Despite left-leaning district, Novak hopes to hold off Wright in southwestern Wisconsin
State Rep. Todd Novak is running on his bipartisan voting record against Democratic challenger Jeff Wright.Image By: Morgan-Winston-Cardinal File Photo
Each week, The Daily Cardinal will be taking a look at down-ballot races throughout the state. This week, we visit the 51st Assembly District in southwestern Wisconsin, where incumbent Todd Novak and educator Jeff Wright face off.
If you look at State Rep. Todd Novak’s campaign website, you would be hard-pressed to identify what party he supports, as it makes no mention of his Republican status.
The Dodgeville mayor has attempted to position himself as an independent voice representing the 51st Assembly District, which includes the towns of Monroe, Mineral Point and Spring Green.
“I’m pretty much all over the place [in terms of voting record],” Novak told WisconsinEye. “I vote my district. I’ve got one of the most bipartisan voting records and people like that.”
But Novak’s opponent, Democrat Jeff Wright of Plain, said Novak has been a “teammate” of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders. While Novak voted against last session’s biennial budget, Wright cited his support of bills increasing voucher funding and altering the state’s campaign finance system.
“[Novak] has a strategy, a decision to make him seem party-less, but he has voted 96 percent with Walker and his agenda,” Wright told The Daily Cardinal.
The district is one that should lean Democrat, since President Barack Obama won the area by 20 points in 2012. But Republicans have managed to keep a grip on the district, with Novak winning by a mere 65 votes in a three-candidate 2014 election.
Wright, the Assistant Superintendent for the Sauk Prairie School District, said repairing public schools in the district is a key issue. Calling Novak a “voucher champion,” Wright said he would push to “make schools more innovative” and “match community needs.”
Novak and Wright both agree more needs to be done to fight a decline in state support for rural schools, like those in the 51st Assembly District.
“I just think that public school funding … we need to look at more options that are more localized,” Novak said. “We’ve become a rural versus urban divide on schools. And I think we need to shift more money to the rural schools to ease the pain.”
In a year where outsider candidates up and down the ballot have found success, Wright said he has gotten support from members of his district who are upset with increasingly conservative Republicans.
“I’ve heard from people that are pleased that I’m a newcomer to bring change to state government, “ Wright said. “We need to push back against one-party rule in Wisconsin.”
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