MAUSTON—Art Shrader and Tom Crofton, candidates for the 50th State Assembly District, both believe they have the vision to lead Wisconsin down a better path, but first they will have to get past the Aug. 9 primary election.

Crofton and Shrader are running against each other on the Democratic ballot. The winner in next Tuesday’s primary will face Republican Ed Brooks in the Nov. 8 general election. Brooks has served as a state representative for the 50th District since January 2009.

On Monday, Crofton and Shrader shared their views and plans, if elected, during a question-and-answer forum at Hatch Public Library in Mauston. The forum was hosted by the Democratic Party of Juneau County and aired on WRJC-FM, moderated by the radio station’s general manager, Jim Murphy.

Crofton, a rural Richland County resident, has a background in carpentry and construction and has served on the Richland County Board of Supervisors. Crofton, who also operates a beef farm, chose to run as a Democrat, but said both sides are at fault for the state’s suffering economy.

“The people down in the Capitol have to do what’s right to make the state better and both sides have been failing for quite a while now,” Crofton said in his opening statement. “A lot of the problems that came to a head in 2010 were the result of both sides not functioning well in the past few decades before that. I’m challenging the leaders of my own party to do the things they say they will do and to be a force for the working people and lift up the middle class.”

Shrader, a former Marine who served in Operation Desert Storm, has built a career in the community banking industry. He has lived in Reedsburg since the early 1990s. Through his career in banking, Shrader has worked with small businesses to maintain growth and prosperity. He believes the same can be done to boost the economy in Wisconsin, but changes must be made in the state legislature.

Both candidates feel Brooks is a “nice guy,” but tends to vote with the status quo of fellow Republican lawmakers in Madison.

“As a community banker, there’s not a day that goes by where I haven’t talked to someone who has been negatively impacted by the short-sighted decisions in Madison, due to the same poor decisions that Ed Brooks has voted on time and time again,” Shrader said. “And let me be clear: it will only get worse if we don’t do something. We’ve had enough of watching what’s been happening in this state; it’s time to stand up and do something about it. I’ve heard loud and clear that people are upset.”

Shrader believes this year’s election will be crucial for the future of Wisconsin. In his career in banking, Shrader has worked with a wide range of people. He believes that experience will help him work with both Democrats and Republicans to pass bi-partisan legislation.

Crofton said he developed ways to save money and produce sustainable business solutions during his years in construction.

During Monday’s forum, Crofton and Shrader responded to questions submitted to WRJC that they did not see before the forum. The candidates discussed a broad range of topics, including infrastructure, public education, voting rights, the economy, and campaign finance reform.

Shrader said Brooks has voted with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Gov. Scott Walker 98 percent of the time on bills. Shrader stressed doing right by his constituents and not caving to his party’s wishes.

“We need someone who has the backbone to stand up to what’s right,” Shrader said. “You have to question what their motivation is in Madison.”

When the candidates were asked how they would restore clean politics in state government, Crofton responded with a terse, “Kick them all out.”

In regard to transportation funding, Shrader believes the 50th District has been neglected and passed over for projects in Milwaukee and Madison. Crofton said a budget shortfall in transportation funding has led to crumbling roads and the state’s lagging economy has hurt the middle and working class. He proposed a fuel tax on heavy trucks to generate funding for infrastructure.

“If we take a walk down Mauston, Reedsburg or Richland Center, you see a tremendous amount of decay,” Crofton said. “Our houses and roads are falling apart. If you go just across the border, to Minnesota, it’s not like this.”

When asked about education, Crofton said the private voucher school program has “been a disaster.” Shrader said it was a terrible idea that Brooks voted for after he said he wouldn’t. Both have seen cuts to public school districts across the district and state. Crofton said the system needs be economically sustainable and constant funding cuts don’t solve budget problems.

“If this continues, in 10 years, we might not have public schools,” Shrader said.

Both candidates support raising the minimum wage, which sits at $7.25 per hour. Shrader said Brooks didn’t vote for a meager .$25 increase when there was an opportunity to raise it.

In listing top priorities, Shrader said his are: rural economic development, infrastructure improvement, expanding broadband internet access, and improvements to public education from K-12 to technical colleges and the UW System.

Crofton said one of his biggest priorities is fixing the problems from the controversial Act 10 bill passed in 2011. He is also an advocate for sustainable economic growth by reinvesting money within the state.

The 50th District includes all of Juneau County and the towns of Clifton and Glendale and village of Kendall in Monroe County.

Republicans hold a 63-36 advantage in the Assembly, and Democrats need districts like the 50th to retake the lower chamber. The district favored Democrat Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

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Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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