Sheila HarsdorfAmong last year’s controversies swirling out of Madison, Sheila Harsdorf said another side of state politics gets overlooked.
By: Phil Pfuehler, The Republican Eagle
Name: Sheila Harsdorf
Educational background: River Falls High School 1974 graduate; bachelor’s degree in animal science from University of Minnesota, 1978; Wisconsin Rural Leadership program graduate through the UW-Extension, 1986.
Professional background: Dairy farmer and agricultural-loan officer.
Previous elected office: Wisconsin state Assembly, 1989-1999; Wisconsin state Senate, 2001-present.
Among last year’s controversies swirling out of Madison, Sheila Harsdorf said another side of state politics gets overlooked.
“While some things have been very polarized, almost 96 percent of the legislation in the last session passed with some sort of bipartisan support,” said the three-term state senator from rural River Falls.
Harsdorf, who easily won a bitterly contested 2011 recall election, agrees that civility matters but said that disagreeing is part of democracy.
“I think we’ll be talking about jobs, that’ll be the focus of the Legislature no matter who’s in control next year, and that we can come together on good policies,” she said.
Harsdorf said that perhaps the ultimate example of bipartisanship at the federal and state levels was work done this year to gain approval — after decades — for the St. Croix River Crossing.
“That was a huge, huge win,” she said, crediting politicians from both parties and from both states, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Harsdorf believes the court-contested Act 10 that strips bargaining rights from public employees and forces them to pay more for benefits is constitutionally legal. She said the legislation saved school districts and local governments money, which helps taxpayers and the state’s economy.
During her campaign travels, Harsdorf said the message she hears is about “jobs, the economy, putting people back to work and reinvesting in our communities.”
Regarding her overall view of the economy, she said: “We need to look at what we can do to boost job growth and make our state a friendlier place to do business. A big part of that is listening to business people and what they need to expand.”
With unemployment still high and many middle-aged workers laid off, Harsdorf said there’s a “real retraining need.”
She said the state can help by offering “funding incentives,” especially those earmarked for technical colleges where quick, affordable vocational retraining is possible.
Harsdorf would encourage partnerships between K-12 schools, technical and four-year colleges so they can meet the career needs of their communities and regions.
Harsdorf acknowledged the concern about high costs and affordability of college. She wants to see students encouraged to take more college-level courses while they’re in high school.
Harsdorf said recent budget surpluses of more than $200 million are a sign that Wisconsin’s economy is tracking upward. By law, half of the surplus must be set aside in a rainy day fund.
And the rest? Harsdorf anticipates more demands for how to spend the surplus than there is surplus money available.
She said education needs and shared revenue to help the stressed finances of local governments should be priorities for surplus spending.