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Harsdorf: Driven by constituents

Sheila Harsdorf has represented western Wisconsin in both the state Assembly and the Senate since 1988. She doesn't forget those who continually send her to Madison as their representative.

"Traveling this district, being accessible, staying in touch, responding to letters, e-mails, phone calls, sending out surveys, speaking to service groups and school classes, encouraging people to participate in the process -- that kind of involvement is helpful, and not just for me," Harsdorf said. "You're not in office just to represent your own views. Input from constituents is part of how problems get solved."

Harsdorf said such input from district attorneys and law enforcement officials about the methamphetamine epidemic led her to get a law passed that banned a key ingredient -- pseudoephedrine -- commonly found in cold medicines but used for home-cooked meth.

"That law restricted access for certain cold medicines, but it got done because of people telling me that there had to be a change," Harsdorf said. "It was that kind of grassroots effort that shows how the legislative process should respond."

Harsdorf said the fight to end the meth scourge can't be underestimated. Meth makers leave behind toxic dumps and users commit crimes to fuel addictive habits, such as thefts and burglaries.

The latest rash of scrap metal thefts, such as copper, can be traced in large part to meth addicts.

Again, acting with law enforcement, Harsdorf pushed for legislation requiring scrap metal dealers to document how their materials are acquired so thieves can't peddle their loot.

Harsdorf defines two of her core values as:

1) Recognizing, especially in the current bad economy, that government can only spend what its taxpayers can afford.

2) Growing that economy by keeping current jobs and adding new ones, but without growing government.

Harsdorf said small businesses and business startups are the spark behind a robust economy.

"That's what has always made our country strong," she said. "Government can foster that ability by keeping regulations to a minimum and increasing the amount of venture capital (investment money for innovative enterprises) that's available."

As she travels the 10th District, Harsdorf is impressed by the high number of businesses that start in garages and basements and go on to employ 40, 60, even 100 and do business worldwide.

She cited BioDiagnostics and Sajan Consulting in the new River Falls corporate park as examples of success and ingenuity that began modestly.

"It's exciting to see what allows that creativity and know-how to happen," she said.

Harsdorf supports the state's role in business development through the Wisconsin Technology Zone Program. The program offers incentives through tax credits, earned by job creation and capital investments, and is aimed at new high-tech firms.

The state has several Technology Zones. The one effecting Pierce, St. Croix and five other counties is called the I-94 Corridor.

Businesses small and large, new and old, Harsdorf claimed, are being crippled by runaway employee heath-care costs.

Harsdorf has supported legislation that allows for the formation of regional health-care cooperatives.

"These are not government programs, but owned and managed by the members," she said. "It brings various business into a pool so they can get better insurances at more attractive rates."

Harsdorf said the new cooperatives, while not the total answer, chip away at the many health-care woes and are attractive for uninsured farmers.

Harsdorf said health-care reform need not be drastic. Small measures can make a difference.

She mentioned Quick Care, which just opened in downtown Hudson. Operated locally by Hudson Physicians, the express clinic is set up to handle non-emergency treatment for colds, allergies, ear infections, sore throats and more without appointment and at a lower cost.

"These are the types of things we can begin to do better if we're creative," Harsdorf said. "Like the health-care co-op model, this isn't a solution for everyone, but it's another piece in the puzzle."

By contrast, Harsdorf opposes Healthy Wisconsin, a Democratic Senate initiative that would offer health-care coverage for everyone under 65, either through private or public plans.

"That's still on their agenda," she said. "It's a huge new payroll tax that would be a job killer. We need reform, but not at the expense of jobs."

Harsdorf said such legislation would drive western Wisconsin employers across the border to Minnesota and would stop eastern Minnesota employers from looking to relocate in western Wisconsin.

"In our region it's easy to hop back and forth across the border," she said. "Healthy Wisconsin would be a disincentive to bring new jobs here and would cause others who are here to leave."

Despite her opposition to this Democratic health plan, Harsdorf said always tries to bridge the political divide to pass legislation. She said this approach would continue, even if she is re-elected and senate Republicans remain the minority party.

"I have a track record of getting things done with the other party," she said, pointing to recent efforts by Democrats and Republicans to end the abusive veto power of governors, often called the "Frankenstein Veto."

The state Senate in December unanimously passed the Harsdorf-sponsored bill to curtail the governor's veto power, no matter which party controls that office.

Harsdorf, who calls her opponent Alison Page a good friend, says the race between them isn't personal. Nor would she say she's disappointed that her friend opposes her for public office.

"People want us to talk about what we stand for, then they can do their own comparing," Harsdorf said. "Alison and I have known each other for a long time. We have differing political views and philosophies, but I look forward to a constructive dialogue on the issues.

"In an election, you can't win anything if you don't have competition. That's healthy."

Born in Stillwater, Minn., Harsdorf graduated from River Falls High School.

She has a bachelor's in animal science from the University of Minnesota; is a graduate of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program; has been a dairy farmer and a loan officer for Production Credit Association; is a former president of Wisconsin FFA Foundation Sponsor's Board and is a former board director and treasurer of the Pierce County Farm Bureau; she is also a member of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust.

For more on Harsdorf, go to her Web site at