Bewley, Bolen vie for 25th District Senate seat
A Cable-area Republican is challenging a one-term Democrat for Wisconsin's 25th Senate District in the Nov. 6 election.
Republican candidate James Bolen, 50, owns and operates Lake Owen Resort, and serves as the director of the Cable Area Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Bayfield County Economic Development Board. He is a volunteer firefighter and rescue scuba diver.
He's a lifelong resident of the Northland where he and his wife raised three children.
"Over the past 20 years, I have been a dedicated, civic-minded business owner who has worked to make my community a better place," Bolen said. "Now, I want to serve the people of the 25th and be a stronger northern voice in Madison."
Janet Bewley, 67, the incumbent Democrat from Mason, has worked in a variety of careers since she started working at age 14. Since graduating from college in Cleveland, Ohio, Bewley has earned a master's degree in education administration, worked in exports, served as the dean of students at Northland College and worked for Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
She's served as a member of library and planning boards, and on the Ashland City Council before serving two terms in the Wisconsin Assembly, representing the 74th District during her 41 years as a resident of northern Wisconsin.
"Having been in the Assembly and realizing just how important this work is to truly bring the voice of northern Wisconsin to Madison ... when Bob Jauch retired, I didn't have to think twice," Bewley said.
Both candidates agree that understanding the district and representing the people well in Madison are critical to the role of senator.
"In my role as director of the Cable Area Chamber of Commerce, I have worked to bring people together with the goal of bettering our economy and our communities," Bolen said. "The Cable area is seeing tremendous success. I will bring this same approach to bettering all of northwestern Wisconsin."
Currently, Bewley serves as assistant minority leader in the Senate.
"I think in terms of leadership, leadership in politics, when you're in the building you have to learn how to be articulate," Bewley said. "You have to learn to gain respect from both sides of the aisle, and that requires doing your homework, knowing the issues, not exaggerating and not angry and super emotional — being dependable and consistent voice for the truth ... After eight years, I have a pretty good reputation."
Wisconsin's economy is improving but it's been an uneven recovery since the last recession with some counties flourishing while others lag behind. While joblessness has been below 3 percent for the last eight months, wages are just beginning to climb.
For some, poverty remains a reality.
"Growing up in Northern Wisconsin, for years all we would hear is 'Where are all the jobs?'" Bolen said. "Now, when I talk to employers they ask, 'Where are we going to find people to fill these jobs?' That is an important shift."
Bolen said education is a key to helping people gain the skill they need to get ahead in Wisconsin's economy today.
"We need to focus on workforce development by providing opportunities for affordable, quality higher education at both the University of Wisconsin System and our Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College system to create the workforce to fill the jobs we have here in northern Wisconsin. We also need to work to ensure that we continue to provide businesses looking to invest in northern Wisconsin with clear reasonable regulatory standards."
Bewley said it's important to recognize that unemployment is only one indicator in the economy's health.
"We have people in northern Wisconsin who work multiple jobs and they still do not make enough money," Bewley said. "We need to be able to provide the kind of economic infrastructure in northern Wisconsin that is going to attract and retain the kinds of businesses that can pay higher wages."
In many cases, she said the pay reflects the inability of employers to reach out to their potential customers because of "fundamental infrastructure problems" in northern Wisconsin.
"We need better roads. We need better broadband coverage. We need better cellphone coverage," Bewley said. "We need the kinds of things that are going to draw employers, make it easier for them to make a profit, so they can pay their people better. Until we solve those fundamental infrastructure problems, everyone from the employers to the employees bear a heavier burden financially."
Adequately funding infrastructure has remained a challenge the Legislature has yet to solve.
"I believe that we should start with dusting off the report of (Gov. Scott Walker's Transportation Secretary Mark) Gottlieb," Bewley said. "He did a thorough analysis into multiple ways of getting revenue and they threw it away. They literally tossed it in the wastebasket and denied it."
State budgets have relied on borrowing to fill the gap as roads have continued to deteriorate.
"We cannot pick just one (solution) and go forward with it until we do a thorough analysis of all the options and engage the people of Wisconsin," Bewley said. "Which choices would you take? What options do you think are the most fair? I'm willing to get re-engaged in that process because we simply cannot pretend that there isn't a revenue problem."
Bolen agrees that the state has to find a solution to roads, but he said revenue, and where it's used, both need to be looked at.
"First and foremost, we need to make sure that government is running as efficiently as possible," Bolen said. "Before looking at a revenue increase — gas tax increase, vehicle registration increase, etc. — I want to ensure that our fair share of the revenue sources that already exist are coming back to northern Wisconsin, especially in the form of local road aids. We need more money for our local roads. In the last budget, general transportation aids were increased by $56.9 million. This is a good start; however, I will work for additional increases in rural road funding."
And Bolen said it's an issue that is likely to be addressed in the next state budget.
"I support Governor Walker's recent proposal of a $900 per mile increase in the next state budget for General Transportation Aids for towns," Bolen said.
Where the candidates differ most is education. Education funding has prompted more than 200 of the school districts in the state, including the Maple and Solon Springs school districts, to turn to voters to make ends meet.
"The state has been sort of shirking its responsibility when it comes to education," Bewley said. "Ever since Walker has been in office we have seen such severe cuts to education that brought us to the place where we are right now, particularly for rural schools."
Part of the problem, she said, is funding private schools, taking resources from public schools, which have little benefit for students in largely rural school districts which have been frozen at artificially low revenue caps.
"We've got to take a serious look at how unfair revenue caps are for rural districts," Bewley said. "We have to take a harder look at sparsity funding and transportation aids. Those are the things that rural schools depend upon."
Bolen said the decision to increase funding for education in the last budget is a step in the right direction.
"The $600 million increase to public schools in the last budget was a great start," Bolen said. "This increase, supplemented with an increase in sparsity aid payments and an increase for low-revenue districts, has significantly helped our northern schools."
Bolen said he would move forward by looking where the needs are and make sure additional revenue goes toward those needs.
"For example, when I meet with school officials and teachers one of the needs I commonly hear is special education funding," Bolen said. "We need to look at the state's reimbursement to schools for special education services and ensure that it is at an appropriate level."