96THASSEMBLY DISTRICT - From time to time, there have been some comments about the lack of choice in American elections.
A substantial number of voters have believed there is little or no difference between the candidates from the two major parties. Those days seem to be over–at least for now.
This year, the candidates are presenting the American voters with some very distinct choices. Nowhere is that truer than right here in the Wisconsin State Assembly’s 96thDistrict, where Democratic candidate Josefine Jaynes is challenging one-term incumbent Republican Representative Loren Oldenburg.
Longtime Republican Representative Lee Nerison retired and Oldenburg entered the race to run against Democrat Paul Buhr. The two dairy farmers from rural Viroqua were neck-and-neck in Crawford and Vernon counties. Oldenburg won Crawford by a few dozen votes and Buhr took Vernon by a couple of hundred.
However, Oldenburg picked up hundreds of more votes in the 11 rural townships of Monroe County to put him over the top-defeating Buhr.
Enter Josefine Jaynes, this year’s Democratic challenger in the assembly race. Jaynes is a 19-year-old Kickapoo High School graduate, who seems wise beyond her years. Two years ago, she worked for Paul Buhr in 96thDistrict Assembly race.
“I volunteered for the Paul Buhr campaign and I felt Paul Buhr was the best choice to represent us,” Jaynes explained. “I was devastated when he lost.”
The young woman who grew up in rural Readstown is dedicated to changing the results in 2020. When Buhr decided he would not run again, Jaynes began thinking about other candidates she might support. However, no one seemed to be stepping forward. That’s when things changed.
“I said I’m qualified, why shouldn’t I run,” Jaynes recalled.
Why not me? Jaynes wondered as no other candidates appeared.
“I thought why should my age disqualify me from running for office,” Jaynes said remembering the moment. “I was raised here. I know the people. I know the issues.”
Josefine faced Cashton-area organic dairy farmer Tucker Gretebeck in the Democratic Primary in late summer.
It setup the CHOICE. In the Republican corner, Loren Oldenburg the one-term incumbent. The 55-year-old former dairy farmer lives in rural Viroqua on the home farm with his wife Linda. The Oldenburg family has been farming in the Town of Harmony for 142 years. Loren is a fourth generation dairy farmer. His parents are Wesley and Marie Oldenburg.
Loren graduated from Viroqua High School in 1984 and attended UW-LaCrosse for three years before coming home to farm with his father.
Oldenburg sold his cows in December of 2018 after winning the state assembly election to devote his time to serving in the office.
Previously, Oldenburg served on the Town of Harmony Board for four years from 1993 to 1997. His last two years on the town board, he served as chairperson. He also served on the Chaseburg Cenex Co-op Board for 19 years from 2001 to 2019 serving as secretary and president at times.
The dairy producer was also elected to the Westby Creamery Co-op Board and served from 2003 to 2017–including the last five years as president.
Oldenburg is a lifelong member of the Viroqua Church of Christ, where he currently serves on the board.The middle-aged Republican is looking forward to re-election and returning to work on things he started in his first term.
However, Josefine Jaynes has plans of her own. She is ready to bring new blood and a fresh approach to the issues facing the district.
Jaynes graduated from Kickapoo High School in June and has been accepted at UW-Madison. However, she is deferring her enrollment for a year to focus on the challenge at hand. If elected, Jaynes indicated she is ready to give 100 percent of her time to focusing on the district. Her plan would be to enter UW-Madison in the fall of 2021.
Jaynes’ mother is Kristina Reser-Jaynes and her father is retired Lieutenant Colonel Howard ‘Rich’ Jaynes. She has two younger sisters Mia and Katherine. Her maternal grandfather is Robert ‘Bob’ Reser and her grandmother is Anna ‘Lisa” Reser Her paternal grandparents are Howard and Mary Jaynes.
Jaynes is currently employed part-time as an assistant recreational therapist at the Bethel Home in Viroqua.
The Jaynes live in the Town of Kickapoo. Josefine is a member of the Kickapoo United Lutheran Church, where she is a deacon and serves on the church council.
While the two candidates offer plenty of contrasts, there are some similarities-especially when it comes to identifying issues.
Oldenburg believes the biggest issue in the district right now is extending broadband internet. Vernon County is almost entirely served by broadband and most of that is fiber optic cable to the house. Crawford County has a wide range of broadband service ranging from fiber optic to the premises to wireless cell tower connections to areas that are essentially unserved with by any broadband access. Rural Monroe county also has a variety of situations for broadband access, but relies on wireless delivery mostly.
“We have all got to be working together on this broadband internet,” Oldenburg said. “We need the federal, state and local governments involved, as well as businesses and schools.”
Jaynes also has broadband near the top of her list as an issue of importance in the district. She believes making reliable broadband readily available is a key to revitalizing the rural economy and attracting young people to stay or relocate to the area.
Jaynes believes getting financing to the local utilities is the best way to deliver broadband.
“They (the utilities) know where the need is,” Jaynes said. “It’s like rural electrification in the 20s and 30s.
“That last mile is always too expensive, but that last mile is us” Jaynes noted.
While the issue of broadband and the development to which it is tied is near the top of Jaynes’ list. There’s another issue she feels must be addressed immediately.
“The issue first and foremost is COVID,” Jaynes said. “The state legislature has only met 15 days (this year) in the middle…of a pandemic. Who is advocating for us? Who is advocating for the farmers and small businesses? The rural communities need help. They need a relief package that will hopefully come from the state.”
Oldenburg, no unexpectedly, places blame at the feet of the Democratic governor, Tony Evers. Oldenburg said the state legislature approved $75 million on April 14 to use in assisting in the recovery the COVID pandemic, but the governor has not created plan to use it.
Another major issue for Oldenburg is improving roads in the rural areas. He noted that revenue from gas taxes have gone flat for the last eight to 10 years, noting less gas is used by more efficient vehicles. With those changes, the revenue collected has declined.
However, the need for improving roads is growing. The candidate believes the gas tax is the fairest way to fund road improvements by effectively charging those who use them the most. However, he is open to looking at the situation because revenue is much less than what is needed. He noted the legislature used $320 million from the general fund for transportation projects in the last budget.
Oldenburg also feels help for farmers is essential at this time. He wants to see efforts to help new and beginning farmers become established. He also wants to look at what hobby farms and vegetable farms need to establish themselves.
The local representative is frustrated by the fact that the assembly passed 13 bills proposed by the assembly speaker’s water task force, but the senate has not taken them up. The bills are concerned with water quality and would provide more funding to the county land conservation offices among another things.
Oldenburg said the state senate has more than 150 bills passed by the assembly on which that they have not acted. If no state senate action is taken prior to the newly elected legislature being seated, all of those bills would have to be reintroduced and passed in the assembly again.
For her part, Josefine Jaynes is committed to revitalizing the rural community.
“In my campaign I am passionate about attracting young people to the area,” Jaynes explained. She wants to make it possible for young people to stay in the area or return to the area after leaving to receive an education or just attracting young people to move to the area.
“We need to have a vibrant community to attract young people,” Jaynes said.
In addition to broadband internet, Jaynes believe more housing and daycare are key to attracting young people and creating rural economic development.
“We need to make sure small businesses thrive and farmers stay on the land,” she explained. “We need to incentivize investment in our community.”
Jaynes says she hope to work with the WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) and other willing partners to help with rural economic development.
Both candidates are aware of federally funded watershed planning meetings taken place to address flooding on Coon Creek and the West Fork of the Kickapoo, and to study the flood control dams that have failed and the future of all of the flood control dams.
As for the state of the nation and other candidates running this year, it was obvious both candidates had given the matter some thought.
When asked, Oldenburg declined to comment on President Donald Trump and whether he supported him this election.
Jaynes was less hesitant to weigh in on the situation.
“I just think the current situation we are facing is a defining time in the history of our country and the world,” Jaynes said. “We must have representatives who look beyond party lines. We need to look at how we get things done on the locally, in Madison and in Washington DC.
Oldenburg emphasized that he can work with either Republican Dan Kapanke or Democrat Brad Pfaff the two state senate candidates in the 32ndState Senate District. Oldenburg is supporting his fellow Republican in Dan Kapanke in the senate race, but is comfortable working with Brad Pfaff if he is elected. Oldenburg said he knew Pfaff and had worked with him in the past.
Jaynes was a little more forthright about her opinion in the Pfaff-Kapanke race.
“Dan Kapanke had his chance to advocate for us,” she said. “The voters chose to recall him that should be enough.
“Brad Pfaff is an incredible public servant who wants the best for these communities.,” Jaynes said. “It would be an honor to work with him Madison.”
Jaynes also praised the work of U.S. Congressman Ron Kind.
“Ron Kind has proved he can work across party lines,” Jaynes said. “That’s what we need in this country right away. We need to move beyond partisan politics to find solutions.”
Oldenburg supports Republican Van Orden in the Congressional race against Ron Kind. Oldenburg alluded to supporting term limits and noted the many years Kind has been in the seat. He also added he knew Kind and could work with him.
Both of these state assembly candidates are passionate about being elected to serve the people of the 96thDistrict of the Wisconsin State Assembly.
“I feel I just got a good start,” Loren Oldenburg said of his first term in the state assembly. “I built relationships within our own caucus and with the senate caucus and I built relationships across the aisle with the other side. You have to do that. I feel a I bring a lot to the table with my experience in the community and my career in farming.”
Jaynes emphasized the vision and drive that she would bring to Madison if elected.
“The fact is I’m really grounded by my family, my faith and my community,” Josefine Jaynes said. “I am uniquely fortunate at this point in my life to be able to commit to be 100 percent available to work on what needs to be done.”
Jaynes also pledged to be accessible to everyone in the district and urged people that wanted to reach her with questions to call her cellphone at 608-606-5306 or email her at josefine firstname.lastname@example.org.One way or another, the voter of the 96thDistrict definitely have a choice to make.