93rd District State Assembly candidates
Jeff Smith challenges incumbent Warren Petryk for the 93rd District State Assembly seat.
Warren Petryk Bio
- town of Pleasant Valley, Eau Claire County
- Graduate Boyceville High School; Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, minor in music, UW-Eau Claire (1978)
- Small business owner, performer and co-founder of "The Memories," an entertainment group, since 1972; community relations coordinator for United Cerebral Palsy of West Central Wisconsin, 15 years
Previous elected office:
- Wisconsin Assembly since 2010
Practical solutions, positive results needed
Warren Petryk is a musician and an entertainer -- a communicator who believes he has found his calling in government.
Petryk said he has always focused on practical solutions and positive results, goals he learned from his dad, a shop teacher who served as mayor of Boyceville for one term.
"He taught me so much about getting people to sit down, look at a situation and get things done," said Petryk. "It's in my blood. I feel like I've been called to this job."
He cites as a qualification his experience as a private businessman -- he helped found "The Memories," an entertainment group, 40 years ago and still manages it.
He also worked for 15 years as community relations coordinator for United Cerebral Palsy of West Central Wisconsin.
"I can bring a practicality to the job (of legislator) along with my colleagues who are business owners ...who have had to sign the front of a paycheck," said Petryk.
He said the state needs to reform how it does business so it's not spending more than it takes in.
"For the state to live within its means is a new concept," said Petryk, adding, though, that it should be simple common sense.
The task now is "how to move the state forward in a responsible fashion," said Petryk, adding that the current Legislature and administration have already started that process.
"We've gotten our fiscal house in order," he said of the last legislative session. "We acted responsibly."
For the second year in a row, Wisconsin state government has been able to add money to its "rainy day" fund, noted Petryk. With a surplus of $342 million in its general account, the administration put $109 million into the fund.
Petryk said his first priority is to be responsible to his constituents, the citizens, the taxpayers, and that means the state must apply lean principles in a weak economy.
"All we can do is take the revenue that comes in and spread it around responsibly," he said.
As for the future, Petryk said emphatically, "I will not support tax increases or fee increases of any kind."
When he sought election two years ago, Wisconsin was seeing massive job losses in the private sector and state government had a $3.6 million budget hole, said Petryk.
"I ran because of a failed management system and a failed Legislature," said Petryk. "I got fed up."
He said much of the deficit was because of rising health care expenditures, partly caused by fraud and inefficiency that needed to be dealt with.
"We've already started that," said Petryk, referring to the Governor's Commission on Waste, Fraud and Abuse.
Two years ago when the governor and Legislature tackled the deficit and looked at budget cuts, there were fears that state jobs would be cut, putting more people out of work, said Petryk.
"Not a state worker got laid off," he said. "It didn't happen. The sky didn't fall."
He added, "It was never about making them enemies or victims."
Petryk said his top priority now is creating jobs in the private sector and that means building a better business climate.
In 2010 CEO Magazine listed Wisconsin 42nd in its Best State for Business rankings. By last year the ranking was 24th and by May of this year it had risen to 20th.
"I think within the next 2-3 years we could be No. 10," Petryk predicted.
The Tax Foundation and Beacon Hill Institute have also given Wisconsin positive marks for being "a great place to invest," he said.
"This is all great news, and I just embrace it," said Petryk, adding that such reports boost the confidence of state leaders and of its businesses.
He also promised to fight higher taxes and "obtuse" regulations.
"All of these things eat at the profit line," he said.
When businesses become more profitable, they are freer with spending, both on expansion and on charitable giving, which leads to greater satisfaction for both them and the community, said Petryk, who belongs to four local Chambers of Commerce.
"Profit is not a four-letter work," he said.
Petryk also highlighted the need to strengthen agriculture, education and human services.
"We have to keep the safety net strong," he said, adding that it's also necessary to see that the net is not used by those who don't need it.
"Actually that's been working very well," he said, noting that fraud and waste elimination efforts have already saved $250 million a year for BadgerCare and SeniorCare.
"We're getting to the bottom of a lot of problems that have developed over the years," said Petryk.
Republican lawmakers took a lot of heat over Act 10, the law that repealed most collective bargaining for local and school employees and is now being challenged in court.
"I did it out of respect to the local governments," said Petryk of his support for Act. 10. He said school, town, village and city administrators told him they had control over only 15% of their budgets and wanted more say in setting their budgets.
He paraphrased what administrators said, "I'm told what 85% of my budget will be."
Civil service rules protect every employee, and workers can still choose to belong to a union, said Petryk, arguing that government employees have many protections.
But, he said, he understands their concern: "I think it's a big change for them."
As time goes on, state and local employees, including teachers, will see opportunities for personal and professional growth as more merit pay programs develop, said Petryk.
Over half of the state's budget goes to education, "our future, our children," he said, adding, "I'm really optimistic that education is going to be better than ever in our state."
While citizens can't depend on government for everything, they should be able to depend on it to keep the infrastructure sound, insisted Petryk.
When money is placed in a segregated transportation fund, it should be spent on transportation needs and not raided for other uses as previous administrations have done, he said.
"We like our good roads in Wisconsin and need to pay for that," said Petryk.
Jeff Smith Bio
- Eau Claire
- Wife Sue, two daughters in college
- Eau Claire North High School
- Former, longtime owner of Bob Smith Window Cleaning
Previous elected office:
- Wisconsin Assembly, 2007-2011; chairman, town of Brunswick, 2001-2007
Smith: Partisanship creates divisions, blocks progress
There's too much outside money in politics and the result is elected officials who listen to the wishes of their contributors rather than to the needs of their constituents, says Jeff Smith.
Smith is hoping to regain the 93rd Assembly District seat he held for two terms but lost to Warren Petryk two years ago.
"Campaigns are certainly partisan periods of time," said Smith, noting that partisanship is probably necessary to win votes and establish a base.
But, he said, "Once a person is elected, it's just been appalling that people can't put that behind them."
A representative must forget partisanship, take his ideas to the Capital and do the job he was elected to do -- represent the people of his district, said Smith.
"If you listen to what people tell you, (the main issues are) that people don't work together and they're afraid of losing their health care," said Smith.
For his part, he believes the inability of elected officials to cooperate goes back to the fact that there's too much outside money in politics.
"We need to get a rein on that," said Smith. He advocates public funding of campaigns and full disclosure of who is paying for political ads.
It's wrong for groups of wealthy interests to put together a group, give it a name, run ads and not disclose who they are and what their interests are, said Smith.
"Democracy is absolutely being trampled right now because voters are confused and angry," he said, adding that it's the intent of issue-ad groups to keep them that way.
"Let's start working together," said Smith. "I'd rather talk about solutions. It's easy to point out the problems."
He said the state needs elected representatives who understand democracy and how it works.
"People gotta get off this 'there's-only-one-way' of doing things -- because there isn't," said Smith.
While in the Assembly, he chaired the Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform. In that job, he says, he made sure to include the Republicans in discussions of bills, to ask them for ideas and to offer amendments if they wanted.
"Everything brings us back to campaign reform," he said, noting that politicians often feel obligated to their donors.
Smith criticized demands made by special interest groups for candidates to pledge to take a particular stand on a particular issue. He said the only pledge a lawmaker should sign is his oath of office.
Smith said he was especially exasperated by the "secrecy pledges" most Wisconsin Republican lawmakers signed as new election maps were developed.
"That is so unethical and immoral," said Smith.
The district he is campaigning in now is stretched out so far it extends from central Eau Claire County, through Dunn and Pepin counties and across Pierce County to the Mississippi River.
Redistricting done recently and in the past, he said, attempted to keep incumbents in office.
"They don't seem to have the same values or sense of urgency that we need to do the right thing for people because they will be there as long as they want to be there," said Smith of the error of partisan redistricting.
When he chaired the committee, it looked at making all districts as close to half Democratic and half Republican as possible. That would make for irregularly shaped districts and isn't very practical, he admitted, but said some better method is needed.
"I'm not a career politician," said Smith, remembering a complaint he heard from a man while campaigning before the last election.
"I said, 'I'm not a career politician. I'm a career window washer,'" recalled Smith, who was first elected to the Assembly at age 51 and until recently ran the business started by his father.
"I have (run for office) for only one purpose -- that I feel I have something to give," said Smith, adding that his job now is campaigning for Assembly.
Smith said the biggest worry he hears from voters is about health care.
"People are concerned that they are going to lose their Medicare and their Medicaid -- and they should be," said Smith, warning of efforts to privatize Medicare.
"There's nothing I (as a state legislator) can do about Medicare," he said, adding though, that what the issue does is "expose what people are about, what certain politicians are about."
He criticized national-level politicians who tell people not to worry about benefits if they are over 55 because the changes won't affect them. He said those politicians are banking on people being so selfish they won't care about their children's future.
Smith is also concerned about efforts, such as the voucher system, that divert money from public education.
"Very targeted interests see this big vast pool of money in government," said Smith. "Their greed overcomes them."
"Every voter should be independent," said Smith, explaining that they shouldn't label themselves "conservative" or "liberal," tune out candidates from the other party and choose a candidate based solely on party affiliation.
"People do that. They pick a team," said Smith, adding that once they choose a party, people vote for the party's candidate no matter his qualifications.
"That's OK in football, but it's not OK in life," said Smith. Then he hesitated and added, "It's probably not so OK in football either."
He also deplored candidates who are seen in the district only during campaigns.
During the two terms he served previously, he held 50 listening sessions around the district each term.
"When they had an issue, they didn't have to drive to Madison to tell me about it. They didn't have to call me at home," said Smith. He added, "We just have to find a way to include everybody and help get them informed.
During this campaign, he has started a practice he calls, "Stop and Talk." He parks his pickup alongside a road and puts out a "Stop and Talk" sign, chairs and homemade cookies baked by his wife.
"I never sat there and didn't have a conversation," said Smith, reporting that four or five people always end up stopping.
People seemed pleased by the effort, he said.
"A lot of people say, 'I want you to know I'm a Republican, but I really like this idea,'" said Smith. "They don't have to vote for me to talk to me."