2021 Winter Survey Results
In my capacity as State Senator, I am in constant contact with people from all walks of life. I am fortunate to be able to hear a variety of viewpoints on a multitude of issues, and in collaboration with my staff I attempt to answer every inquiry that comes across my desk on matters of state concern. Every so often, I like to hear from folks on a much wider scale. That's why I host periodic town hall meetings, and at least twice a year send out surveys to my district on a sampling of the hot topics of the moment. In this era of social distancing and public health precautions, I am unable to do these things in-person, so I have to rely on virtual equivalents. The advantage of this is I have the potential to reach a whole lot more people. How many exactly? Keep reading to find out, as I present the results of our Winter 2021 District Survey.
We received almost 2,200 responses to our survey from 248 different Wisconsin communities. In a dramatic shift from previous surveys, we saw a huge increase in participation from outside of the 7th Senate District. While a majority of respondents were from the communities that make up the 7th District, 46% were not. Compared that to our Summer Survey in 2020, where 82% of respondents were verified residents of the 7th.
This shift is partially deliberate. In our outreach we welcomed all Wisconsin residents to complete the survey. We know that there are thousands of folks in districts across the state who don’t feel adequately represented by their elected officials, and they deserve a chance to be heard. Also, as Senate lead on the K-12 Education and University and Tech. College Committees, It is my duty to consider the state as a whole when considering bills that affect education. The 7th District is my home and my top priority, but I am proud to serve the entire state, not just the people who put me into office.
Should tax dollars be used to fund private schools in Wisconsin?
79% of respondents do not think that our tax dollars should go toward funding private schools in Wisconsin, while just 14.6% believe they should. When we asked a similar question last summer, less than 65% thought the program should be phased out. People across the state are beginning to see the tremendous negative impacts of funding two separate and unequal school systems.
Overall, would you say Wisconsin public schools are underfunded, overfunded, or funded the right amount?
A whopping 84.6% of respondents think our public schools are underfunded, 9.5% think they are funded adequately, and just 5.6% think they receive too much funding. In every recent Wisconsin election, dozens of districts across the state have been forced to come to voters asking for a tax increase via referendum, with the overwhelming majority of these measures being approved. If we supported schools adequately at the state level to begin with, districts would not have to come to voters asking for money so often, and we could help control property taxes at the same time.
If private voucher and charter schools receive public funding, should they have to follow the same transparency and accountability standards as traditional public schools?
92.9% of respondents think that all schools which receive public funding should have to abide by the same standards, while just 4.4% think that private schools should be able to operate under a different set of rules, as they currently do. I have no doubt that if all schools were held to the same standards, there would be a lot fewer schools in the voucher program, and our children and families would be better served as a result.
Should Wisconsin invest more resources than it currently does to strengthen our UW Campuses and Technical Colleges?
74.1% of respondents feel that our UW System and Technical Colleges should receive a greater share of support from the state than they currently do, while just 17.4% disagree. Education is one of the best investments any government can make, and in today’s competitive job market, it is critical that all students have access to the higher education institution that meets their needs. That includes 4-year, 2-year, vocational, and post-graduate education, as well as programs for non-traditional students, who have begun to make up a growing proportion of students enrolled in post-secondary education in recent years.
Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. where a first offense for drunk driving (also known as DUI or OWI) is not considered a criminal offense. Do you support changing this law to bring Wisconsin in line with the rest of the nation?
72% of respondents think that first-offense drunk driving should be a crime, not a moving violation as is it currently, and just 21.8% disagree. Despite fewer people driving to work during 2020 due to the pandemic, traffic fatalities rose across our state, and drunk driving continues to be a deadly fact of life for Wisconsin. This has to change.
Currently, Wisconsin state legislators are not required to retain any records of their activities or correspondence, making open records requests almost meaningless for those who regularly delete them. Do you support changing the law so that legislators must retain these records in the interest of transparency?
People are routinely shocked when I tell them that Wisconsin lawmakers are under no obligation to retain documents that would otherwise be subject to open records requests. An astounding 96.2% of respondents think this is wrong, and that legislators should have to retain these records to improve transparency in the legislative process.
Should hospitals and other healthcare providers have to publish their prices, so consumers can make more informed choices and to encourage competition between providers?
Unlike nearly every other industry, there is no publicly available list of prices available for most health care services. This makes it nearly impossible for consumers to “shop around,” and creates an environment of unfair competition as insurance carriers and health systems can make closed-door deals with one another. Two people receiving two identical medical services could pay drastically different prices depending on which insurance carrier they have and which facility they go to, and they may not ever know the difference. It was not a surprise, then, that 91.5% of respondents want to see greater price transparency in healthcare. While it won’t solve all our healthcare cost issues, it will help point us in the right direction.
Would you support legislation to combat price gouging in healthcare and prescription drugs?
Prescription drugs are a huge and growing part of our total healthcare costs, with very little regulation in place to prevent shocking price spikes for no legitimate, market-based reason. 96.4% of respondents to our survey think that one way we can start to get a handle on these costs is to institute price-gouging regulations for pharmaceuticals. Nobody should have to go broke to afford their prescriptions, and if drug companies want to abuse their customers, they should have a heavy price to pay.
Do you support legalizing cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana)?
When we asked this same question last summer, 93.3% of respondents favored some form of legalization of cannabis. In this survey, 94.5% supported either medicinal or recreational legalization efforts, with 72.8% supporting full legalization. Oregon recently became a national leader in ending the drug war, by offering treatment in lieu of prosecution for drug possession of all types. That Wisconsin (and the federal government) continues to treat cannabis the same as drugs like heroin and cocaine, when numerous studies show it to be less harmful than alcohol in comparable doses, we know there is much work to be done. I will continue to push for marijuana legalization until it becomes law.
Do you support implementing the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change?
My former legislative colleague, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, chaired the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change, which recently released its list of recommendations. These can be found here: https://climatechange.wi.gov/Pages/Home.aspx
79% of survey respondents support the Task Force’s recommendations, while just 7.4% oppose them. I encourage you to look this report over when you have a chance. There is so much we could be doing as a state to take the lead in tackling our world’s greatest long-term threat - climate change. Recently, WE Energies announced it would be retiring the Oak Creek coal plant, which many residents of the 7th District have been calling for for years.
Do you support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour with automatic cost-of-living increases?
Wisconsin’s $7.25 minimum wage is an embarrassment. Nobody who works full-time should have to live in poverty. A $15 minimum wage is long overdue, and any future increase must be tied to inflation, or thousands risk losing buying power every year. 80.8% of respondents to our survey agree, while just 15.3% disagree.
Do you support paid sick leave for all workers?
The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light so many shortcomings of our social safety net, but few are as readily apparent as the lack of guaranteed paid sick leave. People should never have to choose between their job and their health, and nobody should come to work sick, which endangers the health not just of other employees and customers, but their families and our communities as well. 85.3% of respondents support guaranteed paid sick leave, while just 9.6% oppose.
Do you support the goal of Governor Evers’ People’s Maps Commission to create non-partisan legislative maps in Wisconsin, in order to end the practice known as “gerrymandering” by either party?
It’s become almost cliche at this point: voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. Governor Evers and legislative Democrats agree, and have proposed the creation of a non-partisan redistricting process for Wisconsin, similar to the Iowa model. 91.8% of survey respondents agree, while just 5.7% disagree. Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, and if we allow this to continue we risk losing an entire generation to apathy and distrust in our political system.
Do you support the state prioritizing investing in highway expansion projects or would you prefer to spend those dollars on local transit options and maintaining existing roads and infrastructure?
Over the past decade, Wisconsin has proven itself to be highway-obsessed. We’ve spent millions upon millions remodeling and expanding freeways, while local roads and public transit is left to languish in neglect and disrepair. 87.9% of respondents think we should be prioritizing local roads and public transit before highway expansion, while just 9.9% think we should prioritize highways. The planned I-94 project has become highly controversial, in part because this tremendous expenditure primarily benefits people outside of Milwaukee, while our bus system, bridges, and local streets are in desperate need of repair and upgrades which will benefit all who visit our area: residents, commuters, and tourists alike.
How would you rate the Republican-controlled legislature’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
It’s no secret at this point that our GOP-controlled legislature has passed but one single bill that has become law since April of 2020. What’s worse, they’ve instigated multiple lawsuits to force a pandemic election in April, overturn Governor Evers’ public health measures in May, and have now set their sights on overturning the statewide mask mandate. It is no surprise, then, that 90% of respondents to our survey rated the GOP legislative response to COVID-19 as “Poor” or worse, and 80% rated it “Very Poor.” Just 5% of respondents approved of legislative Republicans’ response to the pandemic.