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Democrats had lots to talk about at candidate forum in Gays Mills
tucker and jayne
FARMER TUCKER GRETEBECK, right, makes a point to nurse Jayne Swiggum toward the end of the Democratic Party’s Candidate Forum held in Gays Mills last week. Tucker is holding a bucket he uses during his campaign.

GAYS MILLS - The contested Democratic Party Primary Election is less than a month away, and there seems to be plenty of interest and energy for it on the part of both candidates and voters.

Last Tuesday, July 7 it was time for round two of the Democratic Party’s Candidate Forums in Gays Mills. This time, the event featured Robin Fisher running for Crawford County Clerk; Tucker Gretebeck running for the 96thDistrict of the Wisconsin State Assembly; Jayne Swiggum running for the 32ndDistrict of the Wisconsin State Senate; and Mark Neumann running for the Wisconsin Fifth District U.S. House of Representatives.

With the exception of Neumann, the candidate’s primary election opponents had appeared at another Democratic Party  Candidate Forum in Gays Mills on Monday, June 29. 

A group of about 20 people gathered at the Lion’s Park Shelter in Gays Mills to interact with the candidates. It began with some introductory remarks from each of the candidates.

Robin Fisher

The first to address the group was Robin Fisher, the current Chief Deputy Crawford County Clerk, running to replace her boss, Crawford County Clerk Janet Geisler.

Fisher noted that she has been married for 29 years and has two adult daughters Chelsea, 24, living in northern Minnesota, and Jordan, 20, living in Appleton. Her husband Mitch is employed as a welder for John Deere in Dubuque.

Fisher explained that she was born in Chicago, but moved with her mother to Prairie du Chien at the age of four. She explained that her mother struggled financially at times, and was employed as waitress and factory worker. The family was on county assistance at one point.

Growing up, Robin Fisher attended BA Kennedy School and Prairie du Chien  High School, where she graduated in 1986.

Fisher worked full time as a dietary aide in a Prairie du Chien nursing home. She was later employed as a bank teller at Peoples State Bank, where she was promoted to the loan department. 

Fisher began working for Crawford County in 2000 as Clerk Three in the Human Services Department. She worked on preparing mental health transcripts.

Seeking more personal interaction with people, she applied to become a deputy clerk in the Crawford County Clerk’s Office in 2008.

Fisher went on to list the multiple duties that she has had at the county clerk’s office and for which she has been trained. They included lots of financial things, like accounts receivable and accounts payable; working with the financial records of the various county departments; and working closely with the county treasurer’s office.

“I have worked closely with the audit,” she noted.

And of course, the elections are a part of the county clerk’s role and Fisher has familiarity working with elections.

In 2012, Janet Geisler appointed Robin Fisher to be the Chief Deputy Clerk, which increased her duties. She did the county payroll and took minutes at board and committee meetings when Geisler was unavailable to do so.

“I have 20 years of experience working for Crawford County,” Fisher said. “With 12 years in the county clerk’s office and eight years serving as the chief deputy clerk. I am the person for the job.

“I was trained by Janet, when she got ready to retire,” Fisher said. “I believe I’ve earned this, and I’d appreciate your vote on August 11.”

Robin Fisher will face Kari Kronberg in the primary election. Kronberg works at Peoples State Bank, and currently serves as the Clerk of the Town of Eastman.

PIC: Tucker and Jayne

Tucker Gretebeck

Next it was the candidate for the 96thState Assembly District, Tucker Gretebeck. He is running against Josefine Jaynes, an 18-year-old political newcomer from the Readstown area, who helped with Paul Buhr’s campaign for the same seat two years ago. The 96thDistrict State Assembly seat is currently held by first-term incumbent Republican Loren Oldenburg, who defeated Buhr is 2018.

Tucker Gretebeck farms near Cashton, and sells the milk to  Organic Valley.

Gretebeck has been previously employed as a teacher and coach.

He said his background in farming goes back to junior high school when his mother suffered from kidney failure. At that point, it was up to his sister and him to operate the farm in the absence of his parents, who were in Madison where his mother was being treated at the hospital.

“My sister and I ran the farm for two months straight,” he recalled.

In school, Gretebeck played baseball and football. 

Tucker and his wife Becky bought his in-law’s farm and helped his dad become certified organic.

Gretebeck noted that the current price for conventional milk has surged to $27 cwt, but probably won’t stay there. He believes the price increase was caused by cheese shortages, which resulted from the re-opening of businesses closed earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Gretebecks milk 50 to 60 cows, but also are involved with agritourism on the farm.

“The diversification pays the bills,” according to Gretebeck.

Unfortunately, the Gretebecks lost about everything they had built up over 15 years in the flood of 2018 when a dam let loose.

After the flood, Gretebeck was impressed by the community effort and how everyone picked each other up. 

“You can’t remain isolated outside of the community,” Gretebeck said. “You have bring everybody together just like the Democratic Party does.

As a farmer, Gretebeck sees opportunities that can happen if the government can provide some crucial help–an example is solar power. He noted farms like his have lots of roof space and can hold solar panel arrays. However, when the Gretebecks tried to get financing, they faced stumbling blocks with the local lenders because the solar panel installation didn’t meet certain loan criteria.

Yet, those stumbling blocks have been removed for farmers in Vermont and Minnesota, according to Gretebeck. He would like to see something like that done here.

“Give us a chance,’ Gretebeck said. “That’s an example of why I’m trying to get to Madison.”

Jayne Swiggum

Jayne Swiggum was at home in the Lions Club Shelter in the park next to the Kickapoo River. As a child, her family lived in a house just blocks away. Now the housing that was where the park stands and much more has been removed. However, Jayne doesn’t live too far away-just up the hill in fact.

Swiggum is running for the 32ndDistrict State Senate seat formerly held by Senate Majority Leader Jennifer Shiling, who decided not to seek another term after a long career in politics. Swiggum’s opponent in the August 11 Democratic Primary will be Brad Pffaf, the former acting Secretary of Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Swiggum is a North Crawford High School graduate, who taught middle and high school English in Texas after graduation from college.

Swiggum returned to UW-Milwaukee, where she received a nursing degree. She went on to live and work in Milwaukee for 10 years before deciding to return to Southwest Wisconsin. She has worked as a nurse in ER and Critical Care, as well as Family Practice. 

Swiggum worked for the Gundersen Clinic in LaCrosse for years and now works at a Mayo Clinic facility in Prairie du Chien.

As a healthcare worker, Jayne Swiggum was quick to thank the crowd at the candidate forum for wearing masks.

Swiggum noted that she grew up in Gays Mills and her mother was a Hillman, whose family owned a well-known tavern on Main Street in the village.

Jayne and her husband Ed own a 600-acre farm on top of Old Gays Road, and rent out the ground. They purchased the property from her aunt.

“I’m a local,” Swiggum said. “I was delivered at Vernon Memorial Hospital.”

Her father John Johnson had family roots in the Buck Creek Road area near Ferryville. Her mother, a Hillman and McCormick, had roots in the orchards and Bell Center.

Teaching in Houston, Texas involved a lot of learning for someone raised in a largely white area. Swiggum said that her students in Houston were all brown.

Swiggum said she is 46 years old and married to Ed, with three step children through that marriage - Emily, Brian and Shelby. Kids she regards as her children

“Why did I decide to run? Well, my dad gets mad at times and then a letter shows up in the Crawford County Independent,” Swiggum explained. “Also, Dan Kapanke (the Republican candidate for the 32ndDistrict Senate seat) showed up in LaCrosse at a Tea Party event demanding that the state reopen. They were there without masks and without any social distancing. I was angry. At that point it was May 10, and if I was going to be on the ballot, I needed petitions with all the signatures by June 1. I just decided that I don’t want such a person to represent me.”

The support she received has pushed her forward. Like the two guys with whom she went to high school, who showed up each with a petition with 10 signatures on it.

“Every time I get discouraged, something happens,” Swiggum said. “They know I will fight for them.

“When I was told I would need $300,00 to $500,000 to run a campaign, I was stunned and completely turned off, Swiggum said. “I turned to free social media. I’m not taking money from anybody.”

Swiggum is waging a grassroots state senate campaign, and not accepting any money from anyone. That’s right she’s not taking any money from anyone. She urges her supporters to wage a campaign for her on social media and put up a homemade sign supporting ‘Jayne, the Nurse, for State Senate.’

She wants people to share something about her with others. She’s running her campaign by word of mouth and retweets of Facebook postings.

On the issues, Swiggum is dedicated to getting money out of the political system, and is disgusted by the high prices of pharmaceuticals

“We need to think outside the box,” Swiggum said. “Money is running these campaigns.”

Swiggum criticized the Republicans because Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin is backing Republican campaigns and 80 percent of the money is coming from the Koch brothers.

Dr. Mark Neumann

The last candidate to address the group with some opening remarks was Dr. Mark Neumann from LaCrosse. Neuman explained his calling to become a Franciscan brother and travel to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on a medical mission for six years.

Dr. Neuman has served as a pediatrician for 35 years. He was born in Quincy, Illinois along the Mississippi River.

Impressed by the Franciscan Parish, Neumann became a brother and a priest and studied pediatrics.

“Six years in Africa was tough,” Neumann said. 

The Franciscan ultimately decided he was not Albert Schweitzer and backed out of the mission.

Neumann got married and moved to Madison, where he continued to practice pediatrics.

Neumann took a position at Gundersen in LaCrosse as pediatric critical care doctor.

“At one point at the age of 65, I decided this job is best done by a younger person,” Neumann said.

Neuman told the group his motivation to run the for congress was a speech he heard on January 19, 2017–Donald Trump’s inaugural speech.

Neumann said the speech made him sick to his stomach and what it described was not the country he wanted to know and live in.

Neumann said he decided to he needed to be in the political arena and supporting democracy would be a great hand off to his (teenage) son. 

“I want to hand off something to the next generation I want to contribute with the time I have left,” the retired doctor said.

Neumann is working hard on Medicare for All. He sees the point of the issues, but believes in the need to get the attention of the politicians to achieve results.

Neumann explained the bill for single payer health insurance exists, but it is opposed by the pharmaceutical and large insurance companies, who want to make money.

The environment and climate change is another important issue to the candidate. Neumann believes we can’t ignore the rapidly changing climate. He thinks it is necessary to mitigate and manage the effects of climate change. He also believes the United State has a leadership role to play in this.

By 2050, regions of the world will become uninhabitable, according to Neumann, and this will cause a mass migration of two to three billion people. He feels reacting to this will take coordination of all 195 nations.

Neumann also fears the threat to democracy posed by the concentration of money and power. He sees the end point as oligarchy, like the concentration of power under Vladimir Putin in Russia.

To restore democracy, Neumann would remove money from elections. He believes in public financing of campaigns.

In his own campaign, Neumann is not accepting money from Political Action Committees (PACs). Instead, he is relying on small donations from individuals.

“That’s how I’m doing my campaign,” Neumann said. “So, I’m free to listen to the people who are electing me.”

Question and answer

Crawford County Democrat and Gays Mills resident Craig Anderson moderated the forum. To start the question-and-answer portion of the event he asked the candidates to comment on the current situation with the upcoming elections in light of the pandemic, the recent court decision on early voting and the large conversion in the spring election to absentee voting.

Crawford County Chief Deputy Clerk Robin Fisher referenced guidance that the Wisconsin Election Commission has issued concerning different strategies and rules for absentee voting.

Fisher explained that given the situation with the COVID-19 virus, she is totally for absentee voting.

Fisher also referenced taking her mother to a drive-by polling place in Prairie du Chien in the spring election that worked well.

However, Clayton Township resident Sharon Murphy noted the problems her township has had with voting machines in the past. She also noted there was nobody there to help.

“Is there a lack of personnel?’ Murphy asked.

Fisher said talking with municipal clerks and teaching them how to run the voting machines addresses the problem.

The chief deputy clerk also said that a representative from Command Central, the company contracted to service and maintain the machines, is on hand in Crawford County on election day to smooth out problems.

Jayne Swiggum’s comment on elections is that more women must run and until half of those elected are women there remains work to be done.

Swiggum said that although women are 50 percent of the population, they make up only 27 percent of the elected officials.

Gretebeck pointed out that while he believes Republicans are actively trying to suppress the vote, he has worked on things with Travis Tranel, a Republican State Representative from Cuba City, who also is an organic dairy farmer.

As for the vast amount of money the state has spent on the Foxconn project in southeastern Wisconsin, Gretebeck had his own thoughts.

“Why not dump some of that money on us?” he asked.

One thing all of the candidates in both recent candidate forums stressed is the need for people to vote in the Democratic Primary Election scheduled for Tuesday, August 11–using in-person voting at the polls or by absentee ballot or early voting where it’s available. 

One thing is certain, the Democratic Party is offering voters in Crawford County and elsewhere plenty of choices in the primary election. Now, it’s up to the voters to educate themselves and make those choices by voting.