Chris Rockwood, Democratic Candidate for Assembly District 14

Oct. 17, 2016
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Democrat Chris Rockwood is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Dale Kooyenga to represent Assembly District 14. Here are Rockwood’s answers to the Shepherd’s candidate questionnaire. 

Your current occupation, education and career and personal information you’d like our readers to know:

I hold a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Rice University and have worked for 29 years as an engineer in digital design and technical marketing for several high-tech companies, including Apple and Mentor Graphics. I got involved in politics in 2011 because I was upset about the deep divisions that were created in our state by Gov. Walker and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature. In their move to consolidate power, my longtime state representative was driven out of his seat by gerrymandering and I decided to run for the Assembly in the new 14th District. My wife Annette had no idea that I would ever run for office when we married eight years ago, but she has stuck by me through three campaigns (including a 2014 run for Congress in Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District) and I could not do this without her love and support. 

Why are you running for office?

I am running for the state Assembly again this year because I could not allow my opponent’s attacks on our public schools and teachers to go unanswered. The 14th District, which stretches from 60th Street between Milwaukee and Wauwatosa to Springdale Road on the western edge of Brookfield, includes working-class neighborhoods in the City of Milwaukee as well as affluent neighborhoods that include some of Wisconsin’s best public schools. Many of my neighbors in Wauwatosa and Brookfield are unaware that my opponent’s “education reform” efforts are not limited to the City of Milwaukee. I have earned support from independents and moderate Republicans as well as from Democrats by opposing the takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools and by explaining that statewide expansion of unaccountable voucher schools, which my opponent voted for, is a threat to all of our public schools throughout the district.

The residents of my district are not receiving honest and effective representation in Madison. In addition to attacking our public schools and voting to cut funding for the University of Wisconsin System, one of our state’s greatest assets, my opponent is anything but the “fiscal conservative” he claims to be (and should be, as a CPA). He voted to reject federal funds for BadgerCare expansion, a terrible decision that is costing Wisconsin taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars for massive highway projects instead of finding a responsible way to pay for them. 

What are the top three issues you’d like to address, and how would you address them?

Public education

My most important priority will be strengthening public education and supporting public educators. All of our children have the right to receive a high-quality education in public schools that are equitably funded and overseen by democratically elected school boards. Article X, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution mandates “the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable.” Public schools are a public good and a collective responsibility.

My opponent voted for statewide expansion of voucher and charter schools and authored the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (better known as the “MPS Takeover”) despite a lack of evidence that different forms of school governance improve overall student achievement.

Health care

I will advocate strongly for expansion of BadgerCare with federal funds, which will provide coverage to 83,000 more people while saving Wisconsin taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. I will also work to preserve SeniorCare, prevent the privatization of FamilyCare and IRIS, and ensure responsible implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Wisconsin must seek to exceed the federal requirements of the ACA, not to fight them.

Clean, open, transparent government

Wisconsin used to be nationally known for its bipartisan tradition of clean, open, honest and transparent government. Most governors in recent decades were moderate Democrats or moderate Republicans, and there was a spirit of camaraderie and compromise in the legislative chambers. Gov. Walker and his allies turned our state’s longtime tradition on its head by drawing a new legislative map with an extreme partisan bias, eviscerating disclosure requirements in our campaign finance system, abolishing the respected Government Accountability Board, and changing laws to make political corruption more difficult to investigate. These actions were an embarrassment to our state, and they must be repealed. We need a nonpartisan redistricting process similar to the procedure used in Iowa. 

How would you improve the economic climate in your district?

The economic climate in most of the 14th Assembly District is more favorable than in most of Wisconsin. The district could benefit from more transit options, especially between Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, which could be addressed by a regional transit authority (a topic that is mentioned elsewhere in this questionnaire). I’d like to address the issue of a poor economic climate throughout Wisconsin, where economic growth continues to lag behind other Midwestern states and the U.S. average.

Gov. Walker’s attacks on workers, which my opponent has consistently supported, have made Wisconsin a less attractive place to live and work. Act 10 substantially reduced take-home pay and job stability for tens of thousands of public employees, and it has made some professions—especially teaching—less attractive. More recently, the passage of a “right-to-work” law, the repeal of prevailing wage laws, and the weakening of civil service protections have all put downward pressure on wages and the quality of jobs. I will fight to restore labor rights for public-sector and private-sector employees, prevailing wage laws, and Wisconsin’s previously excellent civil service protections. 

Do you support the way Wisconsin currently funds public schools? If so, why? If not, what would you like to see instead?

No. The funding formula for our public schools is overly complex and inequitable. For example, many suburban school districts receive substantially more funding per student than Milwaukee Public Schools. Equalizing the amounts per student would be a step forward, but equity (as opposed to equality) requires supplemental investments in our children who live in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and unemployment. MPS and other districts with substantial numbers of economically disadvantaged students need additional funding to implement the community schools model, which has been successful in other cities (for example, Cincinnati) and has already shown more promise in Milwaukee than the expansion of voucher and charter schools.

We need a funding formula that is not only simpler and more equitable but also restores Gov. Tommy Thompson’s commitment that two-thirds of public school funding should come from the state, reducing the burden on property taxpayers and requiring the wealthiest Wisconsinites to pay their fair share. 

Do you think the state should support more voucher and charter schools? Should their per-pupil funding increase?

No, with one possible exception: “instrumentality” charter schools, which are public schools that are authorized and overseen by local school boards and staffed with school district employees. There is inadequate oversight of voucher schools and non-instrumentality charter schools, especially those authorized by entities other than school boards, and we do not have conclusive evidence that expansion of voucher or charter schools has improved overall outcomes in Milwaukee or anywhere in Wisconsin.

This year, for the first time, the school “report card” calculations allow for comparisons between voucher schools and public schools. I will advocate for the removal of chartering authority from all entities other than school boards and a moratorium on voucher expansion until and unless several years of data from the new report card system show that voucher schools produce statistically significant increases in educational outcomes. 

Should the state further intervene in the Milwaukee Public Schools?

No, especially because of the recent news that under the new report card system, which emphasizes student improvement over raw proficiency and considers both poverty levels and students with disabilities, MPS is not considered a “failing” district and no MPS schools will be eligible for takeover under the OSPP legislation this year. This represents improvement, which is what my opponent and Sen. Darling wanted to see. Regardless of who serves in the Legislature during the coming year, MPS should be left alone to build on this success and continue to expand its roster of community schools. 

How should the state pay for freeway projects and local roadways?

Funding for transportation, including but not limited to highways and local roads, is inadequate because our gas tax has been frozen since 2006 and vehicle registration fees have remained the same since 2007. While the fuel tax and registration fees have effectively declined when inflation is taken into account, increases in fuel efficiency have reduced the number of gallons of fuel purchased. At the same time, our interstate highways have reached the end of their life cycles, requiring massive reconstruction projects. The current funding shortfall is a serious problem, and in the last budget my opponent voted for an irresponsible solution: borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars and “kicking the can down the road” to our next generation. Wisconsin’s once-excellent local roads are deteriorating, and the state needs to increase aid to counties, cities, villages and towns for badly needed repairs and reconstruction. We must solve these problems by generating additional revenue and/or by scaling back highway “megaprojects” to reduce their costs. We can reduce the scope of some projects by reconstructing highways within their existing footprints instead of adding unnecessary lanes. I am opposed to any consideration of tolling; roads are a public good and a collective responsibility. 

Is the state adequately funding public transit?

No, and this is not a minor problem; it’s a spectacular failure. Public transit is a vitally important but often overlooked part of our transportation infrastructure. The Milwaukee metropolitan area is one of the largest in America without a dedicated funding source for transit. Milwaukee County voters approved a referendum in 2008 that called for a one-cent sales tax to fund parks and transit, but any sales tax increase requires state legislative action. The best possible solution is not a county-by-county patchwork of transit systems but a regional transit authority encompassing multiple counties with a dedicated funding source; that is what I will fight for as a member of the Assembly. A sales tax funding mechanism will allow reductions in property taxes. My opponent, a resident of Brookfield (a car-dependent suburb), does not care about public transit and actively opposes efforts to expand transit options. He attempted to kill the Milwaukee streetcar project from Madison (but fortunately was not successful), and he supported Gov. Walker’s terrible decision to reject a federal grant of $810 million for high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison. 

Would you support allowing local communities to increase their sales tax?

Yes. In general, I support local control of policies that affect residents of Wisconsin’s counties, cities, villages, towns and school districts. Local governments should be able to levy sales taxes—with the same exemptions as the state sales tax, of course. Local elected officials who might choose to raise (or reduce) taxes are accountable to voters every 2-4 years and should be trusted to act in the best interests of their constituents. 

Do you believe a woman has the right to choose an abortion?

The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1973 that women have the right to choose abortion. Instead of passing unconstitutional laws to restrict that right, opponents of abortion should focus on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies by improving access to contraception and requiring responsible sex education. As a member of the Assembly, I will cosponsor legislation to reinstate Wisconsin’s Healthy Youth Act, which my opponent voted to repeal.

Is the state doing an adequate job of protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources?

Absolutely not. The DNR, with its “chamber-of-commerce mentality” under Secretary Cathy Stepp, is an embarrassment and a complete departure from Wisconsin’s bipartisan tradition of environmental protection. From the infamous mining bill, which was written to make it easy for a specific company to open a huge open-pit iron mine, to the current problems with groundwater contamination caused by inadequate regulation of high-capacity wells and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations; in other words, industrial-sized farms), our current state government’s environmental mission is to protect as little as possible while allowing large corporations to maximize their profits. My opponent voted in 2013 to reduce funding for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, named for two former governors of Wisconsin (one Republican and one Democratic) who cared deeply about conservation, in spite of the fact that more than 90 percent of voters have supported maintaining the program’s funding even during tough economic times. I will fight to restore the tradition of environmental protection that Governors Knowles and Nelson helped to establish. 

To learn more about Chris Rockwood, go to chrisrockwood.org.

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