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7TH DISTRICT: Former lumberjack aims to chop deficit

U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy spoke at a New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce event in August, outlining the steps he and other congressional leaders took to ensure the eventual construction of a new bridge across the St. Croix River.

(Due to redistricting, St. Croix County is a new addition to the Seventh Congressional District. Local voters will no longer be represented by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, or if his Republican challenger if he should win. As a consequence, voters will see a few new names on their Nov. 6 ballots. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy takes on challenger Pat Kreitlow of this area's congressional race. Following are feature stories on the two candidates.)

His background as a reality television star and lumberjack couldn't prepare Sean Duffy for the wilderness of Washington, D.C.

Life as a congressman has its ups and downs, Duffy admitted, but he remains hopeful that dramatic change in this country's politics could be just around the corner.

"The institution of Congress is often dysfunctional," he said in an interview last week. "Partisan politics have come into play instead of good governance."

Duffy said he's been enthused about the progress that has been made on such things as the Stillwater bridge, but he remains frustrated that more hasn't been accomplished with deficit reduction and job growth.

"We need to have a system where you can put good ideas on the table in a way that allows an honest debate," Duffy said.

As he serves in Washington, Duffy said he draws on his varied professional and educational experience. His path to Congress was a bit unconventional.

Born and raised in Hayward, Duffy inherited the lumberjack bug from his relatives. He eventually worked his way through law school as a professional lumberjack, performing in shows and competitions.

He later was a color commentator for ESPN's "Great Outdoor Games" and was a competitor on ESPN and MTV reality television shows.

After graduating from law school, he returned to Hayward to practice law. He became assistant district attorney and later the district attorney in Ashland County. Duffy points to a 90 percent successful trial rate during his tenure there.

In 2010, Duffy decided to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. David Obey, a 42-year veteran of Congress.

"He was a liberal and very powerful and influential," Duffy said of Obey. "Those kinds of guys don't lose."

Duffy said he felt compelled to run for office as Obey and the Democratic leadership pushed through economic stimulus measures in an effort to boost job creation.

"I was one who didn't believe that more borrowing and spending would lead us to recovery," he said. "I thought we were going in the wrong direction."

As luck would have it, Duffy never had to square off with Obey. The long-term congressman decided not to seek re-election and Duffy's path to election was made simpler.

"I've got a lot of heart and a good work ethic," Duffy said. "My hard work on our campaign paid off."

Since his election, Duffy said he's enjoyed many successes and suffered a few "let downs."

But Duffy said he remains committed to doing the hard work needed to get the nation's economy and federal policies back on track.

"I'm a father," he said. "I care about the America our kids are going to inherit. I want our nation to have a vibrant, growing economy."

He said the U.S. deficit, now at $16 trillion, continues to grow. And Democrats keep making promises that will require additional spending but they don't have a way to pay for it.

"We can't keep doing business the way we've been doing it," he warned. "We have to be more responsible. We don't just owe it to this generation, but we owe it to the next generation."

If re-elected, and if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are the winning ticket for president and vice president, Duffy said jobs, deficit reduction and Medicare protection will be the top priority in 2013.

Foreign policy concerns in the Middle East must also be dealt with by the next Congress and administration, Duffy said. He'd also like to push for tax code changes that would make tax rates flat and simpler, as well as advocate for streamlined regulations to aid businesses projects across the country. Domestic energy exploration will also be promoted, he added.

As he campaigns across the district, Duffy said voters have similar concerns about the economy and unrest around the world.

Duffy said he's enjoyed walking in various parades and visiting county fairs this summer. Because the Seventh District is so large geographically, he admitted, it can be a challenge to hit every event. But Duffy said meeting with constituents is a necessity if he's to do his job well.

"It helps me get a good grasp on the heartbeat of the district," he said. "It makes me a better congressman when I'm in touch with the people who honored me with this position."

As the campaign winds down, Duffy said he feels good about his chances for re-election.