DISTRICT 10: State senate candidate says compromise not a dirty word
If elected to serve in Madison, Dan Olson, teacher and Iraqi war veteran, has two objectives.
--Working to restore a sense of civility in the political dialogue and finding common ground between Republicans and Democrats so that meaningful legislation gets passed.
--Focusing on economic growth policies that include retraining and boosting educational spending that's linked to job-skill preparedness.
Olson says "job creation" is a must, especially for District 10, with its imbalance between the poorer, higher-unemployment northern counties like Polk and Burnett vs. the better-off southern counties of St. Croix and Pierce.
"People in the north are more impoverished," Olson said. "We need more training opportunities. Business owners are worried about the lack of demand for goods and the need for a skilled workforce...We need to find ways to meet the needs of emerging industries."
Olson said his opponent, Sheila Harsdorf, is part of the problem that's resulted in political divisiveness, gridlock and bitterness.
Much of this stems from Gov. Scott Walker's 2011 budget cutbacks that also repealed collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
"Right now we have a situation where Sheila's name evokes a split -- either you love her or you are definitely against her. It's like a tug-of-war going on."
Olson blames Harsdorf's political trajectory.
"When Sheila first came into office, she was a very moderate individual. She seemed able to cross the aisle, work with Democrats and welcome a range of opinions.
"With each successive election she's moved further and further to the right and therefore serves fewer and fewer people.
"I'm still in the middle. I'm a moderate. I have good friends who are Republicans. I value their input. Neither party has all the answers. We need input from multiple sources.
"We very rarely are going to get everything we want. I plan to reach across to all constituents."
Olson said his campaign slogan reflects that approach: Communication/compromise/collaboration.
Asked about his motivation to seek public office for the first time, Olson flat out eliminated one factor.
"There has been talk that I'm doing this because I'm a teacher and so I get lumped into that category," he said. "Some conservative Republicans in the (district's) northern tier have said I'm just upset about Act 10 and running for that reason. That couldn't be further from the truth."
Act 10 is the governor's law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature that repealed most collective bargaining rights for local and school employees. Parts of the law were struck down by a Dane County judge. The issue is headed for the state Supreme Court.
Regarding Act 10, Olson said he wouldn't try to overturn the extra health-care and pension contributions required of public employees and teachers.
"The fiscal reality of our state is that we need to keep those in place to balance our budget," Olson said.
However, he said that regaining collect bargaining rights was another matter.
"That's a basic right," he said. "The bargaining system wasn't broke before. You had both sides sitting down to discuss workplace conditions.
"That's the way it should be, and local communities are the best ones to decide what they can afford to pay (for wages)."
Olson's been teaching about civics, government and the democratic system for two decades. During that time the urge to run for public office was always there. He often talked about it.
"I talk all the time to my students about citizen participation beyond voting," he said. "It got to the point where I decided it was time to practice what I preach."
Olson said his economic revival agenda involves partnering K-12 schools, technical and four-year colleges with businesses and chambers of commerce.
"The goal would be to increase state aid for expanded school offerings that are linked to developing job skills and careers," he said.
By contrast, Olson said Harsdorf backed the governor on cutting aid for education while giving tax breaks to lure out-of-state businesses. Unfortunately, Olson claimed, businesses didn't relocate because they couldn't find an adequate pool of trained workers.
Olson said he'll work "toward a return to the civility and neighborliness that Wisconsin once had a reputation for."
"I grew up in this state, and it's known for tight-knit communities," Olson said. "Will all the political infighting, we've had neighbors who wouldn't even speak to each other. We've got to restore that welcoming spirit and tolerance of other opinions."
Olson pointed to another attribute that voters will appreciate -- his military career. His National Guard unit is based in New Richmond. By December Olson will have served in the Guard for 23 years.
"I've had many opportunities to lead people, to lead soldiers," he said. "I think that has given me strong leadership qualities."
Olson added that joblessness for returning veterans, some with multiple deployments, is much higher than for the rest of the population.
"With my background, I'm sensitive to this as a problem," he said. "We have to take better care of those who have served their country."
Olson said political healing is his campaign theme.
"I'm going to be the person to bring our government and our communities back together," he said. "That means considering input from everyone and focusing on job growth.
"I'm also an avid hunter and fisherman. I appreciate our outdoors and want to preserve this great heritage and the environment."