READSTOWN - There are certain people with whom you spend just moments and you can sense their significance.
If you went to the candidate forum held in Gays Mills last summer for the 96thDistrict Wisconsin State Assembly Democratic Primary Election, you might have met such a person
As Josefine Jaynes started addressing the small crowd attending the forum, it was obvious this was not just a teenage girl from Readstown, who had an impulsive dream about running for office.
Josefine Jaynes had a poised presentation that engaged the audience. Jaynes may have been 18 years old, but she was mature, conversant and engaging. Beyond that, she had a firm grasp of the issues facing the district, and could explain them and her position on them. There was no doubt this was the real thing.
I have covered politics in Wisconsin for a long time and I never saw anyone that did any better than Jaynes did that afternoon. She was intelligent, professional and empathetic. I saw the future on that summer afternoon in Gays Mills. I may have seen the future President of the United States.
So, who is Josefine Jaynes and what makes her so special?
The young woman from rural Readstown is a self-proclaimed army brat, who lived in four different places before relocating to Readstown in 2010.
Although she was born in Alexandria, Virginia and initially lived in the Washington D.C. area, she moved with her family to where her father was stationed by the army. However through it all, she spent summers and holidays with her grandmother on a farm in rural Readstown.
“Although I was born in Alexandria, Virginia, my dad being in the military meant we moved around quite bit. I spent the majority of my time at my grandma’s farm, which was a mile down the road from where my family lives now.”
Her father, Rich Jaynes is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. For most of her childhood, her father worked in the missile defense agency.
Her mother Kristina Reser-Jaynes, like Josefine, is a graduate of Kickapoo High School. Kristina is the daughter of the late Anna Reser.
To Josefine, Readstown is her hometown, not the four places she lived with her family as her father’s military placements changed.
How ‘Readstown’ is she? Well, she was baptized at Kickapoo United Lutheran Church on County J.
“I spent every Christmas and Easter at my grandma’s, as well as the summers,” Jaynes said.
Jaynes played softball in the Kickapoo summer rec program. She also took swimming lessons and attended summer school classes, all before her family ever moved to the area.
“I lived in four different states growing up,” Jaynes explained. “As an army brat, there’s not a whole lot of consistency in your life. But, we always had the farm. So, Readstown is my hometown.”
Rich Jaynes chose to retire from the army after a 22-year career, so Josefine’s mom could come back to take care of her mother.
The family moved in 2010 from Alabama and her father retired in 2011.
Jaynes started attending Kickapoo Schools in the third grade. Last spring, she graduated as the salutatorian of Kickapoo High School. She was also her class president.
Three years ago, Jaynes became a deacon of the Kickapoo United Lutheran Church. She is the youngest member of the church council, and serves as a vacation bible school instructor.
In high school, Jaynes was a member of many clubs, including FFA. She was also a three-sport athlete, participating in cross country, basketball and track. Kickapoo won back-to-back conference championships in basketball and cross country, she was quick to point out.
In track, Jaynes made it to the sectional all three years as a sprinter. She hoped to make it to the state meet as a senior, but it was cancelled when schools closed due to the pandemic.
Locally, she became actively involved in Democrat Paul Buhr’s 2018 campaign for the 96thDistrict of the Wisconsin State Assembly.
“Volunteering for his campaign was my first experience in local politics,” Jaynes noted.
Working for Buhr, gave Jaynes a chance to speak at a couple of his campaign events.
“To see her get up and wow a crowd with her speech was impressive,” Buhr recalled.
Unfortunately for Jaynes, Buhr lost the election to Republican Loren Oldenburg.
“I was very upset that he lost,” Jaynes said. “He was such a great candidate. He was the perfect person to represent the area. He lost because of gerrymandered maps and it was real upsetting to me.”
Fast forward to 2020. After Buhr lost, Jaynes got involved with the local Democratic Party. She attended the third district convention and the state convention.
At some point after hearing her speak, someone told her that she should run for senate and she shrugged that suggestion off.
When she saw no Democratic candidate appearing to run in the 96thState Assembly District in 2020, she started to think about running. Why not? So, she told her mom about it.
“I was raised in house where nothing was impossible,” Jaynes said. As expected, her parents Rich and Kristina rose to the occasion.
“My husband and I said that we’d support her if she was committed to staying positive and taking it seriously,” Kristina Reser-Jaynes said.
Still, her mother wondered if Josefine was ready. Any doubts were erased, when Josefine did a remote interview on her candidacy with Wisconsin Eye, a statewide non-profit network.
“I struggled with the whole thing until I heard her in that interview,” her mother recalled. “Then I knew ‘Oh yeah, she’s ready’.”
Jaynes was indeed ready. She beat Tucker Gretebeck soundly in the Democratic Primary for the 96thState Assembly District. It caught people’s attention. Gretebeck, an organic dairy farmer from Cashton, was well-known and well-connected.
One big difference in the race was Jaynes campaigned hard in Crawford County and Gretebeck really didn’t.
In Crawford County, Josefine Jaynes got 1,257 votes and Tucker Gretebeck got 559. The 698-vote margin helped her carry the primary
Jaynes went on to campaign hard against her general election opponent, the one-term Republican incumbent, Loren Oldenburg. Maybe the stars were aligned against her.
Because of the pandemic, her opportunity for door-to-door canvassing and small group meetings was restricted.
When people couldn’t meet her, they thought being 18 years old was too young, her mother believes. Meeting her might well have changed that idea.
Then, there was the ‘red wave’ tied to the presidential race. The area went heavily for Republican Donald Trump in the presidential election, drawing many more Republican voters to the polls in 2020, than would’ve been voting in 2018.
Hal Bergan, a campaign adviser to Jaynes, noted that there was a lot of same day voter registration for Republicans in the district and that’s not the norm.
“Normally, it’s Democrats that are registering on the day of the election,” Bergan said.
Despite the obstacles and the defeat, Jaynes fared well in the district. In Crawford County, she gathered more votes than any Democrat on the ballot except incumbent Congressman Ron Kind, who won his race in both the county and the congressional district.
Jaynes got more votes than Democrat Brad Pfaff, who was running for a state senate seat. She even got more votes than Joe Biden got in his presidential bid in Crawford County.
It brings up an interesting point. Jaynes runs well in ‘purple’ areas that are not entirely Democratic ‘blue’ or Republican ‘red.’ It’s probably why she did better than the other Democratic candidates in Crawford County.
“In my race, I focused on fixing the roads, funding the schools and supporting small businesses,” Jaynes said. “Who will argue we don’t need better broadband access? I don’t need to talk about politics up the scale.”
Campaign adviser Hal Bergan saw it directly.
“Josefine worked very hard and knew what she was saying,” Bergan said. “On the substantive things, she was right on target. She was very much of the region.”
Bergan cited her ability to talk on local issues like flood control and school funding, as reaching people on issues that matter to them specifically.
Kickapoo High School history teacher Eric Wiegel was as much impressed with Jaynes’ political knowledge and poise as everyone else.
“She’s incredible isn’t she,” Wiegel said of his former student.
After class, the history teacher and student often talked about politics.
“I played the devil’s advocate,” Wiegel said. “I told her I grew up in an agricultural family that voted Republican, so I represented that. I asked her about her neighbors that had different views than her. I think it got her thinking and helped her see the other side.”
Both Wiegel and Bergan believe through their research that the last time a Democrat represented the 96thState Assembly District was in 1948 and that person was Patrick Lucey. The 18-year-old from Readstown faced a heavy lift, but she did plenty–even if she came up short.
Josefine Jaynes’ immediate plans include attending UW-Madison next year, where she has already been accepted. Jaynes deferred her enrollment in fall citing the election. Going forward, she is considering law school, but still plans to remain active in Democratic Party politics–including working on upcoming campaigns.
Right now, Jaynes sees a future in government, as either an elected representative or an appointed official.
Josefine Jaynes represents the future of political change.
“So many people believe in me and what I want to do,” Jaynes said. “I’m lucky. I’m young. I still got a lot of fight left in me.”
As for her election loss to Oldenburg, she views it as a temporary setback.
“You don’t stay down when you’re knocked down,” Jaynes said. “What's the point? It's something I really believe in. I’ll keep fighting until things get better. That’s the reason I was running now. My generation can’t wait.
“Just because I lost, doesn't mean that my generation isn’t going to have to deal with climate change, the challenges facing family farmers and a lot more. I can’t stop fighting, the future depends on it.”This country may face a lot of problems, but with people like Josefine Jaynes engaged, you can start to feel the solutions evolving.