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30th District Assembly candidates discuss the issues

Wisconsin State Assembly candidates Ben Plunkett, left, and Matt Borup

Matt Borup: Woodshop manager, parent

Strengthening Wisconsin's economy by supporting and expanding business opportunities, encouraging job creation and helping small businesses will be his priorities in the state Assembly, says Matt Borup.

Borup, 32, Hudson, will face Ben Plunkett, River Falls, in the Tuesday, Sept. 14, primary for the Democratic nomination for the 30th District seat in the Wisconsin Assembly. The winner of the primary will run against Republican candidate, Dean Knudson, in November.

"It really was a very personal decision (to run)," said Borup. "I think our quality of life in Wisconsin is at risk now, and I'm very concerned about the next generation, that they'll have the same opportunities that we did."

He added, "My main focus is to do everything we can to get people back to work in Wisconsin, to support small business and to support our workforce. That's why I've gotten involved."

A lifelong resident of Wisconsin, Borup grew up in Hudson, went to school there and graduated from high school in St. Paul. He is the son of John Borup, who retired as St. Croix County's director of Health and Human Services and is a former member of the St. Croix County Board, and of Jennifer Borup, an associate professor of social work at UW-River Falls.

Matt enrolled at UW-River Falls but began working as a carpenter while in college and didn't finish a degree.

"I worked my way up really," said Borup, explaining that he started as a carpentry laborer, worked on projects in the Hudson and Stillwater, Minn., areas and now manages a shop in Minnesota.

The company he works for recycles timbers from factories and warehouses and antique lumber from old barns to make home building products and furniture.

"As a woodworker, it's pretty nice lumber to work with," he said, noting that some of the material is first growth North American lumber. "They don't grow 'em like they used to," he grinned.

As a working parent, Borup said he understands the stress others like him feel these days.

"I work in the building industry and know first-hand what it means to work day to day wondering about job security, about medical bills and saving for my children's college education," said Borup. "I believe Wisconsin can move forward as a state with good paying jobs and a great public education system."

But the solutions will be complex and take time, he said.

"There's not one answer. There's a broad spectrum of things that need to be done," Borup said.

One of those things involves promoting the state's clean-energy sector instead of buying energy from companies in other states. He's also concerned about school funding, state budget deficits and ever-rising tuition at Wisconsin's universities and technical colleges.

How can he, as one vote, make a difference in the Assembly?

"I think you need to be the hardest working person there," said Borup of what he believes it takes to be an effective legislator. He said he intends to spend as much time as he can communicating with constituents and fellow lawmakers to offer an effective voice for the 30th District.

"As far as we are from Madison, having one strong voice that will advocate for this area ... then a drastic difference can be made," said Borup.

"I believe that by working together, we have the capacity to make the kinds of political decisions that work for all of us in the 30th District," said Borup. "We need to listen to each other, carry on respectful conversations and be willing to make the hard choices that are inevitable in the coming years."

He said his family, friends and "a great group of volunteers" are actively helping him campaign.

"Our goal really is to meet and listen to as many people as we can in this district," said Borup. "We've been to thousands of doors and made as many phone calls."

For more information about his candidacy, go to his website:


Ben Plunkett: 'Group think' isn't his style

Ben Plunkett wants to change the way the state is heading, cut government costs and reduce dependence on property taxes as a source of revenue.

Plunkett, 37, River Falls, will face Matt Borup, Hudson, in the Sept. 14 primary for the Democratic nomination for the 30th District Wisconsin Assembly seat.

Plunkett, a UW-River Falls student since 2003 and a member of the Pierce County Board of Supervisors since 2006, says his experience in county government has been educational.

"I've learned about the issues ... and I've looked at the available choices and the way others have approached things, and I think I would approach them differently," said Plunkett.

"Most of those are long-term changes," said Plunkett of the course he proposes. "There is not an overnight solution to our problems."

Specific changes he would like to see include reducing the number of inmates in the state's prisons and jails, higher taxes for corporations and implementing a tax on cannabis.

"Incarceration needs to be reduced in Wisconsin," said Plunkett. "We lock up people at about three times the rate of our neighboring state of Minnesota. We incarcerate people at many times the rate of most industrialized nations."

Imprisoning too many reduces the number of people paying taxes and raises costs for the state and counties, he said. Besides, said Plunkett, long prison sentences do not effectively deter crime or improve public safety.

"It's widely acknowledged that the War on Drugs has been a colossal failure," said Plunkett, who was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana in 2001 and spent 30 days in jail.

Wisconsin has placed too much of the burden of paying for schools, local government and technical colleges on the local property taxpayers, said Plunkett. He said he learned that lesson when he bought his house in River Falls 10 years ago.

Higher residential property taxes are a direct result of efforts to curb taxes on corporations, said Plunkett.

"When corporations do not pay their fair share, we are left holding the bill," he said.

As for his proposed tax on marijuana, Plunkett admits it won't raise much money since selling or buying cannabis is illegal in Wisconsin and no one is likely to voluntarily pay the tax.

While he proposes the tax, Plunkett is not hopeful of its adoption: "In all likelihood that won't happen."

Standing alone on an issue isn't something he shies away from, nor is it something he has avoided on the Pierce County Board.

"I do have a tendency not to participate in group think," said Plunkett.

He said he's observed that policymakers "go along with a decision even if they know it's bad because they're afraid of upsetting people and challenging the leadership."

Plunkett said he has no problem voting against a proposal if he questions its merit.

In fact, he said, to take any other course would be "a dereliction of your duty, what you were elected to do."

Two of the major decisions he opposed and voted against as a Pierce County board member were the purchase of a house in Ellsworth for much more than its assessed value and the Trumpeter Valley lawsuit settlement.

"I was not at all happy with that amount on that," said Plunkett of the lawsuit brought by a developer. Though the case had already dragged on for years, he thought the county should have gone to trial rather than agreeing to pay $1.4 million.

If elected to the Assembly, Plunkett promises he'll study and evaluate issues and not simply vote along party lines.

"I'm running as a Democrat," he said. "That doesn't mean I'll be voting for Democratic ideas that I think are bad."

Plunkett, who is originally from St. Paul, attended high school at St. Thomas Academy and has taken college courses at several universities.

He has owned an art gallery, worked in a group home for people with disabilities and worked on tow boats on the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota rivers for about seven years.

Plunkett had visited a friend in River Falls a few times, and when the friend decided to sell his house, Plunkett, who liked the area, bought it.

He first enrolled at UW-RF in 2003. He is majoring in political science with a broad area science minor that allows him to take a variety of courses.

He admits that he's not on the four-year track, but said that being a non-traditional student allows him to pick classes based on his interests.

Plunkett said he has no other paying job except County Board and often declines to take pay for that work.

"I'm borrowing money from my parents -- private student loans we can call those," he explained, adding that he gets a good interest rate from his folks.

"This is a personal initiative," said Plunkett of his current candidacy, explaining that he feels it's something he needs to do.

For more information about Plunkett, go to his website:

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

(715) 426-1049