DISTRICT 29: Conservation is his cause, says 29th District challenger
Jim Swanson aims to be a consummate outdoorsman, is proud of his hunting success with a muzzle loader and says conservation issues, from polluted waters to frac sand mining, are the major concerns for western Wisconsin.
"I kind of have given myself the title of the redneck progressive," said Swanson. He is on leave from his jobs as alternative education teacher at Menomonie High School and outdoor writer for the Dunn County News to campaign for the 29th District seat in the Wisconsin Assembly.
The voters he meets regularly express concern about algae growing in polluted lakes and about frac sand mining.
"Green lakes" are still a problem in the area, said Swanson. Back in the mid-1990s there was huge concern about lakes in the Red Cedar Basin, but since then little has improved, he said.
"We need to improve land management practices, working with both large and small farms," said Swanson. Soil erosion is a problem, often carrying phosphorus-rich soil into ground water.
If he's elected, Swanson said, he plans to travel the district, talk to people and say, "Let's fix this."
He promised, "I'm going to be the catalyst that makes this happen ... I'll be out on the prowl and saying, 'How can we cure this problem?'"
Swanson referred to one Menomonie-area project along Gilbert Creek. Conservation workers cut down trees within 100 feet each side of the stream, then the DNR came in with heavy equipment and re-sculpted and reshaped the stream and shoreline.
With too many trees and too much shade, no grass could grow, said Swanson. Now with grass-covered shores, faster moving water and lunker structures, the water is cooler, the trout population is growing and the water quality is better.
"We know how to do it. We just need someone to make it happen," said Swanson, indicating he can be that person.
"There are things out there that just need to get done," he said. "It just needs somebody to push it."
Regulating and developing frac sand minds is a huge issue as he campaigns, said Swanson, especially in the Glenwood City and Downing areas.
"I've heard so much about (the mines)," he said. "That is the one thing on their minds, I think."
Swanson suggests a state law to charge the mining companies an extraction fee. Those fees are common in states, such as Alaska and Texas, though there it's usually assessed for oil drilling, he said.
The state would collect the fee, but it could be sent back to the local governments that bear the brunt of the impact of the mines, said Swanson. The money could be used for property tax relief or to pay for infrastructure work.
He said there needs to be a permitting process at the state level. Now the siting of mines is regulated only by local ordinances.
Concerns about ground water, surface water and air pollution need to be addressed, said Swanson. Current drought conditions make it imperative to carefully protect surface and ground water.
Jobs and the state's economy are also a huge issue, said Swanson, although that's not so much a local issue as it is a national and global problem.
Nevertheless, he said, there are things the state can do to help, include maintaining a good comprehensive educational system - preschool through college.
Also, said Swanson, trimming funding and thus programs at technical colleges was a bad idea.
"Those are really where job training occurs," he said. "Why do we cut the programs that do the training? It was the absolute wrong thing to do."
The state must be willing to spend the money needed to maintain and repair its infrastructure, including highways and internet service, said Swanson, adding that those directly create jobs.
"I know how to have ideas and how to get those ideas implemented and how to get people to work together and get things done," said Swanson.
He said his experience at a new charter school and as an outdoorsman honed those skills.
As lead teacher at the Lucas school, he was responsible for designing and then implementing the program that worked with students who were not likely to graduate without special help. He was lead teacher at that school for nine years until it closed due to funding cuts. He was then transferred to Menomonie High School.
"We had really good success," said Swanson. The Lucas school worked with 30-50 kids, many of whom went on to technical college or university.
As another example of his ability to work with people, he told of an 800-mile Arctic canoe trip he, his daughter and eight other people made.
"You have to learn to work with people whether you know them or like them," said Swanson, adding that he did. "Obviously that's not happening in Madison."
The political parties are more focused on ideology than on getting the job done, said Swanson. He said some of his positions can be labeled Republican and some can be labeled Democratic.
"I'm a problem-solver," said Swanson. "That's the idea I'm going to take to Madison ... because we have real issues that have to be dealt with."
Swanson said he's running a "tin can campaign," a term coined by Ed Garvey.
"Basically you just don't take any money from PACs," explained Swanson, saying his donations come only from individuals, most of whom live in the district.
Also, although he has gotten advice from party groups, he has received no financial help from the Democratic Party.
Swanson is an avid hunter and fisherman, was named 2011 Outdoor Conservation Educator of the Year by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, has been president of the Wisconsin Muzzle Loaders Association and hunts with a replica of the guns Lewis and Clark carried when they went west.
Unlike many other hunters, said Swanson, he doesn't boast of shooting a 20-point buck.
"My big brag," he said, "is I got three deer in one season with a flint-lock muzzle loader."