I first ran for public office when I saw that the Sturgeon Bay School District had lost the support of the community and was facing serious financial difficulties. I have always passionately believed that education is the key to allowing every member of our society to reach his or her full potential. I viewed this challenge as an opportunity to repay the community that has been so great to my family and me.
We had to make difficult decisions, but through sound financial management, we were able to regain the trust of the community. I served on the board for 15 years, 13 of those as President. My time on the board was invaluable in helping me to understand the challenges our schools face as well as the complexities of school funding.
In the Assembly, education continues to be a top priority for me. I serve as Vice-chairman of the Education Committee and I continue to fight for fair funding for our schools. Our children in rural school districts deserve the same opportunities as those in wealthy suburban districts. I have been an advocate for partnerships between businesses and schools to expose our students to the many exciting opportunities in the technical fields.
Tourism is one of the pillars of the economy in all of Wisconsin, but particularly in the 1st Assembly District. Statewide, the economic impact has grown over 30 percent since 2011. Tourism promotion shows a tremendous return on investment and it is important that Wisconsin keep pace with surrounding states. We have increased our tourism promotion in Chicago and the Twin Cities with great results, but there is more to be done. As a member of the tourism committee, I will continue to be a strong advocate for the tourism industry.
While tourism continues to show steady growth in Door County, Kewaunee County was one of the few counties in the state to show a decline in 2015. This was due, in large part, to the negative publicity the area has received due to our groundwater contamination issues.
With the great strides being made in that area, it is vital that we promote the great assets of the county and rebuild our image. One of my proudest accomplishments during my first term was my role in securing the $4.2M grant to rebuild the Kewaunee harbor area. I wrote the amendment to put this into the budget and fought hard for its inclusion. This project will revitalize one of the most beautiful harbors on the Great Lakes and energize the tourism economy of Kewaunee and the entire county.
Jobs and the Economy
Helping the private sector create and maintain jobs in our area will always be a high priority for me. Our businesses must view government as an ally in helping them overcome their challenges, not as a roadblock to their growth. I have worked extensively with our local governments and economic development agencies to achieve this goal.
Our local manufacturers are generally coming out of the recession very well, but they are held back by a lack of skilled workers. This skills gap is not unique to our area and it is one of our most urgent challenges. I have supported the Fast Track program to provide grants for training workers and I authored legislation to provide better career counseling to our students.
Protecting our Natural Resources
In perhaps no other area of Wisconsin are environmental issues more important than in the 1st Assembly District. Our economy, our health and our way of life are dependent on clean water. Manure management practices that may be acceptable in other parts of the state lead to contaminated ground and surface water in the karst region, with our shallow soil and cracked bedrock. I have strongly advocated for rules for manure management that are specific to the various geo-regions of the state. I was gratified when the DNR, at my urging, agreed to use the administrative rule process to write new rules for our area. Governor Walker signed the scoping statement in July to begin the process. There is much work to be done, but coupled with the voluntary practices now being implemented by our progressive farmers, there is a clear path to a resolution to our contaminated water issues.
I have facilitated an effort with farm and conservation groups to clean up the Ahnapee River. Like the other rivers in Kewaunee County, it was once a thriving trout stream but is now on the endangered waterways list. Through my efforts, the DNR has moved the Ahnapee up on the priority list and begun testing and monitoring contamination levels. It is my hope that our work on the Ahnapee will serve as a template for cleaning the other rivers in the area.
I led a coalition that fought successfully to restore funding to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. This program has been a mainstay of Wisconsin’s efforts to preserve natural areas and has been used extensively in our area. For this effort, I was named Policymaker of the Year by Gathering Waters, the statewide organization of land trusts.
Additionally, I authored the bill that banned the manufacture and sale of plastic microbeads in Wisconsin and successfully advocated for increased funding for our county conservationists. For all of my conservation efforts, I was named to the Honor Roll of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. WLCV is the preeminent conservation organization in our state and I am the only Republican Assemblyman named to the list. I am the only candidate they have endorsed in the 1st Assembly District race.
Paid for by Joel Kitchens for Assembly