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Wisconsin State Journal (copy)

A Republican former legislative aide is challenging the Democratic incumbent in the the 43rd Assembly District, which includes Milton, Edgerton and Whitewater, in the Nov. 6 election. The term is for two years. (I) indicates incumbent.

Gabriel Szerlong

Age: 25

Party: Republican

Address: 8353 N. Oak Ridge Drive, Milton

Family: Single

Job: Recently took a leave of absence from the state Capitol as a legislative assistant, campaigning full time

Prior elected office: None

Other public service: None

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, UW-Whitewater

Don Vruwink (I)

Age: 66

Party: Democratic

Address: 24 W. Ash Lane, Milton

Family: Married with one son

Job: Retired after 43 years of teaching, continue to fill in as a substitute teacher in various school districts

Prior elected office: Past member and president of Milton City Council, current vice president of Milton School Board

Other public service: Director of City of Milton Parks and Recreation; led the building of a veterans memorial and recreational facilities; coached high school basketball, football and softball; currently umpire baseball and softball games

Education: Bachelor’s degree in social studies with minor in coaching, UW-Stevens Point; master’s degree in history, UW-Whitewater

Q&A

Why are you a better candidate than your opponent?

Szerlong: I will actually do something. My values, strong belief in service, and work ethic will aid me in maintaining a strong connection with constituents. I will actually attend and stay for district/community functions, make myself available to every constituent, and hold several town hall style forums throughout district during my tenure. My opponent’s priorities are poorly placed. He seemingly cares more for one school district than he does the entire 43rd. My focus is the 43rd and nothing else.

Vruwink: I have decades of experience as a teacher of government, history and other social studies courses. I have been a mentor to hundreds of students and they encouraged me to run for the Legislature after I retired from teaching. As a chief negotiator for my teacher’s union and a member of my city council and school board, I have learned to be diplomatic and respectful even during heated debates. It is more effective to build bridges with opponents than to burn bridges.

What expertise would you bring to the Assembly?

Szerlong: I bring direct experience with the state Assembly to the state Assembly. I am adept with all facets of our state government. I fully comprehend the fluidity of the legislative process. In one instance, I worked first hand with Governor Walker’s office, Joint Finance, the state Senate, and the Army Core of Engineers to solve the levy problem in Arcadia, in August of 2017, so that Arcadia would not have future flooding. Working in the private sector at the Men’s Wearhouse for four years has brought me invaluable experience working with the people. I had to not only work with the local stores in the Madison area, but with every part of the company nationwide. I learned very quickly that you need to “not over promise and under deliver.” I have and will continue to bring that same motto to the state Assembly.

Vruwink: I have first-hand experience with the intricacies of school funding, the dynamics of classrooms and how to retain good teachers. I bring the compassion of having worked with children on all waves of the socioeconomic spectrum. I remind my legislative colleagues that many children struggle to succeed in school because they don’t have good support at home. It is important for children to have many caring adults in their lives. The more support we can give our children at an early age, the more likely they will become productive, contributing members to society. I grew up on a dairy farm and worked on three family farms to pay for college. I continue to stay attuned to the challenges facing farmers. I bring that experience to the Assembly Agriculture Committee and the Governor’s Dairy Task Force 2.0.

How can Wisconsin close its achievement gap?

Szerlong: Tony Evers and the Milwaukee and Madison liberals who run urban schools have no interest in closing the achievement gap. I am a huge fan of public schools. Unfortunately, urban schools have more than just education as a problem. Kids are coming to school hungry, abused, neglected. These are all parenting issues that bleed into education. School choice is therefore a great option statewide. It helps parents who care to get their kids out of failing schools. At the same time, we can’t abandon public education. We need to rethink urban education and start some programs earlier rather than later.

Vruwink: Washington Elementary School in my Assembly district in Whitewater received the 2017 National Blue Ribbon award from the U.S. Department of Education for progress in closing the achievement gap. Educators and administrators at the school now mentor other schools on how to raise the performance level of less-advantaged students. Among the strategies are a variety of after-school activities and extra efforts to reach out to parents to encourage them to be partners in learning. Parental involvement has a strong, direct impact on student achievement.

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