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.
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?
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.
Historical presidential elections in Wisconsin
Click a year to see how the state voted in the last five presidential elections, county by county.
The demographic and economic view from Taylor County
Number of companies
High school or higher
Median household income
Below poverty level
Unemployment (March. 2019)
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.
If you care about K-12
education in Wisconsin, it is time to act today. The State Joint Finance
Committee meets tomorrow to vote on increases in K-12 funding. Governor Ever’s
budget had strong support, and major increases were recommended by the
bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. These potential increases
would have a significant positive impact on small, rural school districts like Prairie
Farm. Below is an email I sent to all members of the committee along with all
their email addresses. Please feel free to copy, paste and voice your opinion.
Here’s the letter I sent to the members of the
Joint Finance Committee, feel free to copy and paste whatever works for you.
has been my pleasure to participate in the future of our community as a member
of the Prairie Farm School District Board of Education. As evidenced by our
district voting to approve referendums, our community, as do many others in our
great State support increased funding for K-12 education. As you prepare to
vote on the K-12 education portion of the state budget, please
consider the following:
Please support at least a
$200 per pupil revenue increase in each year of the biennium. With the
cost of inflation and the increasing challenges facing our schools, it is
critical that schools in our state are able to at least maintain
Our schools need a
substantial increase in special education funding. In our district, over
the past school year our special education population has increased by 19 students
(19%). However, they were not present for the 3rd Friday count in September
which leads us to provide services for 19 additional special education students
based on funding which does not account for them. The increase in students and
the trend of under funding special education for many years has caused our
district alone to draw $454,922 from our general fund to cover special
education costs in the past year. This as you can imagine has a significant
impact on not only our special education students but also the general
education population, staff and building operations.
Declining enrollment is also
important to many schools regardless of size. A five-year rolling average
for declining enrollment would be much better then the current three-year rolling
average and would have an impact for us.
Additional school funding
must be spendable. While the complexity of the school funding formula has
made it difficult for some constituents to fully understand Wisconsin school
finance, people are catching on to the clever tactics of using the public’s
support for funding schools to provide property reductions. School levy
credits and increases to general aid without a corresponding revenue limit
increase do not provide any additional funding to schools for supporting the
educational needs of children. I understand the desire to hold the line
on taxes; however, the funds that the public thinks are intended for schools
should be provided to schools in a spendable manner. Wisconsin taxpayers
deserve the truth, and schools need sustainable funding from the state that can
be spent on our children. With the recent efforts to provide funding
through state grants, the competitive grant process often promotes more red
tape, greater inequity between school districts, and a less efficient use of
our state’s limited resources. New funding should be made available
through the revenue limit formula and/or per-pupil aid adjustments so Wisconsin
taxpayers can realize the greatest return on our state’s investment.
upcoming votes on K-12 education funding are critically important to the future
of our state, our schools and our children!
Join us! At this meeting, we will discuss our 6-month plan for building an organized grassroots foundation in Dunn County to prepare for the 2020 elections. We will discuss the unique position Dunn County plays in the presidential election and the important roles for local volunteers to have an impact. John Calabrese will provide an update about the activities of Dunn County elected representatives in the Wisconsin legislature. We hope you can make it! Everyone is invited.
Long time Dunn County Democratic leader, Cal Christianson died in Menomonie on Sunday, May 12, 2019. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Olson Funeral Home and from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, both in Menomonie. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the church. Burial will be at a later date at Mamre Cemetery, Menomonie.
A remembrance of Cal from Margaret Breisch
Cal could be depended on to help whenever asked. He would drive long distances to pick up signs we had ordered. He was the one we depended on most to find places to put up our large signs. He would find places for signs and also arrange to have them put up. He would volunteer at our offices. As a member of the Dunn County Fair Board, he helped us get the best locations for our booths. He helped us through the difficult transition of leadership after the 2016 election. Although he did not want to serve as chair, he did eventually agree to serve as a co-hair with Bob Salt. When Bob Salt resigned as a co-chair, he stepped aside to allow Dale Wiehoff become chair. Cal was very willing to help when needed, but also knew it was important to let others grow in leadership roles. I recall many times riding to conventions with Cal. He was always willing to drive. I never heard his say an unkind word about another. He was pleasant to be around. He was a strong union supporter. He was always willing to serve. He will be missed.