CRAWFORD, VERNON AND MONROE COUNTIES - Well, voters in the 96th Wisconsin State Assembly District can’t complain about not having choices in the upcoming election.
It starts with Tuesday’s strongly contested Democratic primary featuring Alicia Leinberger and Paul Buhr.
Leinberger is returning from her unsuccessful attempt two years ago to defeat the incumbent 96th District State Assembly Representative Lee Nerison.
This year, Nerison announced he would not seek another term.
Opposing Leinberger in the Democratic primary is Paul Buhr, who has the least political experience of all of the candidates. Despite the lack of political experience, Buhr has extensive experience serving in local co-operatives and in the Holsteins Association at a local, state and national level.
The third candidate on the primary ballot this Tuesday is Loren Oldenburg, who will be running in an uncontested Republican primary. Oldenburg has some political experience having served on the local town board in addition to extensive experience with co-operatives, including serving on the board and as president of the Westby Co-op Creamery.
To help voters better understand the candidates, the Independent-Scout interviewed them by phone last week. Here’s some of what we learned.
Alicia L. Leinberger is a 50-year-old mother of two daughters, Maiela and Zirelia. The family lives in the City of Viroqua.
Leinberger is a graduate of Cedarburg High School and UW-Madison, where she received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biological aspects of Conservation (Ecology).
Leinberger runs Ethos Green Power. A solar power installation company located on Main Street in Viroqua. She started the company five years ago.
Before she started Ethos Green Power, Leinberger owned a different non-profit renewable energy company in Madison.
The local businesswoman also has experience working in the Fair Trade Market selling products in Madison from small farmer co-ops through a Massachusetts-based company.
Alicia Leinberger also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador from 1994 to 1997. While there she learned about soil conservation and IPM (Integrated Pest management) and later taught about those subjects.
Leinberger is a member of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Driftless United Soccer-Viroqua, the Viroqua food Co-op and Renew Wisconsin, a renewable energy policy organization.
In addition to running for the 96th State Assembly district seat in the 2016 election, the candidate has been active in the Vernon County Democratic party.
Leinberger is also active in Facing Forward Vernon, an organization dedicated to invigorating local civic participation.
Leinberger also attended the national Democratic Convention in the summer of 2016 as a delegate for Bernie Sanders from the state Third U.S. Congressional District.
Alicia Leinberger is running for state assembly again this year because she believes people are hungry for another option rather than the status quo, and politics as usual.
“We need to change politics as usual in both parties,” she said.
Leinberger's top three priorities include improving health care, revitalizing rural communities and protecting the state's water resources.
The candidate feels health care in the state can be improved by expanding Badger Care and creating a state-organized single-payer system.
To revitalize rural communities, Leinberger wants to get more tax dollars back into those communities. She believes the state needs to fully fund rural public schools, repair roads and create internet access for all rural residents.
Leinberger wants to protect water resources by reinvigorating conservation and stewardship. She would emphasize making sure farmers had fair markets for their products so they could protect resources and the wealth of their land.
Leinberger believes she will be a different kind of representative when she is elected. She wants to open an assembly office in the district and to provide greater access to state government to residents of the district.
Paul Buhr will be Alicia Leinberger’s opponent on the Democratic primary ballot this Tuesday. Interestingly, although his name will appear as Paul Buhr, his full legal name is Raymond Paul Buhr. The candidate started being called Paul Buhr because his dad’s name was Raymond Paul Buhr as well.
“It’s always been tough,” Buhr said of the name reference. Legal papers and business dealings can become complicated.
Paul Buhr, like Republican Loren Oldenburg, is a dairy farmer.
He is the owner Rabur Holsteins, which has a reputation for their genetic breeding efforts over the years. Rabur has sold cattle, embryos and semen locally nationally and internationally.
“We are not native farmers,” Buhr explained of the family business. His dad searched for an affordable farm back in the 50s and found one near Cashton. The family moved from South Dakota to Cashton in 1957.
The elder Buhr didn’t know how to milk a cow upon his arrival and relied on a network of local farmers for advice. It worked well and the purebred Holstein genetics business followed.
Paul Buhr bought the business from his father about 30 years ago. He and his family currently live on a farm in Viroqua township east of the City of Viroqua.
Buhr has been married to his wife Darlene for the past 43 years and together they have three adult children.
Paul met Darlene while they both attended UW-Platteville. Darlene graduated from UW-Madison with an education and French degree and Paul graduated from UW-Platteville in Animal Science.
Darlene is currently working in Adult Education oat Western Technical College and has been previously employed as a library specialist in the Viroqua Public School System.
Paul Buhr graduated from Cashton High School in 1971.
Buhr has extensive experience in the Holstein Association on many levels. He has been president of the Vernon County Holstein Association and serves as a Co-chairperson of the Sale Committee. In the Wisconsin Holstein Association, he has served on the state board. In the National Holstein Association, Buhr has served as the Chairperson of Genetic Advancement Committee.
Buhr is currently serving on an Executive Committee planning the 2019 National Dairy Genetics Conference.
In addition to his dairy association work, Buhr served as a 4-H Club leader and on committees of the Viroqua Area School District.
Buhr also served on the Heartland Country Co-op for 12 years and nine years as president. He serves on the Premier Co-op Board and on the Hamburg State Insurance Board for the past 12 years.
Buhr has also served on the Viroqua Township Land Use Committee and is a member of the Wisconsin Farmers Union and a former member of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. He has served on the Viroqua Chamber of Commerce Ag Committee. Buhr is member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Viroqua and a past member of the parish council.
Despite his extensive background in agriculture and community organizations, Buhr has no political experience.
Although he feels he has always been a Democrat, it is only recently that he formally joined the Vernon County Democratic Party and paid dues.
For Paul Buhr running to become the 96th District State Representative is a matter of giving back for the opportunities he was provided.
Buhr said as he looked ahead to a new chapter in his life and talked things over with his wife, taking on this commitment made sense.
“Some people do it with something like fishing or golf or playing cards,” Buhr said of this new chapter in his life. “I’m not really good at anything like that.”
Like the other candidates in the race, Buhr is quick to identify the deteriorating condition of the roads.
“The road situation in the district is not safe,” Buhr sad.
The candidate believes revenue that could be used for road maintenance isn’t present, because much of the revenue must now be used to pay debt service for previous borrowing. He favors taking a more responsible and prudent course to turn things around.
“We need to find new sources of revenue and cut back on big (highway) projects, while we take care of what we have,” Buhr explained. “We can’t abandon rural Wisconsin.”
Buhr also believes that every part of the district must have broadband internet service.
“If we don’t have internet, nobody will live here,” Buhr said. “Just as we prioritized rural electricity in the 30s and 40s, we need to find a way to be as committed to bringing broadband to rural Wisconsin.”
The candidate also believes that the state must do what it can to make healthcare affordable. He also believes efforts must be made to keep public schools strong.
However, it is a role in agriculture that Buhr sees as an important asset in his representation of the district.
“If I’m elected, One of my roles is being the guy articulating to an urban legislator the affect on rural Wisconsin and agriculture.
“I know agriculture as well as anyone,” Buhr said. “I want to be the ambassador of agriculture to the urban legislators.”
Loren W. Oldenburg is running unopposed in the Republican primary for the 96th District of the Wisconsin State Assembly.
Oldenburg, 52, is a dairy farmer, who lives with his wife Linda on a farm in rural Viroqua, west of the City of Viroqua. The couple has been married for 28 years.
Oldenburg is a 1984 graduate of Viroqua High School. He attended UW-LaCrosse for three years.
Oldenburg served the Chaseburg Centex Co-op Board for the past 19 years and is currently the president. He also served 14 years on the Westby Co-op Creamery Board with the last five years as president.
In the 1990s, he served two years as a supervisor and two years as chairman of the Town of Harmony.
Oldenburg became interested in running for the state assembly, when he knew Lee Nerison was considering retiring.
Oldenburg met with the Republican speaker of the assembly Robin Vos and got his questions answered about serving in the assembly.
The local dairy farmer believes it will be an honor to serve the people of the district as their state representative.
Oldenburg declared his candidacy on March 19 right after Nerison made the announcement he would not seek another term.
Like the other candidates, Oldenburg believes expanding broadband internet throughout the district is critical to expanding the economy. He believes expanded broadband will help to grow tourism and small business in rural area. And like other candidates, Oldenburg believes the roads definitely need to be improved.
In general, Oldenburg believes more state money needs to spent in the district.
“Governor Walker spent a lot of money in the southeastern part of the state, but don’t forget about western Wisconsin.”
Oldenburg does not believe in raising taxes and is alarmed by the fact the state’s property tax is the ß13th highest in the nation
Oldenburg wants to see wiser spending that emphasizes improved roads and expanded broadband service.
The candidate is also concerned about clean water but cautions about overregulating the farmer.
If elected, Oldenburg pans to push for broadband connectivity in places it doesn't exist in the district.
“Agriculture will be my top priority going down to Madison,” Oldenburg said. Lee was chairman of the agriculture committee. I want to be as true a voice for agriculture and carry forward what he represented.”
Oldenburg also cited the local aspects of the decision making at the local co-ops.
“I want to keep local ownership and keep local control of the decision,” Oldenburg said.