Senator Jeff Smith
Take a moment to imagine living on a small family farm. Waking at dawn to a rooster crowing and cows mooing. You head down to the barn to get the cows milked, collect chicken eggs, clean out stalls and feed all the animals before going back into the kitchen to grab breakfast for yourself.
This all too familiar lifestyle for most Wisconsin family farms is quickly becoming an illusion for our next generation of dairy farmers. Our reputation as America’s Dairyland is our pride, especially in the western Wisconsin and the 31st Senate District.
Oftentimes I’m awestruck at the beauty of western Wisconsin and the scenic farms nestled in the valleys and hills. People come to Wisconsin for a lot of reasons, but they almost always make sure to leave with some Wisconsin cheese. There’s no substitute. My own daughter still finds a way to bring tasty cheese back home after every visit to Wisconsin.
The dairy market crisis is wreaking havoc on Wisconsin farms. We’ve seen 551 dairy farms close in 2019 already after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017. Small, family farms are the hardest hit. Farmer suicides have shaken our communities to the core. Farmers face the decision to sell the farm or take on more debt to become bigger. Trade wars, access to credit and years of low milk prices make it hard for young folks to see a future in dairy farming.
At the World Dairy Expo in Madison last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “In America the big get bigger and the small go out.” He doubled-down on his comments about small family farms by saying, “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” That statement might help explain why farm subsidies seem to end up in the pockets of the largest operations while the small family farms are left with crumbs. It highlights what we already know. Leaders in Washington don’t have any intention to alleviate the dairy crisis in Wisconsin.
It’s clear we need to step it up right here in our own backyard. Starting in 2018, the Wisconsin Dairy Task Force 2.0 started meeting and learning from professionals in the dairy industry about the challenges we face.
The Task Force offered 51 recommendations to help Wisconsin’s dairy industry. Already, we’ve enacted the Dairy Innovation Hub idea so farmers can learn cutting-edge dairy farming methods at UW-Madison, UW-River Falls or UW-Platteville. But that isn’t nearly enough – there’s a lot more to do. Here are just a few of the other ideas that came out of the Dairy Task Force recommendations:
- Increase funding for dairy processor grants from $200,000 to $400,000 annually.
- Enable new startup cheesemakers by evaluating methods for shared cheese production spaces.
- Reinstate the “Grow Wisconsin Dairy” initiative to help farmers access capital for farm succession and transition planning.
- Conduct a review of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) for self-employed individuals.
- Establish and offer model programs for communities, local businesses and education systems in career path development programs targeting the agriculture career sector.
In the recent budget, Governor Tony Evers also offered critical assistance for dairy farmers in his budget by increasing funding for county Ag Agents, organic and grazing specialists, expanding the Farm-to-School program, expanding the Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin Program and critical farmer mental health programs, just to name a few. Unfortunately many of these ideas were cut or significantly reduced by Republicans from the final version of the budget.
My colleague Representative Don Vruwink (D-Milton) and I recently introduced SB 453/AB 495 to create a small farm diversity grant program aimed at helping small farms try new agricultural ventures. We also teamed up to introduce SB 455/AB 500 which will help families save money when passing their farm onto their extended family.
There’s no shortage of good ideas, but we can do more. There’s too much at stake to tell dairy farmers to “get big or go out.” The dairy crisis doesn’t stop at the farmer’s doorstep. As policymakers and consumers, we must invest in our small family farms and encourage innovation to preserve our farming heritage in Wisconsin.
|The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo and Pepin counties and portions of Trempealeau, Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire and Jackson counties and very small portions of Chippewa and St. Croix counties.|
|Some of the most important upcoming fights for our democracy will happen in the states — not in Washington, D.C. And one major threat is a group you might not have heard of: ALEC. |
ALEC is the acronym for the benign-sounding American Legislative Exchange Council. Except… it’s anything but benign. This is a group of lobbyists funded by big corporations, working to ram far-right legislation through state legislatures.
ALEC is responsible for some of the most extreme, ultra-conservative laws passed in the last decade: “Stand Your Ground” gun legislation, racially discriminatory and overly strict voter photo ID laws, rollbacks of environmental protections, and blocking the Affordable Care Act at the state level, among others.
As I write, ALEC is getting ready for the 2020 legislative sessions in the states — and eyeing even more extreme legislation in states across the country. Stifling the right to peaceful protest. Advancing a dangerous Article V Constitutional Convention. Making it easier than ever to pollute our environment.
We must mobilize to stop them — and defend our civil rights, voting rights, and every other right you and I hold dear. ALEC’s member corporations pay top dollar for direct access to state lawmakers — who allow lobbyists to write corporate dream legislation into ALEC “model bills.” Then, ALEC-backed legislators rush those bills through their state houses, churning out laws that enrich corporations and hurt the rest of us.
But we have a plan to stop ALEC… and it’s working. You see, major companies don’t want to be publicly associated with ALEC’s overwhelmingly unpopular and extreme agenda. And up until very recently, ALEC has been able to operate from the shadows — quietly pulling the strings to advance their right-wing policies. But in the past few years, peoples’ groups like Common Cause have exposed ALEC for what it is — and put MAJOR pressure on companies to cut ties with them. Just this year, three of ALEC’s biggest funders — AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon — responded to our demands by canceling their ALEC membership. They joined Google, Coca-Cola, and other major companies in a sweeping exodus from ALEC’s toxic brand.
We’re ready to pressure each corporate ALEC member, one-by-one, until they cut ties with this extreme right-wing lobby group. Will you chip in and support this crucial effort?
FIGHT BACK AGAINST ALEC
I’ve seen it firsthand… our strategy hits ALEC where it hurts. They don’t have grassroots members and don’t represent anyone besides major corporations — so if we keep making clear to corporations and their customers what sort of extreme agenda they’re backing (and the public disgust that goes along with it), ALEC loses its power. AND… it’s clear they’re running scared. ALEC has threatened Common Cause and our coalition partners with legal action multiple times. But all we’re doing is putting ALEC’s extreme agenda out in the open and letting it speak for itself — which is a truth they can’t keep hiding from. Despite all this, major companies like Anheuser-Busch, UPS, and Pfizer continue to support ALEC.
We need your help to expose their involvement and hold them accountable. You can make a major difference right now! Chip in to help us expose and defeat ALEC at every turn >> Thank you for your support, Jay Riestenberg, Deputy Communications Director
and the team at Common Cause
North Central Wisconsin Regional Training
Saturday, September 21st
9:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Eau Claire Democrat Resource Center
440 Broadway Street
Eau Claire, WI
Join Democratic volunteers and activists from across Northwest Wisconsin to help plan our grassroots movement and build our organizing teams.
This event is open to anyone who is passionate about strengthening the progressive fabric of Wisconsin, regardless of volunteer experience.
National Democratic Training Committee Blue Bench Training and Environmental Caucus Meeting
Saturday, September 28th
9:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center
1001 Amber Avenue
Stevens Point, WI
This “Blue Bench Training” is being conducted by the National Democratic Training Committee and will cover all aspects of strengthening local Party infrastructure, including:
- How to create a message
- How to grow the organization
- Candidate/campaign training for potential candidates, campaign staff, and volunteers
Participants will be able to gain additional tools that can be used to provide support with several departments, including communications, digital, field, and fundraising.
For any questions, contact DPW Training and Development Arkesia Jackson at email@example.com.
Organizing for Effective Advocacy—A Conference
Saturday, October 19th
9:00 AM – 2:30 PM
Unitarian Universalist Society of River Falls
N8010 US Highway 65
River Falls, WI
This conference will empower first-time and longtime Democratic organizers to effect political change in our community, state, and country.
Speakers will include:
- John Calabrese, former candidate for state district 29 representative, presenting “The duty of a citizen to keep money and politics separate”
- Dr. Grace Coggio, Communication Studies Director at UW-River Falls, and Krista Cleary, CNM, presenting a workshop on civil conversations and effectively engaging with people who hold different viewpoints
- Analiese Eicher, executive director of One Wisconsin Institute/One Wisconsin Now, presenting Tools for Effective Advocacy
- Doug Kane, author of the new book of essays, Our Politics, and husband of former State Senator Kathleen Vinehout speaking about organizing effectively for change
- Juliet Tomkins sharing an update on local grassroots organizing
- Maureen Ash closing the conference
Registration begins at 9:00 am; the conference kicks-off at 9:30. Lunch will be provided for purchase from Miller Rogers for $7.
For more information, contact Maureen Ash at firstname.lastname@example.org.
| What do you call a state Senator who’s a shill for mining and chemical companies?|
unelectable Toxic Tom Tiffany announced his bid for the 7th congressional
district this week, and we made sure everyone knew just
how wrong he is for Wisconsin.|
We launched ToxicTomTiffany.com and accompanying digital ads to highlight his record of writing legislation for polluters, slashing health care for seniors, and raising taxes on the middle-class to give wealthy corporations huge tax breaks.
Republicans love gerrymandering, but it’s hard to gerrymander your way
out of a record like that. They
couldn’t find a candidate more unelectable if they tried.|
The special election for this seat (the date of which will be announced later this month) is going to be an uphill battle. But with someone like Tom Tiffany as the Republican front runner, we stand a better chance at making gains in this very red district.
And we have the perfect opportunity for you to get involved.
John Nichols, Cap Times
September 3, 2019
Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy will quit his House seat later this month, and the special election to replace him offers Democrats a golden opportunity to frame out the next politics of the state — and the nation. If a Democrat wins the seat, or even comes close, the message will be that Democrats are renewing their fortunes in rural America.
Democrats have a base to build from in Duffy’s 7th District. But to get the result they want, and need, they will have to show up, organize and invest the resources that are required. That’s a tall order. But it’s an essential one for a party that narrowly lost the state in the last presidential election.
Duffy’s sprawling northern Wisconsin district is one of the most rural in the country. It leans Republican but it has plenty of blue voters. Donald Trump carried it in 2016, and Mitt Romney narrowly won it in 2012. But Barack Obama took it in 2008. The district has its share of small-town conservatives. Yet it’s got hotbeds of old-school rural progressivism that send populist Democrats to the Legislature. Native Americans have deep roots in the region, and there are small but growing Asian-American and Latinx communities.
That’s the base to build from in the 7th. The race will be hard. But this one must be run and it must be run well. Ben Wikler, the new chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, knows this. He said, “Democrats are fighting for every square inch of Wisconsin — rural, suburban and urban alike.” His commitment is vital. But there also must be a commitment from national party committees and strategists. They have to recognize that to win rural regions of Wisconsin and other states, the party must run smart.
The party can’t afford to repeat past mistakes. For instance, Democratic strategists must recognize that abandoning progressive principles will get Democrats nowhere. The key is to mobilize new voters and to build the party back up in communities across Wisconsin where it was winning until recently.
Only a decade ago, maps of U.S. House seats showed vast swaths of blue in the rural regions of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota. From the 1930s through the 2000s, Democrats secured House seats not just in big cities, college towns, and selected suburbs but also in farm country and the small towns of the Great Lakes states, the Upper and Lower Midwest, and the Great Plains. Long after “the solid South” began to swing from Democrats to Republicans, states along the Canadian border and just south of it continued to elect progressive populist Democrats to the House and Senate.
But today, despite Democratic gains in 2018, the congressional map is way redder across the Great Plains and the Upper Midwest than it used to be. From 2010 to 2016, Democrats lost five U.S. Senate seats in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. And they’ve kept losing Northern-tier House seats. Northern Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District — a Democratic stronghold dating back to Harry Truman’s presidency, with just one two-year break — flipped Republican in 2018.
So how do Democrats reverse what can only be described as a losing streak in rural America? They have to run campaigns that speak to the distinct character of the rural and small-town districts of Northern-tier states such as Wisconsin. To do this, they must reject cookie-cutter Washington programs and strategies — especially when it comes to talking to farmers.
There was a farm crisis before President Trump started his trade war, and the party needs to recognize that fact. Wisconsin lost almost 700 dairy farms in 2018, a rate of nearly two a day. Now, as the president’s incoherent policies make things steadily worse, anger is rising. That anger has, in past elections, created an opening for Democrats, and it could again in the 2019 special election to replace Duffy.
But Democrats need to offer more than criticism of Trump and “feel your pain” platitudes. They must talk about the real economics of rural America — recognizing that farm policy is vital, but that it’s also necessary to renew small manufacturing, small business and infrastructure. And Democrats must make it clear that they will keep rural schools and post offices open because when they leave, small towns begin to waste away.
There’s a hopeful sign in the fact that at least some Democratic presidential candidates “get” rural. Elizabeth Warren’s New Deal–style commitment to building out broadband is terrific. Bernie Sanders is great on sustaining small farmers. However, while individual candidates are solid, the party is not. Its 2016 Democratic platform barely mentioned rural concerns, and the party’s messaging even now is agonizingly vapid.
To get it right, Wisconsin Democrats should borrow from the plans developed by Sanders and Warren — and invite these progressive contenders to make campaign swings through the northland. They should listen to rural advocates, especially the National Farmers Union, the National Family Farm Coalition, Native American tribes, and groups that represent the burgeoning Latinx population — such as Wisconsin’s Voces de la Frontera. They can link up with labor organizations that have members in the north, including the National Association of Rural Letter Carriers, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the American Postal Workers Union, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
Above all, they must seize every opportunity to win races where they won not so long ago. They can do that by running hard for Duffy’s seat, and by making a commitment to keep running until the map flips blue.
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times.
For eight years, former Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans in Wisconsin rejected the federal Medicaid expansion funding available under the Affordable Care Act. This shortsighted and purely ideological decision has cost state taxpayers a whopping $1.1 billion since 2014, while covering an estimated 82,000 fewer people.
Refusing to expand Medicaid also has made Wisconsin an outlier compared to other states, 37 of which — including neighboring Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota — have accepted the federal funding and expanded coverage. In private conversations, even my own Republican colleagues have expressed confusion about why their leadership in Madison continues to hold them to such a ridiculous position, one that prevents their own constituents from receiving health care coverage and would provide a welcome economic boost in many of their districts.
Luckily, it’s never too late to do the right thing. This is certainly recognized by our new governor, Tony Evers, whose 2019-21 budget makes expansion one of its centerpieces, addressing the health care needs of Wisconsin while maximizing taxpayer dollars to fund other important priorities such as education.
Here are 10 reasons why Wisconsin should include Medicaid expansion in the 2019-21 budget:
1. It will increase affordable and accessible health insurance. Expanding Medicaid coverage to 138% of the federal poverty level for childless adults and parents/caretakers will enable an estimated 82,000 individuals to access affordable health coverage. For reference, a single person working full time and earning between 100% and 138% of the federal poverty level makes about $12,000 to $17,000 per year.
2. The expansion will save state taxpayers money. Accepting the Medicaid funding will generate $324.5 million in state taxpayer savings in this budget alone.
3. It will maximize taxpayer investment. This savings is invested in Wisconsin’s health care system and leveraged to draw down a total of $1.6 billion in new additional federal dollars for health care.
4. It will improve health care quality and access by increasing provider reimbursement, tackling workforce shortages, and providing coverage for additional services and benefits. The increased revenue supports Wisconsin’s direct-care workforce through targeted funding increases to long-term care programs and services, including Family Care, nursing homes and personal care.
5. The Medicaid expansion will reduces health care costs for everyone. By covering those without health insurance, there will be less uncompensated care for providers and fewer medical bankruptcies for individuals. The increased Medicaid reimbursement will reduce cost shifting to private insurance. One study referenced by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that ACA Marketplace premiums are actually 7% lower in expansion states compared to non-expansion states.
6. It will help address the opioid crisis. Low-income adults ages 18–35 are an especially high-risk population that is more likely to be uninsured and vulnerable to opioid abuse. Often the biggest barrier to recovery is access to treatment. Gov. Evers’ budget proposes expanding Medicaid reimbursement to all individuals in crisis, including substance abuse. Doing everything we can to address the opioid epidemic means taking the Medicaid expansion.
7. Wisconsin will experience better overall health outcomes: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, studies have documented improvements in health outcome measures following Medicaid expansion, including cardiac surgery patients and reductions in infant mortality rates.
8. The expansion will increase state funding for other priorities. By saving state taxpayer money and maximizing existing federal dollars, the state is able to make historic investments in its health care system. In addition, more state dollars are available for other important priorities, such as K-12 education, UW System and local government.
9. Taking the Medicaid money will supports economic development across Wisconsin. The additional resources generated by the Medicaid expansion will stimulate local economies, create jobs and boost personal incomes. States that have expanded Medicaid have seen significant job growth and positive economic impact.
10. The public supports the expansion. According to the most recent Marquette Law School poll released April 10, 70% said Wisconsin should accept federal funds to expand Medicaid.
Given these reasons, the only question left about Medicaid expansion is: What are we waiting for?
Kyle Wolf, owner of the booming Wolf Brothers Sawmill, loaded shavings for a customer in Stetsonville, Wis. “We’re huge fans” of the Trump administration.
Trump must hold onto the rural Wis. voters he won on economic promises.
Trump counts on rural Wisconsin economy to help him hold the state in 2020
Trump must keep rural Wis. voters he won on economic promises.
By Judy Keen Star Tribune June 9, 2019 — 6:46am
STETSONVILLE, WIS. – Sawmill operator Kyle Wolf credits Donald Trump for helping revive his business in this rural area that strongly backed the president in 2016.
“We’re huge fans,” said Wolf, 29, who runs Wolf Brothers Sawmill. The Trump administration in late 2017 imposed import duties averaging 21% on Canadian timber products sent to the U.S.
“Pricing went up at least double,” Wolf said before depositing a load of sawdust in a customer’s truck. It has leveled off since then, but he has hired more workers — he has 10 now — and pays well above the $7.25 minimum wage.
Wisconsin Taylor co.
The Midwest remakes American politics
But Trump’s handling of the economy, his main argument for re-election, hasn’t been an unqualified success in north-central Wisconsin, which in 2016 helped break Democrats’ reliable grip on the state.
On the other side of the ledger, Bill Miller’s financial outlook is the reverse of Wolf’s. He and his wife, Antoinette, have 60 cows on a 300-acre farm. After Trump put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, foreign markets for U.S. dairy products dwindled.
“Three years ago, milk was a little over $20 for 100 pounds. This winter it was down to $13. Right now it’s up a little over $16,” he said at a smelt-fry fundraiser for Jump River’s volunteer fire department. “I’m just hoping I can hang in until I get old enough to retire.” Miller, 58, doesn’t follow politics.
Trump’s shot at a second term could come down to places like Jump River and Stetsonville in Taylor County, where the economy is always on people’s minds.
Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania with pledges to restore jobs. “The poverty rate for Wisconsin families has reached the lowest rate in 22 years. The unemployment rate for Wisconsin workers has reached historic lows, never been this low before ever, ever, ever,” Trump said April 27 in Green Bay.
Top: The Jump River Volunteer Fire Department’s smelt fry fundraiser got the thumbs-up from Bill Miller, with his wife, Antoinette Miller. Left: Jim Nowacki took his son Dakota fishing at Miller Dam in Taylor County, Wis. Right: Susie Krug, owner of Krug’s Northwoods Game Birds in Perkinstown, Wis., ran pheasant eggs through a washer. “I like Trump, to be honest. He’s doing us good. We have less unemployment. I just wish he would keep his mouth shut and stay off Twitter,” she said.
His statement was accurate; the state jobless rate in April was 2.8%. Taylor County’s rate is higher. It fell from 4.5% in March to 3.4% in April.
The county gave Trump 70% of its votes in 2016 — his second-largest margin in Wisconsin, which in turn was a surprise linchpin of his victory. The state had not supported a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, when Ronald Reagan was re-elected.
Democrats chose Milwaukee as the site of their 2020 convention, underscoring their determination to reclaim Wisconsin as a bulwark of their once-formidable blue wall across the Midwest. Trump needs the state to duplicate his 2016 Electoral College win.
A Marquette University Law School Poll conducted April 3-7 found that 28% of Wisconsin voters definitely planned to vote for Trump next year; 46% said they’ll definitely vote for someone else.
Logging was this area’s first big business in the late 1800s and remains active today. Much later, Medford, the county seat, called itself the world’s mink capital. After a slump, that industry has rebounded a bit. It’s also farm country, although a big chunk of the county is part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
But manufacturing drives Taylor County’s economy now: The biggest employers make windows, doors and Tombstone pizzas.
“There are a lot of large manufacturers for such a rural county, and manufacturing employment has been increasing over the past year,” said Thomas Michels, a regional economist for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. Taylor County’s population is expected to grow though 2035, he said.
Factories in Medford have worker shortages, but some offer low pay and minimal benefits. Many young people leave for better-paying jobs. More than 1,400 Wisconsin farms stopped producing milk over the past couple of years, including some in Taylor County.
elections in Wisconsin
Click a year to see how the state voted in the last five presidential elections, county by county.
|Trump||✔ 47.2%||✔ 69.5%|
The demographic and economic view from Taylor County
|Number of companies||480|
|High school or higher||88.5%|
|Median household income||$49,821|
|Below poverty level||10.9%|
|Unemployment (March. 2019)||4.5%|
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Labor Department
Despite the financial uncertainty, county voters favored Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. Senate hopeful Leah Vukmir last fall. Both Republicans lost statewide, suggesting broader shifts in support for their party.
Medford, population 4,300, seems to be booming. Most Main Street storefronts are occupied, and the Walmart on the edge of town is busy.
Marilyn Frank opened a catering business in a former fire station in 2010 and four years ago expanded it to include a restaurant that was hopping on a recent Thursday for the weekly pizza special.
“I feel like people are thinking they’re doing OK,” said Frank, 48, who has a half-dozen employees. “People are confident enough to come out and spend $20, $30 on a pizza and a couple of beverages.” If that changes, she said, “I’ll notice.”
But Frank, who has two grown kids, doesn’t have health insurance for herself. “It would be nice to be able to afford it,” she said, but she didn’t like former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and is wary of the government-run health care plans backed by some Democratic presidential candidates.
Susie Krug, 69, has no complaints about the economy under Trump. She founded Krug’s Northwoods Game Birds in 1977 with three pheasant hens. It now produces a half-million eggs, chicks and adult birds every year in rural Taylor County.
“I like Trump, to be honest. He’s doing us good. We have less unemployment. I just wish he would keep his mouth shut and stay off Twitter,” she said.
Medford, Wis., population 4,300, seems to be booming, with occupied storefronts and businesses expanding.
Democratic activists in Taylor County see opportunity in Krug’s last observation.
“I feel like there are a lot of people out there that voted for Trump who are starting to go, ‘Wow, I’m waking up,’ ” Monty Exum, 67, of Jump River, said over coffee with fellow Democrats at Uncommon Ground, a coffee shop in Medford.
Sue Roupp, who lives in Rib Lake, said that her party must make the case that it’s “fighting for the soul of America, meaning that we’re honest … and helpful and we don’t demean or enjoy making people powerless or kicking them out of the country.”
The group agreed that to win, their party must be more assertive in making that case.
“I don’t mean we need to knock somebody over the head,” said Jim Gray, 69, who recently moved from Minnesota to Chelsea Lake. “We need to be more active” by knocking on doors to recruit voters and standing up to people who think Trump has made it OK to express bias, he said.
“We have to get the signs out, do editorials, talk to people,” said Scott Stalheim, 69, from Little Black. “Some of those brave souls — maybe it’s only 10% of them — will cross the line [and abandon Trump]. That can swing the election.”
Taylor County Republicans are just as motivated. Trump’s candidacy contributed to a resurgence of interest in the GOP after its membership declined from about 100 dues-paying members to 40 or so. There are now about 80, said chairman Mike Bub, 62.
“We can’t make the same mistake we made before and think we’re always going to win. We have to stay organized and keep reminding people every vote matters,” he said.
Brian Hedlund, 62, is a former GOP county chairman who owns a Medford insurance agency. He doesn’t expect a drop-off in support for the president in Taylor County.
“Trump wasn’t my number one choice. He wasn’t my number two choice, and I’m not sure he was my number three choice,” he said. “But I don’t know how anyone can deny that our economic affairs in this country aren’t vastly better than they were eight years ago or four years ago.”
Hedlund likes Trump “despite his character.”
Mary Williams, 69, a state Assembly member for 12 years, sees a double standard. “He’s getting battered for things other presidents or other political people have done,” she said. “My personal opinion on why people don’t like him: because he wasn’t a politician.”
Eric Trump made a campaign stop at a Medford restaurant Williams owned just days before the 2016 election. “We’re going to win Wisconsin,” he predicted. Williams and Bub also live in Medford.
As he supervised a sporting-clay shooting competition at MRC Sportsman’s Club, Gary Kapfhamer, 69, called himself “kind of” a Trump fan. He doesn’t pay close attention to politics, but he objects to what he considers endless, expensive and fruitless investigations of the president.
“Let the president do his job,” Kapfhamer said. “He’s fighting.” He said he understands why so many Taylor County voters are on Trump’s team: “It’s because there are so many hardworking people around here.”
While he waited for pizza at Marilyn’s in Medford, funeral home owner Jeff Hemer, 62, said he’s dismayed by the bitterness that taints political discourse here. He’s neither a Democrat nor a Republican.
Top: Logging, along with manufacturing and farming, are Taylor County’s economic engines. Left: Monty Exum gathered with fellow Democratic activists, including wife Rhonda Lewan, left, and Peggy Stalheim, at a coffee shop in Medford. Exum feels Trump voters are “starting to go, ‘Wow, I’m waking up.’” Right: Gary Kapfhamer, at a sporting-clay shooting event at the Medford Sportsman’s Club, said he’s “kind of” a Trump fan.
“What frustrates me is Republicans and Democrats — I don’t know if it’s statewide or nationwide — who just can’t get along anymore,” he said. “We can’t sit down at a table and talk politics like we used to. It’s pretty polarized and that to me is troubling … and it turns me off to politics.”
Jaco van der Berg, 35, used almost identical words to describe his reaction to political spats he overhears at Uncommon Ground, which he owns. He’s from Namibia and moved here after marrying a woman from Medford.
“What frustrates me more than anything is how black and white they are. There’s no middle ground,” said van der Berg, who votes but doesn’t belong to a party. He wishes people would just listen to one other.
At the smelt fry in Jump River, Fred Stendel explained that he voted for a third-party candidate in 2016. He’s not very fired up about the next presidential election either.
Trump’s appeal to people with modest incomes, including union members, puzzles him. “They just love this guy. Maybe what he’s trying to do is right, but I sure hate the way he treats people,” said Stendel, 70, a farmer who got out of the dairy business years ago.
“I wouldn’t even know who to begin to vote for” in the sprawling Democratic field, he said, but he’s wary of former Vice President Joe Biden, the current front-runner. “I don’t know if I want a 76-year-old guy at the helm.”
Back at Uncommon Ground, Taylor County Democrats listed the reasons they feel optimistic about the election that is 514 days away.
Rhonda Lewan, 65, who is Exum’s wife, cited April’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election. Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer, favored by Democrats, came within a few thousand votes of upsetting colleague Brian Hagedorn.
It’s telling, Lewan said, that among people she knows, “nobody admits to voting for Trump.” When she talks with some people she assumed are Republicans because of their background or views, “you find out how many of them really aren’t,” she said.
“Things will change,” said Al Roupp, Sue’s husband, who until then had been silent in the group discussion. “They have to change, and we have to make them change.”
Ann Rusch, 73, who lives in Rib Lake, first said she’s not hopeful because of public indifference to climate change and giant corporations’ ability to avoid taxes. She had a different perspective after hearing Roupp’s comment.
“I think the only reason [Trump] won was because people were looking for a change,” she said. “I think after four years of him, people are going to want another change.”
Top: Former GOP county chairman Brian Hedlund showed off his ceramic donkey and elephant at his insurance office in Medford. Hedlund likes Trump “despite his character.” Left: Workers arrived for a shift at a large window manufacturer in Medford, where “Now Hiring” signs are common. Right: Marilyn Frank worked another busy evening at her pizza restaurant. “I feel like people are thinking they’re doing OK,” she said, though she can’t afford health insurance.
Delegates to the Wisconsin Democratic Party 2019 convention in Milwaukee elected Ben Wikler to lead the party as we go into the 2020 elections. Wikler, a Madison native, has a long history working for progressive Democrats in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He recently served as director of MoveOn.org, and actively worked to support Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for president. He ran on a slate with Felesia Martin and Lee Snodgrass.