Assembly candidate Diane Odeen says state politics too polarized
30th Assembly District
Family: Husband, Mike Kahlow; children, Andrea (20) and Emily (18)
Residence: River Falls
Education: Undergraduate, Lawrence University (Appleton); Law degree, Hamline University; Ph.D., University of Minnesota
Professional background: Attorney, Lommen Abdo
Previous elected office: None
Diane Odeen is running for the 30th State Assembly District because she believes civility and cooperation must be brought back to Madison.
"We've become so polarized," Odeen said. "Unfortunately the extremes have stretched from Madison into all our neighborhoods. That has been accelerated in the past two years."
The challenger from River Falls said Act 10, passed by Gov. Scott Walker and state Assembly and Senate Republicans, was sort of the crowning blow. Act 10 prohibits most collective bargaining rights of public employees.
"That alone was not the cause of all the polarization -- it was probably more a symptom of the way people see government," Odeen said. "The bill was rushed through without input from both sides. Redistricting is another example.
"No one party has all the answers. We have to sit down and hear each other."
Odeen said that sort of negotiation goes on all the time in her legal practice. She said the two sides get together and hammer out an agreement.
"That has not been happening in Madison," she said. "If Act 10 had been more thought out, it would not have resulted in such a large amount of expensive and confusing litigation."
She said the future of Act 10 will continue to have an impact.
"We can't go back," Odeen said. "We have to take time for the dust to settle."
She admitted, however, that if Democrats regain control of the state at some point, there is a chance that the right to bargain could be addressed and possibly restored.
Odeen said the key to a good economy is education.
"Education has to be a priority in the budget," she said. "It has to be appropriately funded. Wisconsin has done very well over the past couple of decades. Our public schools and colleges are national models. We have to make sure that doesn't change."
She said a strong education system will be part of the economic recovery.
"Highly educated people tend to stay in the state and become innovative small business owners."
She disputes the idea that there is a "brain drain" -- the idea that students are educated in Wisconsin and leave the state to find jobs. She noted the book titled "Caught in the Middle," shows statistics that when the Midwest started losing jobs to countries overseas, there was still vitality and growth in towns that had colleges and universities.
"UW-River Falls is the largest employer in the 30th district," Odeen said. "It's a great regional resource and brings students and revenue to the state. At UW-River Falls about half the students come from Minnesota. That helps the economy in our district."
Odeen said she would like to assure students and parents that tuition rates are manageable at the state universities. She believes there is a variety of ways to make additional funding available and offer more finance options.
"When it comes to comprehensives I would like to see a UW-River Falls valued as much as UW-Madison," Odeen said.
She said she would also like to see more work done on getting the classes needed to graduate from college in a timely fashion. Odeen said some students find it hard to graduate in four years because certain classes are only offered at certain times. She called it a funding issue -- more professors could mean more available classes.
Odeen said the state needs more jobs.
"Education can help bridge the gap," Odeen said. "But the budget should reflect a priority of creating good jobs. The Walker tax incentives went to out-of-state corporations. I would like to see those investments go into 'main street.'"
She said lowering taxes does not attract new businesses.
"Lowering business taxes has not worked for the past two years," Odeen said. "Wisconsin is not gaining any jobs, while Minnesota is showing significant gains.
"Lowering taxes has not led to additional jobs. Tax codes need to be fair, but incentives for businesses need accountability."
Regarding her criticism of the city Hudson in its debate with the School District of Hudson over a rezoning issue, Odeen said an opportunity was lost.
"Voters spoke and elected officials are expected to get it done. Voters ought to be listened to." She said there was an opportunity to find a solution to satisfy everyone.
"It's not easy work, but it needs to be done."
Odeen was critical of her opponent (incumbent Dean Knudson).
"When he ran for office two years ago, he said he would be an independent voice in Madison," Odeen said. "He has not been. He has voted right along party lines to the detriment of the state."
Odeen said she would fight for family-sustaining jobs, invest in quality public education, seek affordable health care for all families and preserve and promote vital community services throughout the district.
"Recently we've started to lose these Wisconsin values," Odeen said. "I want to return our government to the values that made this state a great place to live and work."
Odeen said she would represent the interests of the 30th District.
"Some of our interests are different up here. We're not like Madison and Milwaukee. This is a great district. We have a beautiful environment, good school districts and a diverse economy."
Odeen said she would have improved communications with the citizens in the district.
"We just don't get much from Madison. I would have regular office hours in the district and have more information on a website."