: criminal justice reform, policing reform, and prison reform. I’ve worked with both parties on solutions including workforce re-entry initiatives for the recently incarcerated and law changes to allow legal resident, non-citizens the opportunity to serve as police officers. Notably, I am also the state’s leading advocate for closing and replacing the 122-year old prison in Allouez (GBCI) with a safer, less expensive facility that focuses on recidivism reduction. Important note: I will never support mob violence or police defunding efforts that are often included in this debate.
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