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Previewing the race for Wisconsin’s 71st Assembly district

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 9:48 PM CDT
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STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) - For the first time since winning the seat over now State Senator Patrick Testin in 2012, Representative Katrina Shankland will have a challenger in the race to represent the state of Wisconsin’s 71st Assembly district, the Democrat incumbent is facing Republican opponent Scott Soik.

Rep. Shankland has held the seat since 2012. Born in Wausau, she’s a graduate of Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School. She attended the University of Wisconsin – Marathon County, now UW-Stevens Point at Wausau, before transferring to Marquette University and then earning a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009. She completed graduate work at UW-Stevens Point in 2019.

Representative Shankland currently serves as the Vice-Chair on the Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality and is also a member of the Committee on Audit, Committee on Colleges and Universities, Committee on Environment, Committee on Sporting Heritage, Committee on Workforce Development, and the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. She served as the State Assembly’s Minority Leader in 2015. She’s an official Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.

Scott Soik grew up in Portage County in the Town of Linwood where he lives with his family. Soik is a veteran, having served the United States Marine Corps from 1993 to 1997. He currently owns River Valley Specialized Machining.

Soik, like Rep. Shankland, has some experience in public service. He served as Town of Linwood Board Supervisor from 2004 to 2006, Town of Linwood Plan Commission from 2004 to 2012; he was the Town of Linwood Plan Commission Chairman from 2017 to 2020, served the Portage County Board of adjustment from 2011 to 2017, the St. Paul Lutheran School Board from 2011 to 2017 and he currently serves on the Portage County Board of Supervisors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the 2020 General Election, and while both Representative Shankland and Soik may have different backgrounds and experience, both agree that Republicans and Democrats need to work together to solve the issues that the state of Wisconsin is facing right now in regards to the virus.

“Throughout the campaign process, we all know that it can get a little dirty, a little contentious; we’ve been fielding a lot of attacks. A lot of Facebook messages, a lot of emails; just a lot of attacks on policy and ‘How you’re going to do this’ and ‘What’re you thinking’ and ‘You’re not qualified.’ If you can imagine it, we’ve had the attack,” Soik said via Zoom. “Our response has always been, ‘Please, come to my business. Come in, walk in the door, sit down, and let’s have a conversation. Get to know me, and if you really, truly have something that you can bring to the table that is going to make our community better, why wouldn’t I want to hear that?’ I plan on continuing that policy. I will be here in my office if I’m not in Madison. My door will be open. I will have the conversations. If you’re willing to bring something that is going to better our community, I want to hear it. I don’t care who it comes from. I want to hear it. I’m willing to reach across the aisle, I’m willing to have those conversations and that is how we’re going to get through this, by working together as a community. We can’t get through this divided.”

Rep. Shankland echoed the calls for bipartisan partnerships.

“If we are going to make it through this pandemic, we have to do it by depoliticizing this issue. We’ve seen Republicans and Democrats in Madison not be able to agree on much and what I can tell you is I’ve built a lot of positive relationships with members in both parties, and I’m committed to getting those results,” Rep Shankland explained, also via Zoom. “I was the Vice-Chair of the Task Force on Water Quality this session and I met weekly with my Republican Co-Chair and that’s how we were able to pass ten bi-partisan bills on clean water, unanimously, through the Assembly so that’s what kind of work I’ll continue to do in Madison.”

NewsChannel 7 asked both candidates about the challenges that have been placed on small businesses and the state economy amid the pandemic. Rep. Shankland says it’s important to push for more federal aid so that businesses impacted can be prepared for the winter months ahead and hopefully come back stronger in the spring of 2021.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed is we do not have enough aid for our small businesses to help winterize, especially our taverns and our restaurants,” Rep. Shankland explained. “I am actually endorsed by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association and I talked to them about looking at grant programs other states are doing to help our small businesses stay afloat through the winter and hopefully, by the spring, hoping to have a better response to the pandemic than right now given the partisan gridlock in Madison. That’s an issue that we all have to work together on.”

Soik says it’s important for the state to have a sense of direction when it comes to providing COVID-19 relief and aid. It’s something he feels the state is lacking right now.

“People are flying by the seat of their pants on how to deal with this and there’s just not a lot of direction and the direction changes,” Soik said. There’s not a lot of consistency with the direction that we need to go to make sure that our small businesses stay in business. That they’re able to continue to operate."

When it comes to fighting the spread of COVID-19, Soik feels that the government should step back and allow citizens to take personal responsibility when it comes to mitigation efforts.

“The people should be doing their own due diligence and their research. I came out early, before the governor’s mask mandate, they were looking at doing a mask mandate here in Portage County, and we were looking at it very seriously. I had made the statement that with all the information, all the information that changes, all the misinformation; I cannot be the one that tells you what is best for you and your family,” Soik said. “I’ve been attacked for that. I’ve been slandered for that; it all comes back to the personal responsibility and accountability. It is truly that simple. If that disqualifies me for the job; personal freedoms, personal responsibilities, I don’t see how that can but there are people out there that are looking just for that. They want someone in the government to tell them what to do all the time You have to do your due diligence, research this; find out what is the best for you and your family, and enact that; enact that plan for you and your family. I have no issue with anything you decide to do that is best for you and your family. The great men and women that work there (hospitals) are working overtime and they are doing everything they can and that is greatly appreciated. We need those people on the front lines and we need to make sure that they are getting what they need to combat this. We need to make sure they’re getting what they need at home and getting what they need at work. These people need to be our top priority in combating this virus moving forward.”

Rep. Shankland is in favor of the mitigation measures that have been recommended by scientists and health officials, adding it’s important to lead by example

“Look at all the mass rallies you’re seeing across the state where people are refusing to wear masks and they’re within feet of each other. Several people in the Republican Party are hosting indoor fundraisers without wearing masks. That’s a key way to spread COVID-19. When we have elected officials who aren’t even following the basic public health guidelines and who are getting COVID-19 and spreading it, that’s a concern I have,” Rep. Shankland said. “What I’m hearing from people, from constituents, I’m hearing from health care workers who are exhausted. They are working the front lines, they are risking their lives for the rest of us and, one of them had said on the Aspirus video, N95s don’t absorb tears. They are crying as they are losing patients, and the least that we can do, especially as elected officials, is mask up; if we’re going to a public event stay six feet away, try to host outdoor events instead of indoor ones, and try and model that behavior. That’s what I mean by attitude. I think when we have elected officials who are refusing to follow the most basic public health guidelines it absolutely does influence the public and we need leadership at the top and that includes my colleagues in the Legislature, all of us have to do it. I respect every individual’s belief system, but when it comes to the fact that we are losing community members, we are losing health care workers, we are losing the ability to combat COVID-19, we have to be willing do the most basic and follow the most basic health guidelines.”

Another big talking point of the election season, because of the COVID-19 impact, has been education.

“What we need here is all hands on deck; every level of government,” Rep. Shankland added. “That’s why I speak with our school district members almost every week and throughout the pandemic, I’ve been meeting with them at least two times a month, if not four times a month. All hands on deck from all parties when it comes to schools. I know they’ve asked for some legislation regarding enrollment changes and making sure our schools stay afloat and I personally co-sponsored the Pandemic School Stability Package for that purpose, and I will keep fighting for, not only keeping our schools open safely and getting them the resources they need to do that but supporting them when they have to make the decision to go virtual.”

“Here in the Stevens Point Public School District, they are looking at a hybrid approach. They started with virtual; you could go all virtual, you could go two days a week in school and two days virtual and it’s taxing. It’s taxing on our teachers, it’s taxing on our staff and it’s taxing on our students,” Soik said. “We really need to take a look, from the state as a whole, how are we going to get these kids back up to speed? We already know after last spring when we shut our schools down, and everybody knows, if you have children, you know the summer slide. This is not something that’s made up. We all know of it. You are done with school in the spring, you come back in the fall and your teachers have to go back and review for that summer slide. Now we have students that have been in a slide since March and we’re not done yet. How are we going to bring these children back up to speed? How are we going to bring our young people back up to speed so they are ready when they graduate high school, and ready to move on to college, or the service, or ready to just go out and work and start their lives? This is what we’re talking about with the COVID crisis. It’s going to have long term effects and there are so many things that we have to work on moving forward to make sure our community is best suited to respond to it, and it’s not just this year, it’s not just next year; it’s for the next 5 to 10 years to come. We really need to look at our education and for those of us that have children in the school system, trust me, this is an issue that we take seriously and we want to help resolve.”

In his first hundred days in office, if elected, Soik says he hopes to focus his efforts on bringing the community; both sides of the aisle together and look at the education system and rural internet problem that many rural families are struggling with.

If re-elected, Rep. Shankland says that in addition to the pandemic response, she plans to continue to work on the clean water issues that she has continued to focus on, working to make sure that the 10 bipartisan bills regarding clean water that she has helped pass through the Assembly will pass through the State Senate.

Wisconsin’s 71st district represents Stevens Point, Amherst, Amherst Junction, Nelsonville, Plover, Rosholt, Whiting, Park Ridge, and neighboring towns.

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