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Democrat Kelly Westlund speaks at an event in Hudson last Friday announcing her candidacy for the 7th District congressional seat held by Republican incumbent Sean Duffy. Roy Sjoberg of Hudson, co-chair of the St. Croix County Democratic Party, and Lynne Bloom of Roberts, right, owner of a mechanical engineering firm, spoke in support of Westlund. (Photo by Randy Hanson)

Democrat brings congressional campaign to area

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The Democrat hoping to unseat incumbent Sean Duffy in the mid-term congressional election next November brought her announcement tour to Hudson last Friday.

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“I’m running for Congress because I believe that regular people need real representation in Washington,” Kelly Westlund told a small group gathered in the second-floor meeting room of the Hudson Area Library.

“I don’t think we are getting that from our current representative,” Westlund continued. “Sean Duffy comes in the district and he says one thing, and then he goes back to Washington, D.C., where he votes against working families in favor of more powerful people.”

Westlund was on the third day of a week-long announcement tour that started in Wausau. Her campaign dubbed it the “Progress for the People Tour.”

The 30-year-old Westlund is a member of the Ashland City Council and owner of a small consulting firm that assists clients with economic and community development projects.

Raised in a military family, Westlund came to Wisconsin 12 years ago to attend Northland College in Ashland. She stayed in Ashland after graduating from college and getting married. Her husband, Caleb, is a carpenter.

Westlund hit on the issues of health care, the minimum wage and food stamps, in addition to responsiveness to needs of working people in Friday’s event, called a community roundtable.

“There is a lot of room for improvement. The roll-out was a fiasco,” she said of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “But we also have to remember that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website — that it did do a lot of important things for working families.”

She mentioned the ability of people to keep their children on their health insurance plans until age 26 and companies no longer being able to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions as two of the benefits.

“To me, when it comes down to it, we are a nation that can afford to make sure that everyone — every single person in this country — has affordable access to health care. Period,” Westlund said. “And the fact that our representatives in Congress are caving in to the monied interests like insurance companies, like big pharmaceutical companies, instead of looking out for regular working people, that’s a problem.”

She faulted Duffy his willingness to shut down the federal government in an attempt to win a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and for voting to repeal the law more than 40 times.

“The votes came after he campaigned saying he wouldn’t vote to repeal Obamacare until he had voted to replace it,” Westlund charged.

She said the government shutdown cost the American economy $24 billion, according to an estimate by Standard & Poor’s.

Westlund also criticized Duffy for voting to cut the federal food stamp program by $40 billion. She said he did so while refusing to talk about raising the federal minimum wage.

“We have a lot of working poor in this country who rely on those programs,” she said. “So not only are we refusing to give them access to the resources they need to get by, we also are taking away the other resources that have been available to them through the government.”

Westlund said a person surviving on the minimum wage uses all of their money to pay bills and rent, and put food on the table.

“From my experience, what I found, when you try to tell Sean Duffy about these issues, he’s more likely to talk over you, to belittle you, or to not listen to you,” she said.

“That’s not what we need in government. We need somebody who is willing to represent real people. Real people who struggle to get by every day, and stand up to big interests that are funding campaigns.”

Westlund was joined by Lynne Bloom of Roberts and Roy Sjoberg of Hudson at Friday’s event.

Bloom, the owner of Bloom Engineers, a mechanical design firm, told about the difficulty she had doing business in Wisconsin because of state policies and federal IDIQ (indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity) contracts.

She was forced to relocate her engineering from Wisconsin to Minnesota because of the policies, Bloom said.

Asked by Westlund whether she had reached out to Congressman Duffy for assistance, Bloom replied: “The politics change when you get to Washington, D.C. And sometimes that is forced upon you, and sometimes our representatives just fall into the fold.”

Sjoberg, a well-known community member and co-chair of the St. Croix County Democratic Party, said he was there to tell a personal story about how the Affordable Care Act had benefitted his son.

His son was a graduate student in Tokyo, and without health insurance, when a doctor discovered a tumor in his chest a year ago. The tumor turned out to be benign, and as a result of the scare, his son enrolled in Wisconsin’s high-risk insurance pool known as the Health Insurance Risk Sharing Pool, Sjoberg reported.

Then recently he received a letter saying the state was ending the high-risk plan and that he should apply for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

His son’s health insurance now costs $450 a month, but because of the federal tax subsidy he receives, he pays less, Sjoberg said. He said the premium would be two-thirds less if he lived in Minnesota, where Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton chose to establish a state health insurance exchange.

Sjoberg said he’s still thankful that Obamacare provided an affordable way for his son to purchase insurance.

But Congressman Duffy, he said, voted numerous times “to take away the one offer of health insurance still available for our family.”

But another woman in attendance indicated that the Affordable Care Act had created a problem for her daughter, who first was told that her individual insurance policy was being canceled because of the law. Then she was told the policy would be extended for a year, but the premium was increasing by a couple of hundred dollars a month.

It would cost up to $1,500 a month for her daughter to purchase insurance for herself and her daughter through the federal exchange, said the woman, who didn’t want to be identified.

She said her daughter, who recently earned a doctorate degree, is “the hardest working woman you would ever want to meet.” She said it isn’t fair that she has to pay more for health insurance because she has worked hard.

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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