His parents still are living on the home farm outside of Onalaska. He met his wife when they were kids attending a 4H leadership conference, and he knows special honor and pressures placed on those who are in the stewardship of farms that have been in families for generations.
“My mom taught me something simple early on, ‘You don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you are from.’ I certainly know where I am from,” Pfaff said.
That is why he acts like that young farm boy when he visited the antique tractor display at the Grant County Fair earlier this summer, joking with the owners about the different makes, or having to get his picture in front of a vintage Allis-Chalmers or Farmall.
And that is why his first introduction came midway through his 10 months of serving as the designee for Secretary of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection under Gov. Tony Evers, which resulted in him being, in his estimation, the first nominee in 70 years to be rejected by the State Legislature.
Pfaff battled the Republican-led legislature over their lack of funding for a mental health program for farmers.
“It is a good program,” Pfaff said, which gives vouchers for farmers to seek counseling.
“The legislature reauthorized it, but they didn’t put any money behind it,” Pfaff said, which is why he challenged the legislature in the summer of 2019 to put funding behind it.
Instead, they voted against Pfaff a few months later in a party-line vote.
Pfaff knew challenging the legislature while he was a designee would be a political gamble, but one he was not worried one bit to fight.
“The legislature shouldn’t play games,” Pfaff said of the funding for the program.
Noting that his family has been farming in this country ever since they got here, Pfaff knows the weight that the current generation of farmers have on their shoulders.
Kind and Pfaff make last push through 3rd Congressional DistrictCongressman Ron Kind and State Senator Brad Pfaff were in Doolittles Pub as part of the rounds they were making campaigning for Pfaff, who is looking to replace Kind to represent the Third Congressional District.
Noting that when Gov. Evers selected him to head DATCP, he wanted him to get out in the state, and find out the needs of the people, he did just that, taking a farm tour in late February.
In Buffalo, Trempeleau, and Eau Claire counties, numerous farms were devastated, as heavy snow, followed by freezing rain caused several barn collapses, crushing dairy herds for several family farms.
Pfaff went to talk with the farmers, some of them his age or older, and they hugged and commiserated over the loses.
He remembered one farmer telling him, “this farm has been in my family for five generations, and I don’t want to be the one lose it, but I may because this is what Mother Nature gave us.”
Pfaff said Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of suicides by farmers, and has the highest number of farm bankruptcies, and he has seen growing up and over the years, working as an aide to Congressman Ron Kind, Herb Kohl, or working at US Dept. of Agriculture, the unique stress farmers constantly face.
“The milk check was not going far enough, or they were worried about what is going to happen for their children,” Pfaff said of the stories he has heard.
That is why he was so strenuous in arguing for the counseling program. “I saw people hurting, I don’t care about the politics of it.”
After the legislature booted him, Pfaff said he went home and pondered his next step, which ultimately led him back to Madison, where he currently serves with the people that voted him out.
Saying he didn’t want to fight the old fight, Pfaff moved on from that battle to try and get things done in his first term as a State Senator.
“I wanted to work together,” Pfaff remarked. “It’s not like everyone is sitting around singing cumbaya,” he quipped. “There is a lot more trust that needs to be built.”
Pfaff said that he is happy being in the State Senate, but when Kind decided to retire after this current term, a number of people came to him wanting him to be a voice for southwest Wisconsin in Congress.
“I want to make sure we have someone who will focus on things taking place here, and not make this a national, ideological fight over cable news,” Pfaff said, remarking that his opponent, Derek Van Orden, just moved to the area to run against Kind for Congress two years ago.
“He doesn’t know this district,” Pfaff said. “He is nationalizing this race, I’m localizing this.”
Pfaff said that the first bill he would work on if elected would be about economic development, likely dealing with rural manufacturing. “We lost it,” he said of rural manufacturing, noting that there used to be so many little mom and pop tool and die places around the region.
He wants to rebuild that manufacturing component so that it can succeed in this global ag economy, but it is tough because so many developers and those with the investment dollars go elsewhere.
He noted, as an example with rural housing. He said Viroqua, like so many other communities, wants a developer to come in to help create homes, but they cannot attract anyone in.
A lack of housing, a lack of jobs means fewer students in rural schools, and that means less money from the state, which bases aid and revenue caps on enrollment.
Pfaff said that he knows the family deals with things like their finances, or their children, sitting at the kitchen table. “The people of southwest Wisconsin are looking for someone dealing with kitchen table issues.”