29th District State Assembly candidatesJim Swanson challenges incumbent John Murtha for the 29th District State Assembly seat.
By: Judy Wiff, River Falls Journal
Jim Swanson challenges incumbent John Murtha for the 29th District State Assembly seat.
- Wife Terrie; children John, Jennifer, Justin and Jessica; grandchildren Brynn and Reese
- Graduate of Chippewa Valley Technical College, wood techniques
- Small business owner, Murtha Sanitation
Previous elected office:
- State Assembly since 2006; town supervisor (1999-2003), town chairman (2003-2009), town of Eau Galle
Helping businesses add jobs is vital, says Murtha
Fostering a business climate that encourages job creation and keeping the state’s finances in order are his priorities, says John Murtha, who is seeking re-election as 29th District assemblyman.
He says his experience -- both as a small businessman and in the Assembly -- is a plus.
“You build yourself a reputation. Like any place, I think you build respect,” said Murtha of his six years in the Assembly. “It isn’t always the loudest voice that’s heard. It’s how you talk and who you talk to.”
The legislature’s main challenge now is to foster job creation, said Murtha. “The government doesn’t create jobs, private industry does, but we have to create an environment that is conducive for them to succeed.”
His second priority is balancing the state budget and getting its finances in order.
“We made tremendous strides in that in the last session,” said Murtha, adding that the state needs to continue to be fiscally responsible, look at more reforms and eliminate waste.
Some government programs are abused, said Murtha, who suggests assuring that programs and agencies are run efficiently. He said that can be done through “a review of all programs and all the public money spent.”
“There are a lot of great programs that we all support their funding,” said Murtha. But, he said, lawmakers must make sure the public’s money is used as intended.
He used BadgerCare and Medicaid as examples because “they seem to consume the biggest share of the dollars in the state budget.”
Murtha said the state needs to ensure that the programs are serving those who truly need them and cut off those who can help themselves.
“I think that as a businessman, I realize the impact that government has on you,” said Murtha of his experience as a small business (Murtha Sanitation) owner.
The uncertainty of the last few years has certainly paid a part in the willingness of businesses to add jobs, said Murtha.
“Rules change every time the administration does,” he said, and he expects to see some growth once the elections are over.
Government must encourage small business growth because it’s good for the state and its people, said Murtha. As well as tax breaks for new businesses, he supports tax incentives that help existing businesses remain profitable and add employees.
One such program he pointed to offers rural manufacturing tax credits that help agriculture-related industries, like cheese companies, upgrade equipment.
This program helps ensure that small, less-populated areas have access to tax credits “so it’s not always just used in the big cities,” said Murtha.
Recently adopted legislation that limits frivolous lawsuits has also helped small businesses, he said.
With the cost of doing business and competition for dollars, “everything makes a difference,” said Murtha.
“If there isn’t enough room, margin, to operate, you don’t,” said Murtha, summarizing the situation that small businesses face.
His six years in the Assembly have taught him to listen, to learn and to be patient, said Murtha.
He said he has learned that there is always more than one side to an issue and many issues that initially seem clear-cut usually aren’t.
“I think there’s a need to listen and hear what’s going on around you,” said Murtha. “Don’t form a quick opinion.”
He said there are a lot of things going on that a person isn’t aware of until he hears from the various sides: “Every industry has its own battles and issues.”
Often a legislator doesn’t see the big picture upfront, and he must seek a lot of input on every bill proposed, he said. Once input is heard, amendments should be expected.
“You’ve got to be patient -- government is slow,” said Murtha. “Sometimes it’s frustrating … That’s a thing you need to learn to accept and roll with.”
When someone comes to him with a proposal, Murtha said he has learned to ask an important question.
“I always ask, ‘Who opposes this?’” said Murtha. “That will bring out a lot of the pluses and minuses.”
Then, he said, lawmakers have to consider what’s good for the taxpayer.
“When all’s said and done, it’s never perfect,” said Murtha. “(But) compromise is all right.”
One thing lawmakers can do for business is streamline permitting processes. Murtha wonders if some of this could be done in advance to assure that when a company wants to move to the state, it won’t have to wait a year or two.
Regulators should be able to give industries “reasonable, expected time limits for these permits,” said Murtha.
He feels government shouldn’t just hand out money but should give tax incentives and grants for new and expanding businesses.
“I think we need to continue doing that,” said Murtha, but he added that government also has an obligation to make sure the money is used as it is intended.
The consensus is that there will be a surplus in the current state budget, said Murtha, but he added, “That said, part of that surplus money is already spoken for.”
The state no longer has stimulus money to fall back on and the demand for some services had climbed, explained Murtha.
He said the state needs to try to reform its education programs, but had no specific recommendations other than to say, “We have to utilize our scarce dollars as best we can.”
About half of every dollar state government brings in goes toward education, said Murtha, adding that he feels strongly that the state needs to continue to support education, but still needs to make sure it is spending tax money wisely.
“We all get in our own comfort zone,” said Murtha of resistance to change in the way the state educates it youth. But, he said, it’s necessary to see if there are ways of doing things better.
As for protests over Act 10, the legislation that limits bargaining by state employees and requires them to pay a greater share toward fringe benefits, things didn’t turn out as badly as some predicted, said Murtha.
“The sky didn’t fall. (Schools) are still doing well,” said Murtha, adding that some districts have hired more teachers.
- Wife Amy Riddle-Swanson, daughters Marissa and Elise
- Bachelor of Arts in history and political science, University of Minnesota; Master of Arts in political science, Ohio University
- Alternative education teacher, Lucas Charter Alternative High School and Menomonie High School; outdoor writer, Dunn County News; forklift driver
Previous elected office:
Conservation is his cause, says challenger
Jim Swanson aims to be a consummate outdoorsman, is proud of his hunting success with a muzzleloader and says conservation issues, from polluted waters to frac sand mining, are the major concerns for western Wisconsin.
“I kind of have given myself the title of the redneck progressive,” said Swanson. He is on leave from his jobs as alternative education teacher at Menomonie High School and outdoor writer for the Dunn County News to campaign for the 29th District seat in the Wisconsin Assembly.
The voters he meets regularly express concern about algae growing in polluted lakes and about frac sand mining,
“Green lakes” are still a problem in the area, said Swanson. Back in the mid-1990s there was huge concern about lakes in the Red Cedar Basin, but since then little has improved, he said.
“We need to improve land management practices, working with both large and small farms,” said Swanson. Soil erosion is a problem, often carrying phosphorus-rich soil into ground water.
If he’s elected, Swanson said, he plans to travel the district, talk to people and say, “Let’s fix this.”
He promised, “I’m going to be the catalyst that makes this happen … I’ll be out on the prowl and saying, ‘How can we cure this problem?’”
Swanson referred to one Menomonie-area project along Gilbert Creek. Conservation workers cut down trees within 100 feet each side of the stream, then the DNR came in with heavy equipment and re-sculpted and reshaped the stream and shoreline.
With too many trees and too much shade, no grass could grow, said Swanson. Now with grass-covered shores, faster moving water and lunker structures, the water is cooler, the trout population is growing and the water quality is better.
“We know how to do it. We just need someone to make it happen,” said Swanson, indicating he can be that person.
“There are things out there that just need to get done,” he said. “It just needs somebody to push it.”
Regulating and developing frac sand minds is a huge issue as he campaigns, said Swanson, especially in the Glenwood City and Downing areas.
“I’ve heard so much about (the mines),” he said. “That is the one thing on their minds, I think.”
Swanson suggests a state law to charge the mining companies an extraction fee. Those fees are common in states, such as Alaska and Texas, though there it’s usually assessed for oil drilling, he said.
The state would collect the fee, but it could be sent back to the local governments that bear the brunt of the impact of the mines, said Swanson. The money could be used for property tax relief or to pay for infrastructure work.
He said there needs to be a permitting process at the state level. Now the siting of mines is regulated only by local ordinances.
Concerns about ground water, surface water and air pollution need to be addressed, said Swanson. Current drought conditions make it imperative to carefully protect surface and ground water.
Jobs and the state’s economy are also a huge issue, said Swanson, although that’s not so much a local issue as it is a national and global problem.
Nevertheless, he said, there are things the state can do to help, include maintaining a good comprehensive educational system – preschool through college.
Also, said Swanson, trimming funding and thus programs at technical colleges was a bad idea.
“Those are really where job training occurs,” he said. “Why do we cut the programs that do the training? It was the absolute wrong thing to do.”
The state must be willing to spend the money needed to maintain and repair its infrastructure, including highways and internet service, said Swanson, adding that those directly create jobs.
“I know how to have ideas and how to get those ideas implemented and how to get people to work together and get things done,” said Swanson.
He said his experience at a new charter school and as an outdoorsman honed those skills.
As lead teacher at the Lucas school, he was responsible for designing and then implementing the program that worked with students who were not likely to graduate without special help. He was lead teacher at that school for nine years until it closed due to funding cuts. He was then transferred to Menomonie High School.
“We had really good success,” said Swanson. The Lucas school worked with 30-50 kids, many of whom went on to technical college or university.
As another example of his ability to work with people, he told of an 800-mile Arctic canoe trip he, his daughter and eight other people made.
“You have to learn to work with people whether you know them or like them,” said Swanson, adding that he did. “Obviously that’s not happening in Madison.”
The political parties are more focused on ideology than on getting the job done, said Swanson. He said some of his positions can be labeled Republican and some can be labeled Democratic.
“I’m a problem-solver,” said Swanson. “That’s the idea I’m going to take to Madison … because we have real issues that have to be dealt with.”
Swanson said he’s running a “tin can campaign,” a term coined by Ed Garvey.
“Basically you just don’t take any money from PACs,” explained Swanson, saying his donations come only from individuals, most of whom live in the district.
Also, although he has gotten advice from party groups, he has received no financial help from the Democratic Party.
Swanson is an avid hunter and fisherman, was named 2011 Outdoor Conservation Educator of the Year by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, has been president of the Wisconsin Muzzle Loaders Association and hunts with a replica of the guns Lewis and Clark carried when they went west.
Unlike many other hunters, said Swanson, he doesn’t boast of shooting a 20-point buck.
“My big brag,” he said, “is I got three deer in one season with a flint-lock muzzleloader.”