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Voters have lots of choices in Wisconsin 96th Assembly District race
August 9 Partisan Primary Election

DRIFTLESS - The least known of the four primary election candidates for the Wisconsin State Assembly District 96 seat is almost certainly Holly Ottesen Liska.

Holly Otteson Liska
Holly Otteson Liska

The 30-year-old mother of four lives on Melody Lane in rural Hillsboro with her husband Raymond and their four children, ages one to 13.

Holly graduated from Richland Center High School and attended UW-Richland briefly. She has also received a plethora of certificates for masters classes she took in the health and nutrition field.

Along with her husband Raymond, Holly works in their custom farming business, Apollo Vale Enterprizes. The company uses a fleet of equipment to help farmers plant and harvest hay and corn silage.

The couple also raises livestock and grows crops on their own farm, and they own a poultry farm in northern Wisconsin. Holly is busy, but she’s definitely running for the state assembly seat.

“The reason I’m running is that I’m very concerned about the state of our nation and the future of our children,” the candidate clearly stated in a recent interview with the Independent-Scout.

Holly identified some of what she sees as the hot button issues in the election as: election integrity; where the state stands on abortion; and the effects of climate crisis initiatives on farmers.

Holly, a farmer herself, worries how the reaction of government to the climate crisis is going to affect farmers.

“The way the agenda is now our farmers would have a hard time withstanding it,” Holly said.

If elected, Holly would prioritize the trying to instill  a sense of diplomacy between Republicans and Democrats.

“We need to see something get done about the current situation,” she said.

Holly also sees the need to protect farmers from certain parts of the climate change initiative-particularly smaller farmers.

Ultimately, Holly worries for the future of the country.

“I’d like to tell people my goal is to preserve the constitutional republic and everything that encompasses,” Holly said.

Loren Oldenburg
Loren Oldenburg

Loren Oldenburg

If Holly Ottesen Liska is one the least known candidates in the race for Wisconsin State Assembly 96thDistrict race, her Republican primary election opponent Loren Oldenburg is probably the most well-known candidate in the primary race.

Oldenberg has served two terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly. Loren took over Lee Nerison’s seat upon his retirement by defeating Democrat Paul Buhr in the general election of 2018. Then, in 2020, Oldenberg defeated Josefine Jaynes, a youthful Democrat, in the general election to secure his second term.

Loren Oldenberg is 56-year-old semi-retired farmer, who lives on County Road Y in rural Viroqua with his wife Linda. 

The lifelong dairy farmer stopped milking cows after the 2018 election and now grows crops on his farm. He is a fourth generation farmer.

Oldenberg graduated from Viroqua High School and attended UW-La Crosse for three years before returning to farming full-time.

The two-term state assemblyman is running for another term to try get some things done that he’s been working on for the past four years.

Loren is a firm supporter of expanding and enhancing the youth apprenticeship program in Wisconsin. He has also worked closely with Wetlands Association on some flood mitigation initiatives.

“We need to prevent chronic flooding in certain areas by taking appropriate actions,” Oldenberg said.

The state representative explained that he shares some core conservative values with other Republicans, like keeping government spending under control. However, he also believes government must serve the people where their needs are.

The issues he hears about while traveling in the district are the impacts of inflation, supply chain problems and the lack of employees for businesses to hire.

“I think help finding employees and help with the supply chain situation are things we can help with at the state level,” Oldenburg said. 

“We can give some financial help to companies struggling with a lack of workers that could help with training people,” the state representative said.

 Oldenberg has been working hard to get a new Farmland Preservation Bill passed that would offer more financial incentive for landowners to put land in the program. His bill would raise the amount from $7.50/ acre to $10/acre annually for land in the program.

There were hearings held on the bill in the state assembly and state senate, but it never made it to the floor for a vote in either chamber.

Loren will continue to try expanding the youth apprenticeship program by incentivizing it for both school districts and students with an infusion of funding. His proposal would put an additional $6 million into the program.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” Oldenberg said. “I’m a fourth generation farmer. I understand rural areas and agriculture.”

Oldenberg was pleased to see broadband internet expanding in the rural district. He believes it can only help the local economy to have broadband connectivity expanding.

Jayne Swiggum
Jayne Swiggum

Gays Mills’ own Jayne Swiggum is one of two candidates in the Democratic Primary Election for the State Assembly 96thDistrict. The 55-year-old Swiggum lives on Old Gays Road.

Jayne attended North Crawford High School and went on to attend Viterbo University in LaCrosse, where she earned a BA degree in English Education in 1989. She returned to school and earned a BS degree in nursing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1999.

Jayne is married to Ed Swiggum and has three stepchildren and three grandchildren.

Jayne is currently employed as an ER nurse at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse.

“I enjoy being back in hands-on bedside nursing,” she said of her work in the ER.

Jayne Swiggum has previously worked as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic in Prairie du Chien and LaCrosse, as well the Gundersen Clinic in Prairie du Chein and Aurora St. Luke’s in Milwaukee.

“It’s time for us to get a representative who represents us instead of their party,” Swiggum said in describing why she’s running. “We don’t have that with Oldenberg.”

When people doubt her ability to be a state representative and being able to handle to the responsibilities of the job, Swiggum is quick to point out that she has worked as nurse helping people for 22 years and is a tenacious advocate  in getting them help. She sees little difference between that and being a state representative advocating for people.

As might be expected, as a nurse, Swiggum sees healthcare as one of the top priorities that must be addressed. She feels there are things affecting all of us, like the cost of medications. 

As an example, she believes the State  of Wisconsin should cap the insulin price as other states have done.

“Health insurance companies have for too long been able to deny coverage,” Swiggum noted. “We have to struggle for them to be regulated better.”

Swiggum also does not think health insurance should be the responsibility of the employer. 

“Businesses need to make money, so they naturally find cheaper and cheaper insurance  by getting higher deductibles and copays for the employees insurance,” she explains.

Jayne Swiggum knows a little of what she’s talking about, having served as a Medicare utilization review nurse in one of her previous jobs.

Jayne’s way of getting better health insurance to the public is by reducing the age people qualify for Medicare by one year, every year.

“We slowly and surely get to single payer insurance,” Swiggum said. “But, that’s not going to happen if we keep electing people who get money from the insurance companies.”

The former English teacher also sees public education as a very important issue.

“The passage of Act 10 is echoing through education even today,” Jayne said. “People trained here, and people who may even work here, leave to teach in other states. We are hemorrhaging teachers to our neighbors. We need a reversal of Act 10. Teachers want to work in place where they can negotiate.”

Act 10 effectively ended union representation for public school teachers in Wisconsin.

The candidate believes affordable housing is another issue facing the state and believes that Gays Mills is becoming a leader in providing affordable housing. Because of the flood recovery effort, the village has 17 high quality apartments in three buildings and about a dozen recently built single-family homes. The village still has about 20 lots available that are currently priced at $1,000.

“It will draw people,” she said of the housing.

Another issue important to Swiggum is clean air and water.

“We need to put people before big business when it comes to protection of our air and water,” Swiggum said. “Agricultural waste, pesticides, fertilizers, and PFAs in our water pose a serious threat to community health. 

“Burning fossil fuels creates greenhouse gasses that trap heat that leads to extreme weather, droughts, and flooding, as we have seen in the 96th Assembly District. We must support the use of renewable energy to protect the health and beauty of southwest Wisconsin.”

Swiggum also feels there must be more attention paid to farmers.

“We need to provide incentives for farmers to adopt conservation farming methods that improve their soil quality and protect our water for the future of our agricultural economy and our community health,” Swiggum said.

One of the first things  Jayne would address if elected would involve the rights of women in the state. 

Women in Wisconsin have the right to control their own body, according to Jayne Swiggum.

“The woman has the right to choose when to have a family that may not be popular with people on the religious right, but people should have liberty. Republicans are fond of using the word liberty. It’s not having the government interfere in people’s lives. It’s the first thing I would do if elected.”

Jayne Swiggum finished with her own personal message to the voters.

“I want people to realize this not a stepping stone for me,” Swiggum said. “We have seen people who are climbers get higher and higher. We’ve seen it in our area.

“I was born here. I grew up here and will likely die here,” Jayne Swiggum declared. “This  is my place. These are my people. This is the only feather that will be in my hat.”

Mark Fritsche
Mark Fritsche

Mark Fritsche

Opposing Jayne Swiggum in the Democratic Primary Election for the Wisconsin State Assembly District 96 is Mark Fritsche from Tomah. 

Fritsche grew up in Eastman, and attended middle school and high school in Prairie du Chien. Mark went on to attend UW-Stevens Point, where he got Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources. 

After enrolling in the ROTC program in college, Mark Fritsche became a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. He later received a Master’s degree from the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania. He also received a  Master’s degree in Public Administration from Jacksonville State in Alabama

The 50-year-old former  army officer lives with his wife Renee on Interbay Avenue in Tomah. Renee is a special education teacher. The couple have three children: Marques, 20, a UW-L student; Jada, 18, a future Western College student; and Aisha, 16, a Tomah High School student.

Mark Fritsche is the only candidate with military experience of the four primary candidates. And, he has lots of military experience. In his family, he is the fifth generation to serve in the military dating back to the Civil War. Fritsche was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

Commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Fritsche worked his way up to the rank of Captain. In the army, Fritsche’s duty was explosive ordinance disposal. He served on the Army’s bomb squad.  As part of his duty, he was assigned at times to protect the President and Vice President of the United States, as well as foreign dignitaries. 

Mark Fritsche graduated from UW-Stevens Point in 1994. He served in Army on active duty from 1995 to 1999 and returned to serve in the U.S. Army Reserve from 2018-2021.

Mark Fritsche also had a long career serving in the Department of Army Civilians, as the director of Emergency Services at Fort McCoy from 2007 to 2021. In that role, he was responsible for Police, Fire, EMS, 911, Physical Security and more at the base.

There’s more. Along the way, Fritsche served as the Environmental Project Manager of unexploded ordinance at ammunition  storage facilities. He also taught courses as college faculty on environmental subjects and homeland security.

Today, Mark and his wife Renee have a small vacation business, where they serve as travel advisers.

Oh one more thing, he also found time to coach the Tomah High School junior varsity softball team. Of course he did–he grew up playing fast-pitch softball in Eastman.

Why is Mark Fritsche running for the state assembly seat in the 96thDistrict?

“I’m running because I’m so sick of all the partisan politics,” Fritsche said. “I’m tired of seeing everything go so far left and so far right, the middle is left out. Rural America is being left out.”

Fritsche is a centrist. He describes himself as a conservative Democrat, who’s ready to represent the people of the 96th District. The candidate says he’s not going to follow a party line or represent special interests.

The candidate sees his politics more in line with Montana Senator Jon Tester than House Leader Nancy Pelosi. Tester is farmer, Mark points out.

Fritsche believes people no longer think things are getting better, and that things should be getting better. 

“We need to be handing off something to the next generation that’s better than what we received,” Fritsche said.

“I didn’t serve in the military and risk my life only to see (politicians) represent special interests and not the people,” Fritsche said.

The candidate sees the issues in many ways about rights, He sees government not recognizing the rights of citizens.

“My two daughters have less rights than my grandmother Foley had,” Fritsche said. 

Fritsche sees the government taking away contraception, same sex marriages and more. He noted that 71 percent of the country supports a woman’s right to have an abortion.

“Do they think a woman is too stupid to make her own decisions?” he said of those who oppose legalized abortion. “I trust a woman to make her own decision. My wife and I are pro-choice, but I would not say we are ‘for’ abortion.”

Clean water is another issue Fritsche sees as important. 

“We need enforcement by the DNR, but we really need to work in harmony with farmers and others to protect the environment,” the candidate with the natural resources background pointed out. “People of diverse backgrounds can work together.”

Fritsche also sees that gerrymandering  and voter suppression are increasingly a problem.

The candidate takes issue with Republican claims that poll workers were dishonest in the previous election. Fritsche  said that poll workers are the most patriotic people he knows. 

“Now, the Republicans are conducting a fake investigation into the election and the representative in the 96thLoren Oldenberg voted in favor of this investigation now being conducted,” Fritsche said.

“The big thing is that I’m the most well-rounded candidate with 25years of experience in leadership and politics,” Fritsche said. “I’m the right Democrat to beat Loren Oldenberg in the upcoming election.”