The Wausonian Wausau area election guide
We did our best to summarize all the local races - and there were a lot of races
This spring election saw an unprecedented number of contested races - probably the most since this reporter started covering local elections.
I’ve long struggled with the best way to cover local elections. In my cub reporter years, it was the worst: a pretty standard question is “why are you running?” often would yield an answer along the lines of “because I’m retired and have time.” I’ve debated whether it’s better to ask everyone the same standard questions to be fair or take more of a poke around to see what I can get the candidate to reveal.
I always prided on doing individual interviews over the phone or in person in the past, but the sheer number of candidates these days make that pretty much impossible. So other than the judge’s race, in which I sat down with both candidates in person, I used email questionnaires. How people choose to answer the same question, at what length and what they choose to emphasize is a good way to distinguish them.
Anyway, what I’ve attempted to do here is create a guide to all the candidates we could get to. I included a summary of their responses or what I could find online if they didn’t respond. I also included a campaign page if one exists (more than not have them).
Not sure who’s your candidate? Check out My Vote Wisconsin to see exactly who is on your ballot.
I hope to keep improving on this guide over the years. It’s a work in progress! But for now, enjoy the guide and please share it if you found it useful. As I have said before, all of our election coverage will be free for all to read.
Marathon County Judge
William Harris, 39, is currently a county board supervisor and one of the first black elected officials in Marathon County (very likely the actual first). He is a lawyer with Judicare, which helps people who can’t afford attorneys with civil matters. Concerns have been raised about his possibly legislating from the bench, citing his involvement in the A Community for All resolution. But Harris says he has no plans to legislate from the bench and cites Jill Falstad, who endorsed his campaign, as someone he looks up to for that very reason: That she was always fair. Harris has endorsements from several Marathon County Judges.
Ricky Cveykus, 39, currently a managing partner at Cveykus Law Firm, also ran for Appeals Court last year. Cveykus has a higher number of endorsements, and from people across the political spectrum. They include Kevin Hermening and Mosinee Mayor Brent Jacobson (both conservatives) and Nancy Stencil and Jeff Johnson (both liberals). Cveykus bills himself as a non-partisan, citing personal and professional relationships with people on both sides of the aisle. Cveykus cites his work ethic, stemming from his family experience as farmers.
Both have a lot of experience in law, and believe in the importance of a judge in shaping the criminal justice system in the county, and both say they have no desire to legislate from the bench.
Wausau School Board
This year’s school board race seems to be far less contentious than last year’s, when parents concerned with virtual learning battled with those who favored stronger COVID-19 measures. Things got nasty, on both sides.
Here are the candidates:
James Bouche, 67, spent 42 years in education — 20 as a coach/teacher, and 22 as an administrator. He’s concerned about bettering communication between the district and parents, students and staff. And he wants to see the district better address achievement gaps brought on by the pandemic.
Kayley McColley, 22, works as a behavioral health technician at North Central Health Care. McColley wants to be a voice for younger and minority voices in the district, and wants to see greater resources put toward struggling students. She organized Wausau’s Black Lives Matter march and its first Juneteenth Day celebration, among others.
Jon Creisher, 39, is a director of strategic partnerships. Creisher entered the race last year after being a leading voice for parents concerned about the effects of virtual learning. His main concerns are the student achievement gap brought on by the pandemic and developing a plan for the district to better retain and recruit teachers.
Joanna Reyes, 35, is a data entry analyst. Reyes grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from the Los Angeles Unified School District. She believes in fiscal responsibility and is concerned about the achievement gap. She’s also concerned about student mental health challenges and believes in career prep earlier on in education.
Jane Rusch, 61, is a retired correction officer and also volunteered in the school district for many years. She brings 15 years of board experience, something she says is important on the board. She didn’t cite specific areas of focus but says touted making sure the district provides a well-rounded education while being responsible with tax dollars.
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Wausau City Council
John Kroll, 38, is an energy auditor and serves on several city subcommittees, including chairing the sustainability committee. Affordable housing, improving transparency, attracting and retaining young working families and developing a sustainability plan are his key issues.
Carol Lukens, 57, is an educator with the Wausau School District. She’s taught U.S. government, psychology and worked as a tutor at NTC. She’s also worked in the legal field including at ATTIC Correctional. Her key issues are public housing, attracting and retaining employees, addressing the child care shortage, shoring up the PFAS issue and making sure ARPA funds benefit residents.
Tom Kilian (i), 43, owns Kilian Integrated Marketing and has emerged as an environmental champion, becoming involved in city politics first around the Thomas Street contamination issue. Kilian’s key issues are stopping city spending on “elective decadence” and instead focus dollars on helping regular residents. He wants to stop backroom dealing and the damaging political culture at City Hall.
Jo Ann Egelkrout, 61, is retired from American Family Insurance. (She also worked at the U.S. Postal Service and at Aspirus, where she quit over their COVID policy.) She retired in order to run for the District 3 seat. Her key issues is getting back to concrete city issues and not “hollow resolutions.” She wants decisions handled by elected leaders and wants less big city ideologies she says is leading to Wausau’s ruin.
Doug Diny, 60, works in process and control automation. Diny has been following city issues since 2016 when the city wanted to give former mall owner CBL $4.1 million to renovate. He serves on the airport and N2N committees currently. Diny wants to see a greater focus on jobs, and the council to get out of the real estate business. Instead, it should focus on manufacturing jobs and revenue-positive finances. Affordable housing, workforce recruitment and retention and street maintenance are key priorities.
Jesse Kearns, 42, works as an inside sales rep for Heartland Business Systems. He cites experience in student government at UWMC in learning how to listen to all sides. He supported We Are Wausau and is endorsed by A Community For All. Addressing the PFAS issue and high levels of anxiety are key issues, as well as the “Not in My BackYard” (NIMBY) attitude Kearns says is prevalent. He’d also like to see great improvements in the city’s public transit system.
Jim Wadinski (incumbent), 62, was a Wausau Police Officer for 33 years and currently serves as a reserved deputy. He’s seeking his second term. Wadinski believes his experience on the streets as an officer gives him a unique perspective as a council member. His goals are to maintain quality services for residents but also be mindful of costs. Encouraging the right development, which brings tax revenue to the city, helps toward that goal.
Gary Gisselman, 79, is a former librarian for Marathon County Public Library and has served on the city council and county board in the past. He’s running for both again. Gisselman wants to focus developing more affordable housing and less focus on the high-end housing the city has been pursuing. He wants to more deeply look at the city’s infrastructure needs and make the city more environmentally sustainable (cleaning contaminated soil, removing lead pipes and embracing solar energy). Addressing the PFAS issue and fixing the city’s roads are key priorities for him.
Sarah Watson (incumbent), 42, is a social science teacher seeking her third term. She believes her experience in economics and sociology gives her a unique insight as a council member, and she cites balancing a budget that keeps taxes low while maintaining services. And she touts having supported the We are Wausau resolution. Her top priorities are tackling affordable housing, making sure ARPA funds are spent wisely and wants to continue seeing the riverfront develop (which will help with tax relief).
Thomas “Tony” Brown, 74, works part time for Krueger Floral. He’s been a home builder in several states, worked several different jobs, and also taught math in multiple states and even the United Arab Emirates. He believes he has more life experience than his opponent and would ask better questions. He cites as key issues police and fire contracts coming up soon, 100-year-old housing stock that’s under-assessed, lack of affordable housing options, a poor mass transit system and an electorate that “hardly cares.”
Chad Henke, 34, is an electrical engineer with 3M. Henke wants to attract more young professionals to the area and believes a good start is having more young professionals in government. Henke says he thinks through problems logically and methodically, and wants to take that approach to the council. His key priorities are protecting the city’s natural resources (including the PFAS situation), developing and executing a plan for downtown development and recruiting young professionals to the area.
Deb Ryan (incumbent) is retired but worked in accounting, grant management, and has a masters in business administration. Ryan was a regular at city meetings for roughly a decade before winning a council seat last election. She wants to see better control over pandemic relief and have it go people in need and not downtown projects. Her key priorities are to see the city better inform its residents, take prompt action on replacing the city’s lead pipes, see ARPA funding go to the new water treatment plan and save the UWSP dorms and turn them into student housing.
Marathon County Board
With so many races, I decided to summarize these a little more tightly. I stick to Wausau races here.
Michelle Van Krey (incumbent), 32, is an administrative assistant with the city of Wausau. She’s the former chair of Bridge Community Clinic Garden and the Schofield Beautification Committee. Key priorities: being proactive versus reactive, spending pandemic relief funds wisely, and continuing the expansion of rural broadband.
Christopher Wood, 27, works at a lawn care company. He says he was called by the heavenly Father to run. Key priorities: revolutionize local politics, hold regular meetings with constituents (weekly if not more often) and build more transparency and community.
Ann Lemmer, 53, is a Wausau School District teacher who is on sabbatical. She served as president of the Wausau Festival of Arts and is a parent of three. Her priorities are to spend pandemic relief funds wisely, attract a qualified workforce, bolster child care, pursue affordable housing, broadband and better public transportation.
Destiny Goretski wants to walk back government overreach and return life to the old normal. Key priorities are substance abuse, PFAS removal and employment issues. She also plans to reach out at least once per month to her constituents if elected.
Gary Gisselman, 79, is a retired librarian and served on the Marathon County Board and City Council in the past. He wants to see A Community For All resolution pass as his key priority. Other priorities are rural broadband, and protecting the soil, water and air in Marathon County.
Cody Nikolai is a doctor and currently serves on the Wausau School Board. His key priorities are enhancing emergency services, being fiscally responsible and encouraging local growth in the economy.
Jeff Johnson (incumbent), 62, is a former probation and parole agent seeking his third term. Johnson wants to see partisan on the board end. His key priorities are public safety, ensuring residents have clean water, and the infrastructure is maintained.
Stacey Morache, 51, works in sales and is also an interpreter for the deaf. Her key priority is to help address mental health by bringing back needed programs at North Central Health Care. Other key priorities are maintaining a robust public safety department, and addressing child care shortages.
Rebecca Buch (incumbent), 66, is an English teacher for the Wausau School District. She’s running to uphold conservative values. Her top priority is balancing the budget without raising taxes. Other priorities include maintaining a robust law enforcement department, and continuing the county’s rural broadband push.
Alex Eichten, 31, is a communications and marketing specialist. She’s running because she doesn’t feel like her and her neighbors are represented by the incumbent. Her key priorities are bringing a talented workforce to the area, promoting diversity and inclusion in the area, and working toward affordable housing solutions.
Veronica Hope, 56, is a welding instructor at Northcentral Technical College. She wants to bring her experience in education to the board. She’s interested in fair maps, environmental justice and supporting A Community For All. Also, she cites attracting an young workforce to the area and making sure our seniors are taken care of.
Kim Ungerer is a real estate agent and appears aligned with other conservative candidates on the ballot on the city council, county board and other races. She doesn’t appear to be answering anyone’s questionnaires.
Dave Oberbeck served on the city council for a number of years, and has served on the Marathon County Board recently. He is facing off against Johnny Fortenberry. Neither responded to my candidate questionnaire. Fortenberry appears on the list of conservative candidates, though Oberbeck has been known for opposing excessive TIF spending by the city during his time on the city council. qazsd
Alyson Leahy (incumbent), 35, works as an assistant director at the Wausau River District. She is seeking her third term and has experience as vice chair of the HR, Finance and Property Committee. Her top priorities are spending pandemic relief funds wisely, attracting a young workforce and fostering economic development.
Randy DeBroux, 69, is an installer at Will Heating and Cooling. DeBroux says he’s running because he doesn’t like the direction county politics are going. He’s served on the Hamburg town board. His key priorities are supporting law enforcement, ensuring clean, safe drinking water, and making sure people in his district are heard.
A number of groups are endorsing blocks of candidates. We gathered some of them here so you can know your candidates better.
A Community For All endorsed for city council: Carol Lukens (1), Tom Kilian (4), Gary Gisselman (5), Sarah Watson (8), Chad Henke (11); for Wausau School Board: Kayley McColley and Jane Rusch; for Marathon County Board: Michelle Van Krey (1), Ann Lemmer (2), Gary Gisselman (5), Alex Eichten (7), Veronica Hope (8), David Oberbeck (9), Alyson Leahy (11), Bill Conway (16), Cheryl Martino (17), Thomas Rosenberg (21), Tim Buttke (33), Jonathan Fisher (38).
The Marathon County Central Labor Council made the same exact endorsements as A Community For All on city council. It dual endorsed Harris and Cveykus for judge. It also only included Jane Rusch on its school board endorsements. And on the county board, it only endorsed Lemmer (2), Gisselman (5), Johnson (6), Martino (17), Rosenberg (21) and Fisher (38).
A list of conservative candidates (it seems to be the exact opposite of the A Community for All endorsement list) is circulating social media with no attribution. It endorses for county board: Christopher Wood (1), Destiny Goretski (2), Cody Nikolai (5), Stacey Morache (6), Kim Ungerer (8), Johnny Fortenberry (9), Randy DeBroux (11); for Wausau School Board: Jon Creisher, James Bouche and Joanna Reyes; for city council: Jo Ann Egelkrout (3) — and prefers John Kroll (1); Doug Diny (4); Jim Wadinski (5), Tony Brown (8); Deb Ryan (11). And the list endorses Ricky Cveykus for Marathon County Judge.
Something that occurred to me during this election cycle is that we’re past the point where there could be anything considered a true non-partisan race.
Another important aspect in a campaign is spending. The limit is $2,000 for needing to report campaign finances to the clerk (city, county, school district). With so many contested races, I assumed more of these candidates would be taking in donations more than that amount. It turns out, the majority of candidates did not.
The city clerk says no political action groups registered with the city this election cycle. It’s not uncommon to see groups register. The most common in Wausau is around referendums. Often a booster committee forms, and sometimes an opposition committee.
Overall, right-leaning candidates spent more than left-leaning candidates.
John Kroll (1) reported $1,420 in campaign contributions toward the election. Jo Ann Egelkrout took in $2,064, the highest of any council race.
Wausau School Board
This is easily where the most spending was, despite having the least number of candidates of races we covered.
Jon Creisher took in $10,725 this year to date. James Bouche took in $7,940. And Joanne Reyes brought in $8,310 in campaign contributions. All three are running on a co-ticket, something that is starting to become more common. (In the D.C. Everest School Board race, for example, three right-leaning candidates appear on signs, and three left-leaning candidates appear on the other. And Mark Maloney and Wally Sparks also once ran a co-campaign when running for Weston Village Board.)
The three conservative candidates took in a total of $26,975. With spending high in last year’s high-profile school board race, Wausau School District seats are on track to become very expensive in the future.
The Vote Yes committee formed to boost the $119 million referendum question (asking if the district should the district borrow to fix its schools and beef up security) reported no contributions. It had $300 of cash left in its coffers.
Nobody in the county board races (of which there are 19 this election) reported more than the $2,000 reporting limit. All the spending reported came from right-leaning candidates.
Kim Ungerer (8) took in $1,532 for the year. Bobby Niemeyer (38) took in $1,700. Cody Nikolai (5) took in $600. Jennifer Aarrestad (17) took in $1,585. Randy DeBroux (11) took in $1,267. Stacey Morache (6) took in $1,425. David Baker (23) took in $1,903. Johnny Fortenberry took in $1,700.
A very regrettable error
I didn’t think I would come out of this election cycle, with an unprecedented number of candidates, unscathed. But in my county board coverage I muffed something pretty badly. I mistakenly flipped District 9’s race as being in district 13, and left District 13 off completely.
I do think the damage is probably minimal: those really paying attention to their local race already likely know who they’re voting for, and none of the four candidates responded to the questionnaires I sent out despite a follow-up reminder, so it still wouldn’t have given any useful information. Neither had an online presence either - voters would need to rely on endorsements to get any sense of the candidates.
Still, it’s horribly embarrassing. This is the life I’ve signed up for, where your mistakes are public and you need to take your licks when you make them. And I do, from myself more than anyone else. I hold myself to a high standard and get pretty down on myself when I fail to meet those standards.
I encourage you to go forth and vote, my fellow Wausonians. Although it makes for a very difficult election to cover, it’s awesome that voters in many districts actually have a choice of candidates.
Local politics are where your voice is heard most. Local races are sometimes decided by a handful of votes, and I’ve seen instances where only one vote tips the scales. And, while it’s often difficult or impossible to get an audience with your national representatives and even sometimes your state reps, often your local council member or school board member lives down the road from you.
I also encourage you to go beyond this guide and look more into the candidates themselves. Their personalities aren’t easy to sum up in short snippets and what the post and how they position themselves can tell you a lot too. Check out the linked Facebook accounts (all official, no personal) for more info.
Finally, I hope you found this guide useful. There is a lot more I would have liked to do with it. And I hope it will evolve each election, and become more useful. And your feedback for future editions will be useful too. Thanks for reading.
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