Dairy & Wisconsin’s
Wisconsin's Legislative Leaders Change
Volume 135, No.
19 Friday, November 5, 2010
The sea of GOP red that washed over America on November 2 inundated Wisconsin, with the office of governor and both houses of the state legislature shifting from Democrat to solid Republican. Wisconsin’s federal representation shifted from majority Democrat to Republican as well.
The change promises an intense focus on job creation, budget-balancing and business development in America’s Dairyland. Governor-elect Scott Walker, former Milwaukee county executive, offered this mantra from the victory podium Tuesday evening: Wisconsin is Open for Business.
During the past decade, Wisconsin’s dairy industry has worked to build grassroots understanding of the enormous economic value of dairy farming and dairy processing in the state. That data has saturated Wisconsin’s political culture, shielding dairy (to some extent) from intense partisanship.
Outgoing Democratic Governor Jim Doyle’s administration oversaw key livestock siting legislation, tax credits for dairy farm and dairy processing modernization and other tools that assisted in the recovery of Wisconsin’s dairy industry.
The Walker Administration
A Scott Walker administration and Republican legislature promises a strong understanding and appreciation for the business of dairy and agriculture, Wisconsin's backbone industries.
If the protracted national recession has shown anything, it has made clear that dairy, food and agriculture have stepped to the business forefront in Wisconsin, adding (not shedding) hundreds of full-time jobs, building new barns and manufacturing sites, developing new products, building whey markets and even innovating on waste to energy projects.
Incoming Governor Walker has promised a special session of the Legislature focused on job creation, and Wisconsin dairy and agriculture will be ready to be part of the conversation. Mr. Walker’s pledges to reduce corporate taxes and provide regulatory relief are positive business signals for a growing dairy processing industry.
More specifically, Mr. Walker has stated support for existing tax credits offered to dairy farms and dairy processors. These income tax credits, due to expire in January 2012 and January 2015 respectively, provide credits equal to 10 percent of the cost of expansion or modernization projects. To stimulate job growth, the Walker administration should consider an extension of these programs and a possible increase in the credit level.
A Flipped Legislature
Wisconsin’s State Senate flipped strongly Republican Nov. 2, moving from 18 Democrats and 15 Republicans to 19 seats for the GOP and 14 for the Democrats.
Most notable was the loss of Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston), defeated by a sizeable margin. Chairmanships for key agriculture and rural issues committees will shift to the Republicans.
In the state Assembly, Wisconsin Republicans swept into the majority, picking up at 14 seats to now control at least 59 seats in the Assembly compared to only 45 seats last session. Democrats across the state lost key races, with the most noteworthy being Speaker of the Assembly Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) along with the loss of 20-term incumbent Marlin Schneider (D-Wisconsin Rapids), both going down in defeat to lesser known opponents.
It’s a sea-change in Wisconsin’s legislature: 24 legislators (among 132) in the state’s Assembly and Senate chose to retire before this election, and another 14 incumbents lost their seats Nov. 2. Thus nearly 29 percent of the state legislature is new, the largest freshman class since 1983.
New Three for Washington
The Republican Party scored a major victory with Oshkosh plastics manufacturer and first-time candidate Ron Johnson’s defeat of three-term incumbent Democratic US Senator Russ Feingold by an impressive 53-45 percent victory. Johnson emphasized his support for free market principles, free trade and relief from regulation during his campaign.
The retirement of 41-year incumbent Representative Dave Obey in central Wisconsin’s 7th District led to Republican candidate Sean Duffy’s victory over Julie Lassa Nov. 2. Duffy, Ashland county district attorney, strongly emphasized fiscal responsibility and opposition to the federal stimulus bill on the campaign trail.
Businessman Reid Ribble ousted Dr. Steve Kagen, the two-term incumbent Democrat in Wisconsin’s northeastern 8th District. Like Duffy, Ribble rode a fiscal conservative wave into the US House of Representatives.
Wisconsin’s congressional delegation now includes five Republicans and three Democrats in the House and Democratic Senator Herb Kohl and incoming Republican Senator Ron Johnson.
A mandate from the US electorate to rebuild the economy, curb spending, support business and create jobs has rebooted Wisconsin politics. Dairy has a positive story to tell its new crop of leaders, and a role to play in rebuilding our state economy. r
John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at