KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

Frequent And Not So Frequently Asked Questions

During the months of the campaign many organizations and news outlets have sent questions to Kathleen seeking answers. Here are some of those questions and the answers.

 

Why are you running for Governor?

My vision for tomorrow is very different from where the state is today. I am running to change the state’s priorities. I am running to put people first, at the center of state policy, and the top priority when spending state dollars. This means funding our schools, fixing health care, repairing our roads,  creating alternatives to incarceration, free tuition at our tech colleges, increasing aids to local governments , supporting community based mental health and addiction programs, rather than giving cash payments and tax breaks to large corporations.

 

What is your top priority and how would you accomplish it?

My top priority is fixing the way we fund schools. Our current system is unfair, inequitable, antiquated and must be changed.

We have more students in poverty, more with special needs, English learners, students suffering from mental illness and experiencing trauma. These students facing challenging situations cost us more to educate, but the primary mode of funding schools is now based on property wealth and  does not take those conditions into account.

Schools need a flexible, consistent commitment from the state to pay districts based on student needs and the costs of educating the students in a particular school district.

As a result of Walker’s four budgets, from 2012 to 2019, Wisconsin will spend a cumulative $3.5 billion less in state aid to schools than if the state had stayed at the 2011 funding level. In my alternatives to Walker’s budgets, I increased state aid to schools. Using the same dollars I made different choices. Education, not cash payments and tax credits for large corporations, was my priority. As Governor, education will still be my priority.

 

What differentiates you from your primary opponents?

My life experience is very different. My father dug ditches and was a member of the Laborers’ Union. I know what it is like to be on food stamps and have no health insurance. I have won elections in Republican areas of the state. I know the legislative process. I know the state budget. I know where the bones are buried.

I came to politics later in life than most.

In my 30s I was a college professor and taught health care policy, administration, and  state program evaluation.

In my 40s I started my own dairy farm and for 10 years was up before dawn every day milking cows in our old red tie-stall barn.

In my 50s I was elected three times to the state Senate. On giving me their legislator of the year award, the state school administrators said, “No state legislator had a greater positive impact on Wisconsin schools than Kathleen Vinehout.”

 

What is your economic plan for Wisconsin?

State government should be in the business of creating an environment that supports all economic activity. Giving away money to individual companies is not sustainable. How do you choose? Where do you stop? The state can’t pay 17 percent of payroll for every business in the state.

Economists across the political spectrum say that giving public dollars to individual private companies is bad public policy and bad economics.

When a business looks for a place to locate it wants to know:  are the schools good, the streets safe, is transportation available, electric rates affordable? Is this a community where my employees will want to live and play, not just work? Those are the qualities the state should be providing for all businesses.

Almost all job growth  comes from start-ups and small and medium businesses expanding. The state can assist in that process by providing expert advice on financing options, production processes and marketing opportunities – in much the same way our University Extension Service has helped farmers over the past 100 years.

 

What is your evaluation of the current condition of our roads and infrastructure? How do you propose to fund improvements for the systems?

Our roads and infrastructure are terrible.   In a recent national study, Wisconsin was 49th in the quality of our roads.  With the reduction in state aids, some counties are turning their roads back to gravel. The schedule for rebuilding roads is stretching far past the usual 30 years.  Local governments are going to bond financing to catch up. The share of state road dollars going to make principal and interest payments on highway bonds has almost doubled.  Interstate projects are far behind schedule.  Maintenance of state roads is lagging.

With vehicles traveling more miles on each gallon of fuel, revenues have not kept up with construction costs. As weight limits have increased, the cost of repairing and rebuilding roads has increased. 

To close the gap between road revenues and costs, and reduce our growing addiction to debt financing, I have recommended that the gasoline tax be increased by 5 cents a gallon and that other recommendations by former Secretary of Transportation  Gottleib be seriously considered.

 

How will you address the needs of Southeastern Wisconsin employers in gaining a properly trained/adequate workforce?

I would make tuition free at the state’s technical colleges and two-year campuses. Expanding our skilled workforce is the surest way to grow our economy and raise wages which are 18th lowest in the country.  Other states that have moved in this direction have seen enrollments increase.

My proposal  would apply to all students, both full-time and part-time and would not require enrollment in a degree program.

It is the broadest free tuition program in the country.  I want to eliminate any hesitation anyone might have in pursuing their opportunities and dreams. I want to make it as easy as possible for someone who is already working or has family obligations, doesn’t have the cash and can’t afford to take time off, to get the education and training they want and employers are looking for.

The cost of the program is estimated to be about $125 million. I would pay for it by using part of  the Manufacturing Tax Credit.  Trading their tax break for a pool of skilled workers  seems to me a good exchange, particularly since corporate profits and corporate cash reserves are at an all-time high. 

Investing in the potential of our own workers is a win, win for our workers and our employers, and more productive than trying to lure workers from other states or giving billions to one corporation.

As Senator, I included free tuition at tech colleges and two-year campuses in my alternative budget. As Governor, it would be in THE budget.

 

What will you do about poverty that specifically affects Black and Brown folks?

Poverty and racism leave deep scars. The wounds of the past are remembered in the actions of the present. Grandchildren feel the scars of their enslaved grandmothers and grandfathers who lost their homeland, their language, their families, their religion, their freedom, their lovers and their children.

For Native Americans, grandchildren feel the losses of their ancestors who were killed, or forced to cut their hair, lose their language, their lands, customs, religion and way of dress. I have learned from my Ho-Chunk brothers and sisters, the decisions of the past travel seven generations into the future. And so, we see directly, the hurt of the past in the faces of children of today.

Poverty brings impermanence. Moving from place to place. Uncertainty of home life. This uncertainty creates many problems that follow folks through their lives even if the adult life seems stable. People who suffer a hard life sometimes lack confidence. They feel like things are their fault, but the system is rigged against them.

Poverty often leaves illness: physical, sometimes mental. The struggles of the mind and emotions linger, long after the sufferings of hunger, cold, and beatings are over.

As a civilized society we have an obligation to help those who have less or are hitting hard times. There are many ways we, as a state, can help. We must make it easier to obtain subsidized housing. We should not kick someone off the subsidized housing list because they have been evicted. Nor should they lose help because they have been convicted. This makes no sense.

We must make it easier to get basic supports – food, child care, health care. A series of bills pushed by the current Governor, make it harder to get help when folks hit hard times. These bills must be changed. We should open wide the doors to help those who need help the most.

Many other policies will help. For example, increasing the Wisconsin Shares payment for childcare; increasing the number and training for school counselors who help students and their families. Building community-based mental health clinics in neighborhoods. Providing community services for recovery from addiction. Helping folks with coaching and mentoring; helping those who want to build businesses. Providing wrap-around services for families, people reintegrating after prison, and people in recovery.

With all of these ideas and many more, the folks who know best about what is needed and how the services can best be provided, are the people working in the neighborhoods with those who need help. This is why I strongly feel the state should be the willing partner with community groups who take the lead in designing specific programs that work in particular neighborhoods. What works in one neighborhood might not work in another neighborhood.

I honor the insights of local people who know best how to make the dream of healing deep hurts a reality.

 

How can we protect Blacks from background discrimination when applying for jobs?

We need to begin by enforcing the existing laws on discrimination. We need to make it easier to file a discrimination complaint. We need to ban the box on prior convictions – a bill I supported in the legislature. Finally, we need to grow Black-owned businesses, and mentorships.

We need to actively recruit Blacks and other minorities into our apprenticeships and training programs and conduct the regular – and required- reporting of minorities in the apprentice and training programs as is not being done now!

 

What are your thoughts on environment and energy policy?

We put people first when our air, water, natural resources are preserved and enhanced for everyone’s use and enjoyment. My plan is to rehire scientists who have been fired and put them to work addressing problems like climate change and chronic wasting disease. And hire enough inspectors to monitor sand mines, CAFOs, groundwater, and industrial and municipal discharges into our water and air.

I support going back to having DNR run by an independent Secretary appointed by the Natural Resources Board rather than a Secretary appointed by the Governor. I would restore authority to the Conservation Congress by repealing Act 21.

I would create an office of Energy Independence and expand support for alternative energy including community-based manure digesters and solar farms. My appointees to the Public Service Commission would be sensitive to public and environmental concerns. I want our great grandchildren to inherit the blessings of the land, sky and water from us.

 

What steps would you take make healthcare available to everyone?

It was not having health insurance that led me to run for the state Senate. And I saw too many others suffering because they were paying way too much for awful insurance.

As Governor, I would take the Medicaid expansion dollars, extend health coverage to an additional 79,000 people, and use the state dollars saved to fund community-based mental health and drug addiction programs.

I would create our own state healthcare marketplace, patterned after the Wisconsin Badger Health Benefit Plan I sponsored in the Senate. Our own marketplace could stabilize the market, lower costs, and use the state’s regulatory authority to review, justify and, if necessary, stop rate increases, keeping plans affordable for small businesses and those who buy insurance on their own.

 

What are your thoughts on public safety, policing, and mass incarceration?

New research shows neighborhood people working together to keep streets clean, build playgrounds, mentor children and employ young men reduces crime.

Converting abandon lots to green spaces reduces gun violence. As do afterschool programs, community-based mental health care, sports programs, and wrap-around services.

Neighborhoods are vital to policing themselves. Neighbors can address complex roots of violence far beyond what the police can.

I will promote a culture in which police see themselves as community guardians, not  warriors. Our goal is fair and impartial policing with everyone treated with respect and dignity.

Poverty, racism, mental health and addiction, too often, result in prison. Our justice system is racist. Truth in Sentencing, without evaluating the length of sentences created horrible injustices that must be remedied.

We need programming for those incarcerated, reform of our parole and probation system to stop revocation, and reintegration help for those released and alternatives to incarceration.

 

What steps would you take to improve wages and working conditions?

Workers should be respected and rewarded as the full partners they are, in producing our state’s wealth. Workers have the right to join a union, and to collectively bargain. I will repeal right to work and other legislation that lowers wages.

I was one of the Wisconsin 14, proud of it and haven’t run from the label. All my life, I have supported labor. As Senator, I have fought against, talked against, led the fight against all the recent legislation that has diminished wages and worker protections.

 As Governor, I will raise the minimum wage to $15 and index it to inflation.

A dream job should not just stay a dream. This is why I introduced Freedom to Learn making two-year UW and technical colleges free for everyone in Wisconsin, including those with a family and a job and only able to attend college part-time.  Freedom to Learn will be in my first budget as Governor.

 

What about Immigration?

As Governor I would make Wisconsin a welcoming state for all immigrants. As Senator, I am a cosponsor of a bill to allow immigrants to get a state driver’s license. I worked to grant undocumented students access to in-state tuition. I have long advocated for additional spending for bilingual-bicultural students and included funding in my alternative budgets.

I would work to end racial profiling,  harassment and the tearing apart of families.        

I would do all I could to stop the deportation of members of our communities, communicating with people about their rights and directing state agencies to help those in need find legal services. I would provide additional resources to school counselors who are often on the front line in helping immigrant families – many of whom have young children.

 

Which three areas will you prioritize as governor of Wisconsin?

You can’t compartmentalize jobs, healthcare, education, incarceration, wages or worker rights. They are all related. You can’t fix student achievement and school funding without also addressing mental health needs, increasing poverty and long standing racism -- all forces driving  our “school problem”.

 

In the best case scenario, what does good governance look like?

Good government is characterized by open communication, public participation, and wise and frugal use of public dollars. Good government takes into account the interests of all, not just the interests of those who are organized or who can hire lobbyists. Good government takes into account the long term, not just the short.

Good government is pragmatic, not ideological, in addressing problems.

Good government recognizes that competing interests must be accommodated, compromise is necessary, the pursuit of absolutes is dangerous and creativity in finding solutions is essential.

 

What would you do as governor to reverse the policy of private school vouchers, private charter schools, special needs vouchers, and school privatization?

Public dollars should be spent on public programs that are accountable to the public. Public tax dollars should not be spent on private programs that are not accountable to the public.

I would stop the statewide voucher expansion and the statewide special needs voucher system passed by Republicans a few years ago. In my alternative budgets, I took this money to more fully fund public schools. And, I would do this in my first budget as Governor.

I would veto any law that, in any way, expanded public dollars going to private school subsidies.

I would work to change the laws that now exist that treat public schools unfairly. I would make sure public schools are paid at least what private schools are paid to take care of the same kids. Further, existing private schools receiving public subsidies should follow all the same rules, the same tests, the same accountability, and the same standards as public schools.

I would eliminate the expensive tax credit that allows wealthy parents to deduct private school tuition from their income taxes.

Further, I would fully fund our public schools. This means making dramatic changes to the way we pay for schools. Dollars must be based on student needs. We must recognize some students cost more to educate and students’ needs have changed in a way our present funding formula does not take into account. Reliance on the property tax to fund schools should be reduced.

Every student deserves a great public school. For those parents that want to go to private school, I say, “Great – that is your choice – but you need to pay for that private education.”

 

As Governor, how would you address the problems with Corrections and our prison population?

I support alternatives to incarceration and treatment for mental health and addiction rather than incarceration. While sources vary, about 38% of men and over 80 percent of women in prison suffer from mental conditions. About 70% suffer from addiction. In my alternative budgets, and as Governor, I support fully funding recovery courts and other alternatives to incarceration.

Minnesota incarcerates about half as many people. A key policy difference between our states is the focus MN has on community-based mental health and addiction recovery services. I will, as Governor, accept the Medicaid matching money, cover another 79,000 people with healthcare and use the state money freed up (about $286 million) to invest in developing a community-based mental health and addiction recovery system.

I will recreate the Justice Reinvestment Committee and the Earned Release Review Commission and use the work of the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to implement best practices including earned release, compassionate release for those facing imminent death and inhumanly long sentences.

To prepare for spending decisions in the next budget, I need facts. I will review findings of the DOC task force, but also results from the recently approved comprehensive Corrections audit by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Both studies are tasked with reviewing costs by facility, and cost drivers like crime-less revocations and overtime.

I will examine details of the studies with an eye toward consolidation, treatment alternatives and community-based juvenile corrections. Serious problems exist at MSDF and GBCI. I expect both facilities to be discussed in detail in these reports. I do not support housing inmates out-of-state, nor do I support Wisconsin’s use of private prisons.

 

What is your approach to environmental issues?

Environmental policy can be quite simple. Don’t put pollutants into the air for others to breathe. Don’t put contaminants into water for those downstream to drink. Go back to having DNR run by an independent Secretary appointed by the Natural Resources Board rather than a Secretary appointed by the Governor. Restore authority to the Conservation Congress.

Rehire all the scientists who have been fired. Put them to work addressing problems like climate change and chronic wasting disease. Monitor our groundwater across the state.  Hire enough employees to monitor and enforce our regulations. Let scientists share their research on our state websites.

One of the goals for our state’s environmental policy should be what economists call “internalizing costs”. All of the costs associated with producing a product or engaging in an activity should be borne by the person or company producing the product or doing the activity. We are all taught as children that we should clean up our own mess, wash our own dishes, make our own beds. We should expect nothing less from all those who live, work or run businesses in our communities. 

For example, sand mines shouldn’t release small particles for neighbors to breathe. They shouldn’t put arsenic into the ground water that kills the horse on the farm next door. High capacity wells shouldn’t make surrounding wells dry. CAFOs shouldn’t contaminate the groundwater with nitrates and e. coli.

 

What role do you believe the arts should play in Wisconsin communities?

Art creates community. Art demands attention. Art provides inspiration. Art soothes our soul. Art un-grounds our conventions. Art uplifts us. Art sobers us with someone else’s realty. Art provides cause for dialogue. Art provides a mirror to examine our own assumptions. Art unites our world. Art helps build a great place to live, work, play and raise a family.

To quote one of our local art gallery owners:

“Art has the power to fill spaces in our souls nothing else can.”

 

How will you protect Wisconsin’s significant investments in long-term care programs that provide community-based supports that let older adults and people with disabilities remain in their homes and reduce costly institutional care?

I will protect our long-term-care state services through the work of the Department of Health and the way I write the state budget. Adequately funding health services for those facing disability issues has long been a commitment of mine and will continue under the administration of Governor Vinehout. I have a long list of problems facing Family Care, IRIS, Pace and Partnership that I collected, talking with folks over the past 12 years.

A top priority is funding direct services at sustainable levels. I intend to re-arrange dollars spent in the Medicaid program so more of the dollars go to direct service rather than administration. I was shocked to learn, for example, the state paid the contractors for the administration of Medicaid an exorbitant 10 percent cost of living raise in this current budget. Instead these dollars should go to direct services.

So many recent laws were passed I call “kicking people when they are down”. These laws make it harder for hungry children to obtain supplemental nutrition and people hitting hard times to get health care. These laws must change. While this process must happen, it may be slow if we have a mixed-party legislature. One of the ways I will work with those who use and provide long term services is to create and convene a Public Assistance Advisory Committee.

 

How will you expand Wisconsin’s system of community-based mental health services and supports for adults and children? How will you help those suffering from serious mentally illness live as independently as possible?

As Governor, I will accept the Medicaid expansion money, cover 79,000 more people with Medicaid and use the cash freed up in the budget – because the feds will cover people the state now pays to cover – to invest in a community-based mental health and addiction recovery system.

I showed how to make these changes in the alternatives I wrote to Governor Walker’s budgets. Wisconsin must establish a network of community-based mental health and addiction recovery services. These services include group homes, sobriety houses, and peer support facilities to mention a few options. The new Secretary of Corrections recently told the Audit Committee, as we approved a comprehensive audit of DOC, that an astounding 81% of women incarcerated have a mental health condition. Seventy percent of inmates, struggle with addiction issues.

Minnesota is way ahead of us in this regard and it is one of the reasons that state has less than half of the people incarcerated than Wisconsin does. Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 treatment centers. We need to be known as the Land of 15,000 treatment centers.

Providing alternatives to incarceration for those suffering from mental health issues also includes fully funding the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion program (TAD) that provides money to locals to use for such services as Mental Health Courts. Again, I showed how to fully fund this program in my alternative budgets I wrote (with $20 million compared to the meager $2 million the current governor provided).

 

How will your administration stay informed on scientific advancements? How will science influence decisions and policy in your administration?

My commitment to using research in policy making is long standing; from my education (PhD in Health Service Research with a minor in Research Methods and Statistics); and my work as professor. As grad student, ten years as professor, and 12 years as Senator, I learned that facts matter.

As Senator, I became known as the one lawmaker who read the budget papers, and the audits, knew the numbers and proposed her own alternatives to the Governor’s budget. To stay informed, I read. Everything I could find. I called experts. I quizzed analysts. I asked questions and more questions.

As professor, one area of my study was how research became a part of the political process. The simple answer to summarize our findings was: Research must be embodied in the process. One of the most disappointing understandings in my 12 years as Senator was how little research was embodied in the political process. How often I asked questions – where do I go to get answers, what are your sources, where are the findings – and never got an answer.

A quick example: I was crafting a bill to protect the public from the fine particulates that are found near sand mines. I needed technical expertise and asked, at the court house, a DNR expert to help me. He led me to the janitor’s closet on the second floor of the courthouse, closed the door and told me that he could not talk to me, as a legislator. If he did, he was required to write down everything I said and he said and submit the written report to his supervisor. I confronted former Secretary Stepp with this story during an audit committee hearing. In answer, she physically turned her back on me.

Under a Governor Vinehout administration, scientists, professors, and public employees will all be invited to testify and participate in the public process. Research is critical to the public process. It must be embodied in the form of an expert who participates in the public process.

 

What steps would you take to keep more of our young people from leaving?

  1. Relieve Student Debt - Allow all Wisconsinites to refinance their student debt using the borrowing power of the state to lower their interest rates. This is Senator Hanson’s bill that I and others have helped cosponsor for many years.
  2. Provide Free Tuition – For technical and 2 year UW campuses. This is a bill I’ve worked on for several years. The bill I introduced this past legislative session is what is called “last dollar” credit. That is, the student gets a grant after she or he has applied for and gotten all other financial aid she/he is eligible for. The proposal is fully paid for, requires a service component and must be applied for through the financial aid process.
  3. Expand Broadband –I introduced a package of bill to invest $200 million over two years to build out high speed Internet. My bills protect consumers from fraudulent claims and slow speeds, provide “claw back” for the state to get their money back if the companies don’t deliver on their promises, and eases the obstacles for municipalities to begin their own broadband build-out.
  4. Expand Entrepreneurship Opportunities- As Governor, I would redirect the state’s economic development programs to reach out to younger adults who want to start their own business in Wisconsin. Our state has the infrastructure for assisting business start-ups but has focused for too long on multi-million projects for folks from out-of-state. These priorities will change under my leadership.