Challenger Alison Page: The future is now
Alison Page is unfazed by the task of having to defeat a longtime incumbent like Sheila Harsdorf for the 10th Senate District.
She says Harsdorf's two-decade track record in Madison, with her Republican Party often in control, is an asset for her candidacy.
"Sheila is a friend of mine, a pleasant human being," said Page, who briefly volunteered for Harsdorf's state Assembly candidacy in the early 1990s. "However, she happens to represent the big business/special interests' agenda that's been in charge. That agenda is reactive and amounts to this: I'm going to lower your taxes and incarcerate more people."
Page said today's dynamic, complex world can't be reduced to such simplicities. Doing so is dangerous and threatens the well-being of future generations.
Page wants to go to Madison to help "create a vision" with these goals:
1) Strong economic development that emphasizes small-business growth and targets educational initiatives because the latter is "the backbone" of a vibrant economy.
2) A "healthy population" with access to affordable health care for all Wisconsin citizens.
3) Support for public education, from the K-12 grades through advanced post-secondary degrees. Points 1 and 3 are closely linked since educated workforces breed innovation and the creation of well-paying jobs.
4) Sustainable environmental practices.
"The key is that these four things must be in balance," Page said. "Right now, we're out of balance. We have a big-business agenda that calls the shots. That's short-sighted, and that agenda has to be busted up."
Page said the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce drives the Republican Party platform -- a platform, she says, that doesn't even mention health care.
Who's hurt by this approach? Not big business, Page says, but the average person and the typical homeowner.
Page says Republicans hypocritically talk up property tax freezes, and school and municipal revenue caps.
"Then they go on to say how they support local government, not big government, but they don't allow locally elected officials to make any real spending decisions," she said. "Instead they handcuff them until all that's left for them to do is decide what to cut out of local budgets just to stay afloat.
"It's reactive to say: We're going to cap you and let you figure out what to cut out until there's nothing left. How can we attract people to serve on school and county boards and city councils with that kind of mentality?"
And even with revenue caps, property taxes keep rising faster than ever. Page said that's easy to explain: "There's been a dramatic shift over the years in the tax burden, and homeowners are now stuck with that burden."
According to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, residential property taxes today make up 70 percent of the net property tax total; in 1970, that figure was 50 percent.
During the same period, the manufacturing tax proportion went from 17.7 percent to 3.6 percent and agriculture property taxes dropped from 10.4 percent to 2.7 percent.
The proportion paid by small-business property taxes (commercial) went up slightly since 1970: From 19.4 percent to 21.1 percent.
With a billion-dollar-plus state budget shortfall looming, Page said it can't be business as usual in Madison. She said voting for a Democrat like herself doesn't mean voting for a spendthrift.
"To change, to deal with the deficit, doesn't mean adding on to government, but transforming it. We need to step back, see what we need, what we can afford, and what education and training can get us there.
"It means getting rid of business regulations that are burdensome, reducing health-care costs that hurt small businesses and streamlining government so it focuses on what will make a difference."
Page said state government can play a key role in "diversifying" Wisconsin's blue-collar manufacturing base into promising, environmentally sound, energy fields like biofuel.
She stressed more support for higher education, saying university professors and administrators are "being raided and lured elsewhere" in the country.
"The UW-System is the crown jewel of our state. It's a treasure to be maintained. The number of college degrees a state produces drives the strength of our economy."
Despite her "strong advocacy and proactive views," Page called herself an independent thinker who can compromise to pass meaningful, far-reaching legislation.
"I just recently joined the Democratic Party," she said. "I've never voted a straight party ticket in my life. What has happened lately is that I find myself more aligned with the direction of the Democrats."
Page said that Harsdorf has "fallen victim to partisan politics in Madison" and votes Republican 90 percent of the time.
"Sheila is not the independent voice for western Wisconsin that she claims to be," Page said. "She's voted against the new minimum wage, against closing tax loopholes for big businesses, against taxing oil companies for their fair share of windfall profits from high gas prices."
Page said the national economic meltdown, corporate greed and the federal bailout after the Wall Street collapse is a "microcosm of Wisconsin's own problems."
"These are fueled by a lax vision and policies that cater to big business and special interests," she said.
As a campaigner, Page said her biggest challenge is getting name recognition in the northern reaches of the 10th Senate District.
"It's a very winnable election but it won't be a landslide," Page said about her chances. "People in Wisconsin want change. There's more and more dissatisfaction with things as they stand and the current representation in government."
Page said the presidential election only heightens voter awareness, and large turnouts favor Democrat candidates.
"Once more people know me better, I think they will choose my proactive agenda," she said.
For 17 years Page was a school board member in River Falls, including its president twice. She's a foster parent, former registered nurse at River Falls Area Hospital, River Falls YMCA board member and has a master's degree in healthcare administration from the University of Minnesota. She last worked as a chief safety officer for Fairview Health Services in Minneapolis (2001-08); before that she was vice president of operations at Fairview Hospital and Clinics in Red Wing, Minn.
"All experiences are useful," Page said. "We need legislators who come from a blend of backgrounds. For myself, being an elected leader on the school board was invaluable in understanding how state decisions affect local boards.
"My work at Fairview gave me a deep understanding of how the health-care field works and helped develop my leadership and collaborative skills."
Page's husband, David, runs his own dental practice just off Main Street in River Falls.
Page recommends going to this Web site to learn more about the range of progressive politics: www.competitivewi.com.