Senate and Assembly candidates at same table
Milltown event address school funding, frac sand mining and more
by Greg Marsten
Leader staff writer
MILLTOWN – The first multi-candidate forum for candidates from the 28th Assembly District and 10th State Senate District were in attendance for an event sponsored by the Milltown Library on Thursday, Oct. 4.
The forum was well attended with over four dozen people in attendance, and while it was officially a candidate's "meet and greet" event, it had moments of debate and audience questions, with only a few true hints of major disagreement.
Appearing were incumbent Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R - River Falls) and her challenger, Dan Olson (D - Clayton). Also on hand was incumbent Assemblyman Dr. Erik Severson (R - Star Prairie), who appeared beside his challenger, Adam Bever (D - Balsam Lake.)
Both incumbents and their two challengers seemed to agree on more than they disagreed, but it also gave them a chance to introduce themselves and explain why they are seeking either a new or returning seat at the political table.
Severson cited his previous dilemma of seeing things he saw as problems that were not being addressed. "I decided I can sit there and complain, or I could get out there and do something," he said on his first election bid two years ago.
His challenger, Bever, noted a similar objective, but said he was "completely invested in this area," he said. "I agree, either complain or do something...It's a new journey for me."
Harsdorf cited her decade of previous experience in the state Assembly, and how she later decided to get back into government in the Senate. "I run it one reelection at a time," she said. "[With a focus] on creating a friendly business environment."
Olson cited his own experience as a teacher, where he often taught exactly about the office he is now seeking, as well as his extensive military background, which includes two tours of duty in Iraq. "It's an opportunity to serve my country, state and locally, as a soldier, teacher and hopefully in the senate," he said. "I don't like what we're seeing: [Legislation] being passed in partisan basis...I'm concerned about having outside groups affect our business."
Both Olson and Bever are currently teachers, which led to speculation that both were only seeking to overturn the controversial Act 10 legislation from last year that eliminated collective bargaining rights. Both men dismissed the idea, but noted that school financing is a serious problem for all districts.
"I think there are way more important issues than teacher pay," Bever said.
Olson echoed that sentiment, but noted he was "proud of my profession," but admitted that the financial hit of the action "changed my retirement plans...but it's not the unions out walking with me and knocking on doors."
Harsdorf noted that the Act 10 legislation was effectively a pay cut for more than just teachers, and said she, too, "felt the impact [monetarily.] We're all affected by this action."
Severson did not comment directly on the Act 10 issue, but called out Bever on whether it was a "main reason" for his running, while also agreeing that school funding was a "tough nut to crack."
"We seem to agree, the formula for how we raise money for schools does need to change," Severson said, focusing on the need to adjust how Milwaukee is "overly funded" by local, rural property taxes.
The four also took several questions from the audience, many of which seemed to be comments more than questions, but they dealt with issues such as the size and role of government, as well as how to address controversial issues like fractured sand mining, and whether the issues is over-regulated or under-regulated by the state.
Severson was adamant that frac sand mining issues should remain a local issue of control, and disputed opinions about whether it poses serious hazardous potential for water tables or air quality.
"I say let the towns keep control," Severson said, citing lower carbon dioxide emissions, due to expanded natural gas usage, which he correlated directly to frac sand mining. "People can't wait for the jobs."
Olson disagreed, and noted the "fast and furious rush" of firms trying to purchase mining rights, before regulations or controls are in place.
"[The sand] is not going anywhere!" Olson said, noting recent environmental spillage issues in Barron and Burnett counties, as well as disputed issues on silica air quality problems and aquifer deletion. "You're not just pulling water from those few acres [of mining land]."
Harsdorf cited so-called Green Tier legislation, which is meant to make environmental issues combine with business interests. "It's [a program] where if your business is good for the environment, you're going to be rewarded." She said.
Bever noted that while its easy to blame regulations for affecting business, "Let's be careful about which regulations we get rid of," he said. "The environment drives out economy. Let's move very carefully. Our leadership has tried to make the public sector the enemy."
The four candidates agreed on the importance of tourism, and the need for a stronger local economy, as well as the need to expand local infrastructure needs, from roads and bridges to cell towers and broadband availability.
They were also asked about general philosophies on freedoms like home schooling. They all agreed that while school funding is a critical issue, nobody wanted to deny that home school option, but did not want to expand financial rewards to those parents.
The four candidates rarely were contentious, and generally maintained a civil discussion, which carried over to a true "meet and greet" session afterward.
"You know what, were not going to agree on everything, and that's okay," Harsdorf said with a smile in closing.
Bever agreed, encouraging "civil conversations," while also asking voters and candidates to "actually listen to the other side...even when it comes to issues like school food portions for football players!"