Republican candidate Todd Novak of Dodgeville is seeking a third term for the 51st assembly district. Novak was elected in 2014 and re-elected to the seat in 2016. Novak, a lifelong Iowa county resident who grew up on the family farm near Cobb, will run as the incumbent against Bear Creek resident Jeff Wright on the Nov. 6 ballot. He has served as mayor of the city of Dodgeville since 2012 and was formerly associate editor of the Dodgeville Chronicle and was appointed to the Southwest Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
Novak said he enjoys representing the people of the 51st district and wants to continue on the path he’s on.
“I’ve built up connections with people in the 51st district and want to continue working on the issues that are important to them,” Novak said.
Like his opponent Jeff Wright, Novak said issues surrounding school funding, state infrastructure concerns, a lack of available affordable housing and internet access remain key priorities.
“One of the biggest ones we are facing is school funding,” Novak said. “A bipartisan task force has been working on a solution, and I am interested in hearing what they have to say.”
The current school funding formula has been around since the 1970s, and doesn’t work in rural school districts where student enrollment has been on a steady decline. Because of this, schools with declining student numbers are relying more and more on operational referendums just to keep up.
“The current funding model isn’t built for today,” Novak said. “When you get paid per pupil, a loss of 10 students in a smaller school district is devastating. We need a formula that stabilizes our school districts.”
One way to combat declining enrollment he said is to incentivize living in those communities. However insufficient affordable family housing and labor shortages have only made that strategy more challenging.
Novak said there are still ways to get people into smaller communities, though.
“I am a big believer in debt forgiveness and training grants,” Novak said. “We need to work with the industries on what they need and the technical schools and colleges. We need a program that incentives working in those communities for a dollar amount to help pay off some loans.”
Novak said change needs to happen so Wisconsinites have better, safer roads. “We can’t continue to fund on a two-year budget cycle,” Novak said. “Everyone says ‘raise the gas tax.’ But one cent of funds from gas tax will only bring in 33 million; it’s a multi-billion dollar transportation budget. Even if we raised the tax, it would be unsustainable.”
Novak said more efficiencies need to be found and that he’s “tired” of money going to the state’s eastern cities such as Milwaukee. “We have spent years and billions on the southeast corner of Milwaukee,” Novak said. “That goes back both administrations. It’s time we make some changes there.”
Wider broadband access is one of the items Novak said he has seen make some progress since he’s been in office. “It has really moved up on the spectrum from when I first ran,” he said. “We have pumped a lot of money into it, but we need to continue to do even more because it continues to be an issue.”
Although the margin he won by in 2016 was close, Novak said he was the only Republican to win in his assembly district last time. “I think that’s because I am very connected to the people in my district,” he said. “They know me, they don’t just see me at election time. I have a very active district and people are very engaged. They know even if we don’t agree, I am still going to listen.”
Novak said much of what ails his constituents has nothing to do with being on one side of the political fence or another. “I am a firm believer in working across the aisle,” Novak said. We all care about the same things. The issues aren’t Republican issues or Democratic issues, and there isn’t just a Republican solution or Democratic solution. We need a Wisconsin solution.”