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State Senate candidates will offer voters a choice
32nd Senate District
Election 2020

32NDSENATE DISTRICT - The Wisconsin State Senate District 32 election offers  a classic political face-off between two veterans of state politics–Republican Dan Kapanke and Democrat Brad Pfaff.

Former Wisconsin State Senator Dan Kapanke, a Republican who was defeated in a recall election in 2011 and then in the regular election of 2012, will face Democrat Brad Pfaff of Onalaska. Pfaff was secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection until last fall, when the state senate voted to not confirm Pfaff. 

Dan Kapanke
Dan Kapanke

Kapanke was elected to the 32ndDistrict State Senate seat in 2004 and reelected in 2008. 

Kapanke ran against U.S. Representative Ron Kind in 2010 in the Wisconsin Congressional Third District election and lost. 

In 2016, Kapanke again ran against Democrat Jennifer Shilling for the 32ndDistrict Wisconsin State Senate seat and lost. 

It should be noted the Kapanke-Pfaff race repeats history, as the two men faced off in the 2004 Wisconsin State Senate 32ndDistrict election. Kapanke defeated Pfaff in that election.

Brad Pfaff
Brad Pfaff

Pfaff has served as an aide to both retired U.S. Senator Herb Kohl and more recently to current U.S. Representative Ron Kind. He has also served in the USDA as both the state director and at the national level in an appointed position.

Pfaff began his political career as LaCrosse County Board Supervisor.

So, just who are these two state senate candidates and what motivates them?

Kapanke is the 73-year-old owner of the LaCrosse Loggers, a summer collegiate baseball team playing in the Northwoods League.

Prior to his political career and the baseball team, Kapanke worked in the agriculture industry as a district sales representative for 30 years at two seed companies­–Pride Seed and Kaltenberg Seed Company.

The candidate lives in LaCrosse with his wife Ruth. The Kapankes have four adult children-Andrew, Elizabeth, Tom and Ben. Dan has 13 grandchildren.

Kapanke attended Onalaska Lutheran High School and after graduation attended UW-LaCrosse, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in political science and minor in economics.

 Kapanke served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He additionally served one year in the Wisconsin National Guard and another year in the South Dakota National Guard.

He served as the 32ndDistrict State Senator from 2005 to 2011, when he lost the recall election to Jennifer Shilling.

Additionally, Kapanke served 13 years on the Town of Campbell Board, including seven years as the town chairperson.

Brad Pfaff is a 52-year-old father of two college students–Andrew (UW-Madison) and Elizabeth (University of Minnesota). He and his wife Betty live in the City of Onalaska 

After not being confirmed as the DATCP secretary last fall and learning of Senator Jennifer Shilling’s decision to not seek re-election, Pfaff made his decision to run for the state senate.

Both candidates have deep roots in the district, having grown up in LaCrosse County.

Brad Pfaff grew up on a family dairy farm and attended Melrose-Mindoro High School. After he graduated, he attended UW-Green Bay where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in public administration and environmental studies.

Pfaff also attended George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where he received a Master’s Degree in public administration.

Pfaff’s parents both came from farms and met at Melrose-Mindoro High school. After they were married, they rented a farm across the road from the home farm to which they later moved.

Both sides of the Pfaff family were dairy farmers. They began farming in the area in the 1800s.

Pfaff’s parents sold the cows in 2006, but are still living on the farm that now raises grain.

In addition to serving as an aide to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl in 1995 and 1996, Pfaff served as an aide to Ron Kind from 1997 to 2009.

Pfaff served as the Wisconsin State Director of the USDA from 2009 to 2015. In 2015, he went to Washington DC where served at the highest level of the USDA-FSA as the Deputy Administrator of the Farm Program.

Most recently, he served as the Secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection.

His role in the USDA at the national level created some new experiences in agriculture for the Wisconsin-raised farm boy.

“I had a lot of chances to experience and learn new things,” Pfaff said. “I met peanut farmers in Georgia, potato farmers in Bangor, Maine, wheat producers in Kansas and Texas cattlemen in Amarillo.”

Pfaff returned to Wisconsin and was appointed to become the DATCP secretary in January 2019. He recalled being unanimously approved by the senate ag committee and having the farm groups behind his nomination. However, the Republicans in the state senate blocked the nomination

During his 10-months of service as the DATCP Secretary, Pfaff was busy trying to help farmers struggling in tough financial situations.

“I try to put a human face on issues,” Pfaff explained. “There are human beings out there, who are paying taxes.”

While he envisioned supporting Jen Shilling in her state senate election, he never thought he would run.

However, when Shilling stepped aside, he was approached by people urging him to run.

“My interest is to put people first,” Pfaff said. “I think we can do better than what’s happening in the state legislature. It’s way too partisan. Things are not getting done. Special interests have too much say.

“We can disagree, but we don’t have to be disagreeable,” Pfaff said. “Work is not being done. They have not met since March. There’s a global pandemic and the economy is hard hit…People have lost jobs and had their hours cut. Small businesses are seeking greater certainty and nothing is being done. We deserve better.

“The voters have a choice. They can get the same old, same old, or they can elect a person who will rollup their sleeves and go to work.”

Dan Kapanke has his own reason for running. The local politician believes Western Wisconsin is too heavily dominated by Democrats. He noted Democrat Jennifer Shilling had served 20 years–first in the state assembly and then in the state senate. Doyle has served nine in the state assembly.

Kapanke believes a Republican voice will provide the balance he sees as lacking in Western Wisconsin.

“We need balance,” Kapanke said “We need the message from the other side. I’m a common sense farm boy, who has worked with the other side.

“I’m running because I’m passionate about the district and I’m passionate about the issues.”

When it comes to the issues there’s some agreement between the two candidates and some very distinct differences.

  Kapanke acknowledged when he announced his candidacy in February, there were some typical issues that needed to be addressed. He listed rural school funding, transportation infrastructure and the state of the farm economy. However, because of the COVID-19 virus, Kapanke believes the issues have shifted somewhat.

The candidate emphasized that there must be law and order and cited some civil disorder that has taken place in Kenosha, Wauwatosa and Madison as unacceptable.

“We have to have law and order to move forward as state, as a country,” Kapanke said.

However, transportation infrastructure is still a big issue, according to Kapanke With work on the Zoo Interchange and Highway 41 in Southeast Wisconsin completed or nearing completion, Kapanke favors addressing infrastructure in other parts of the estate–like rural roads in Southwest Wisconsin.

Kapanke also sees funding for schools faced with implementing virtual learning during the COVID-19 as an important issue.

A parallel issue is that some parts of the 32ndDistrict are not served by broadband internet and this presents a distinct disadvantage to students at home trying to learn

“Those challenges need to be met,” Kapanke said.

For his part, Pfaff rates affordable and accessible healthcare as extremely important.

The candidate would expand Badger Care so that small business owners and farmers can participate. He emphasized anybody with a pre-existing condition must be allowed to access health care.

“We can make Badger Care better by a joint use of federal and state funding,” Pfaff noted. “Then, family farmers and the self-employed could get coverage.”

Pfaff was quick to point out that it was Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, who helped start Badger Care and Badger Care Plus.

There was some agreement from Kapanke on the health care front. He noted that about 93 or 94 percent of state residents have some kind of health insurance coverage and that Wisconsin is a role model for a lot of states.

Kapanke believes that healthcare along with infrastructure and education are the big issues facing the state.

Pfaff believes that COVID-19 pandemic must be addressed as part of helping the economy to recover

“We need to talk about the economy,” Pfaff said. “Small business wants certainty. All business wants certainty.

“We need to stop politicizing the pandemic,” Pfaff said. “We need to get together on how to combat COVID-19. It’s been politicized.

“The virus is the enemy We need to stop the spread by washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks.

“Business realizes we have to stop the spread. We need to work with business on this”

An issue on which both candidates agreed was the need for higher school funding.

Kapanke noted that the upcoming state budget will be “a big challenge for all of us.”

The former  state senator sees the need for higher school funding, but is also concerned with lower revenues due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.

Pfaff noted that he is a product of rural public schools and stressed the small rural schools need an equalized aid formula to help them going forward.

Like Kapanke, Pfaff also sees infrastructure as an issue that must be addressed.

“We need to reinvest in Main Street,” Pfaff said. “We need to have investment  in roads and bridges because for too long our roads have been crumbling.”

Pfaff also wants to see broadband internet investment to retain and grow the workforce. His list of important issues includes healthcare, broadband, town and county highways and economic development.

When it comes to CAFOs the candidates differed.

Kapanke explained that 10 to 15 years ago the state “went through an elaborate and deliberate process to create ag siting rules” and they must be reviewed every four years.

Kapanke said he met with some of the neighbors near AV Roth’s; proposed hog CAFO in Crawford County.

“There’s a long process the includes growth, as well as the safety of water,” Kapanke said. “Under current rules, if he follows the law it will be hard to stop him.”

Kapanke said the situation involving CAFO siting is one of the most regulated businesses, and operators must follow the rules or they will find themselves in trouble.

Kapanke emphasized the rules and regulations are in place. If there are accidents, there has to be something in place to hold those responsible accountable.

“I never met a farmer who put manure out so that it would wash away,’ Kapanke said. “It’s valuable to cropland. They don’t; want it to wash away.”

Pfaff had a different take on the situation with CAFO siting.

“I believe in animal agriculture,” Pfaff said. “However, I also recognize the unique geography we have.

“We have to work with local units of government to make sure community input is heard and all existing state and federal regulations are adhered to. We need to do that. I’m open to all sizes and scales of agriculture with a recognition of the unique geology and geography that may be present.”

Pfaff emphasized that working together and getting things done for the people of the state is the most important thing.

“The priority should be to reach across the aisle and in a bipartisan way tackle transportation infrastructure, health care and economic development.,” Pfaff said.

“When the election is done let’s move forward together,” Pfaff said. “I want to represent all of the people of the district. I want to express an openness to bipartisanship.”

Kapanke seemed back in his element on the campaign trail. 

“People are looking for normalcy,” Kapanke said. “It’s been great campaigning. I haven’t done doors in a long time. I’m wearing a mask and I back away from the door to create some distance.

“So many people thank me for the conversation,” Kapanke explained. “So many more said thanks for coming out­–to do the campaigning whether they were Democrat or Republican. I met a lot of people.”

Well, it remains a democracy and voters of the Wisconsin State Senate 32ndDistrict have choice–Democrat Brad Pfaff or Republican Dan Kapanke.