EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Wisconsin State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marionette, (left) and challenger Ken Holdorf speak Tuesday at a town hall forum at Marinette High School. The forum was sponsored by the Marinette County Board of REALTORS.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Wisconsin State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marionette, (left) and challenger Ken Holdorf speak Tuesday at a town hall forum at Marinette High School. The forum was sponsored by the Marinette County Board of REALTORS.


MARINETTE — It was a dark and stormy Tuesday night, but that didn’t stop a small crowd of residents from coming out to participate in the town hall forum for the 89th Assembly District candidates hosted by the Marinette County Board of REALTORS at Marinette High School. 

Incumbent Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and his Democratic challenger, Ken Holdorf of Marinette, greeted guests who came to the forum before giving opening statements in the school’s W.J. Jones auditorium. 

Nygren began his statement by reminding the audience that Wisconsin “was in rough shape prior to Republicans being elected to the majority near eight years ago.” 

“We knew we had to make tough decisions and we had to act quickly,” he said. “Thanks to strong leadership, we set a course that has put our state in a strong financial position and fostered a very strong economy.” 

Wisconsin’s economy was one of Nygren’s key topics, along with fiscal responsibility, education investment and workforce training. Nygren said he was particularly proud of the most recent legislative session, where he worked with both parties to pass equitable funding for public schools. 

“For over 25 years, the schools in this area, all eight of them that I represent, have lagged others which are higher spending and have more available resources,” he said. “My bill, which passed this spring, will provide more resources on top of the increase provided in the budget for every school in the 89th Assembly District. And that’s after having been originally vetoed by the governor.” 

Nygren also praised the new engineering program and STEM Center at UW-Green Bay, the opening of the Wisconsin Maritime Center of Excellence and the growing partnerships with schools and local industries to become involved in technical education in middle and high schools. 

Holdorf preferred to focus on the environmental issues the 89th Assembly District is facing, specifically addressing the PFOS/PFOA water pollution in the Town of Peshtigo from Johnson Controls/Tyco properties and opposing the Back Forty Mine project in Menominee County. 

“We live in a beautiful state, and it is our duty to protect our environment so generations to come can enjoy Wisconsin,” he said. “Every Wisconsinite deserves to live in a community with clean air, clean drinking water and clean soil, because healthy natural resources means healthy communities.” 

Holdorf said he supported economic growth, as long as it was not at the expense of the health of the environment and the people. He also said he would like to focus on aiding farmers, who are posting record numbers of bankruptcy and departure from the business of agriculture. 

The two candidates then accepted questions submitted by audience members prior to the event. Questions were read by Jessica Eden with the Marinette County Board of REALTORS. 

Eden asked each candidate what they thought the biggest concern facing the 89th Assembly District was. Nygren said he was most concerned about the area’s drug problem, which he admitted has seen a decrease in heroin abuse, but has also experienced a rise in methamphetamine abuse. Nygren added that he would continue to work at the issue of infrastructure deterioration in the state, something the 89th Assembly District has been less-impacted by than other areas of Wisconsin, but is nevertheless “a huge issue” in other parts of the state. Holdorf said he felt that clean water access was the biggest concern, with the possibility of a sulfide mine opening along the shared waterway of the Menominee River and a potential impact on Wisconsin residents who did not receive a say in the permitting process for the mine. 

In response to a question about the 89th Assembly District’s lack of housing options and high rent conditions, Nygren said he believed the area presented an opportunity for the private sector to invest in housing development, especially due to the workforce of large area industries such as Fincantieri Marinette Marine. Holdorf said he supported housing development in the area, provided the development adheres to flood control and storm water ordinances. 

On term limits, Nygren said he opposed them at the state level because he felt it benefited lobbyists and bureaucrats more than it benefited constituents. He did concede that he could find the idea useful at the federal level. Holdorf said he believed term limits to be a good thing, and could prevent the rise of “career politicians.” 

The most frequently-occurring question, Eden said, asked what each candidate’s stance was on the Back Forty Mine project and what they believed Wisconsinites should do to oppose it. Nygren said he had never taken a stance on the issue, for or against, simply because Wisconsin did not have a say in the process. 

“I know some people don’t like that, but in 1984, the federal government gave the State of Michigan the ability to permit for mining in their state without any federal oversight,” he said. “They did not give any neighboring state any authority in that process at all. Now, do I share some of your concern? Yes, I do. But this is not a Wisconsin-related problem, this is a federal-related problem.” 

Nygren said he and Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) had written to U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) sharing their concerns about the project, and he encouraged his constituents to do the same. Nygren also addressed his vote in favor of repealing Wisconsin’s “prove-it-first” mining moratorium law, which he said he voted for because it allowed local governments to enact ordinances to regulate mining in their jurisdiction if they wished. He pointed out that Marinette County had already passed such an ordinance, putting a moratorium in effect. 

“I am not your enemy,” Nygren said. “We need minerals, folks. Should the mines be taking place on the side of a river? That’s a fair question to ask, and a fair conversation for us to have, but the issue about where we go from here is not with the State of Wisconsin, it’s with the federal government.” 

Holdorf said he absolutely opposed the mine project, and said he would work to reinstate the “prove-it-first” mining moratorium law if elected. 

“In the case of boundary waters, it becomes a federal issue,” he said, referring to the Back Forty Mine project. “The permitting authority should never have been the DEQ (Michigan Department of Environmental Quality). It should have been the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Army Corps of Engineers.” 

Holdorf said the issue is being addressed in three separate lawsuits that have been filed in Michigan, which will likely combine to combat the mine’s placement. 

Nygren and Holdorf will face off in the Nov. 6 election.