30th District State Assembly candidatesDiane Odeen challenges incumbent Dean Knudson for the 30th District Assembly seat.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Editor , River Falls Journal
Diane Odeen challenges incumbent Dean Knudson for the 30th District Assembly seat.
- Wife, Dr. Joy Schlichting; children, Sonya (23) and Reed (20).
- Undergraduate, North Dakota State University; Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University.
Previous elected office:
- Mayor of Hudson (2008-2010); Hudson City Council (1996-2002).
Knudson: Priority to boost the economy
Calling strengthening the state’s economy the No. 1 issue, 30th Assembly District State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) is proud of the work he’s done during his first two years in office, but said more work needs to be done.
“The latest numbers show that the state is heading in the right direction,” Knudson said. “But we must continue to improve the business climate in the state. We have to give small businesses the confidence to grow in Wisconsin.
“Along with that, we need to be fiscally responsible in state spending and budget issues. If a business feels a big tax increase is just around the corner, they are reluctant to grow.”
The incumbent said he’s encouraged by the latest job growth numbers. He explained that there are two reports -- essentially monthly and quarterly reports.
The quarterly reports are more accurate because it includes data from approximately 98% of state businesses. That report, however, has lag time -- about a four to five month delay.
“The latest numbers from March show jobs increased in Wisconsin by 37,000 between March 2011 and March 2012,” Knudson said. “It’s not exactly what we want, but we’re making progress in the right direction.
“It’s like turning a ship -- it takes time,” Knudson said.
Locally he said the numbers continue to look good.
“Pierce and St. Croix counties are generally two and three for lowest unemployment in the state,” Knudson said. “We are hanging around the 5 percent rate. During boom times we were at 3 percent, so there is still room to improve.”
Although the economy may be No. 1, Knudson said his passion is education
His committee assignments in Madison included the Education Committee and the College and Universities Committee.
“It is the single most important item in the state budget,” Knudson said. “We have to develop a skilled work force to help companies compete in a global market.”
A recent Dane County Judge ruling questions the constitutionality of Act 10, the law passed that prohibits most collective bargaining rights of public employees.
The impact of the judge’s ruling is unclear, but Knudson said the decision could get to the state supreme court.
“One of the judge’s arguments is that police and fire workers were exempted -- essentially creating two classes,” Knudson said. “There may have to be some action to make the law uniform.”
He said, however, that there are many positive results showing that Act 10 has worked.
“I hope we don’t go backwards,” he said.
Knudson said he has done a number of things to strengthen education including the implementation of a teacher/administrator evaluation system.
He said the system allows excellent teachers to be rewarded and, on the other end, a system for teachers to be tutored to improve their skills.
Unlike public perception, he said many of the improvements and changes have bipartisan support.
“Working with reading, we want kids to be proficient readers by third or fourth grade,” Knudson said. “Studies show that if kids don’t know it by that time, they are likely to struggle in the years ahead. We put in provisions that require teachers to know how to teach reading before they are licensed.”
He has also done considerable work at the college level and had a hand in getting approval for a new $63 million Health and Human Performance Building on the campus of UW-River Falls.
“It was the No. 1 priority on the chancellor’s list when I met with him in 2010,” Knudson said. “The project is now on the pre-approved list and we could see construction start as soon as 2013.
“UW-River Falls is an important driver for our area and I’ve stood up for the university,” Knudson said.
Regarding bi-partisan work, he said he has worked with Democrats on several issues.
“I recently worked with Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) to get a concussion bill passed,” Knudson said. “The bill is for the protection of our state’s high school athletes.”
”When voters choose a representative from the St. Croix Valley, they need a strong voice in Madison,” Knudson said. He feels that he fits that description.
“It’s easy for the politicians in Madison to forget us,” he said. “Last session I had to push hard in debating the funds for the new Stillwater bridge. Some on the other side of the aisle were calling it the ‘billion dollar boondoggle to nowhere.’
“I took offense to that -- we’re the fastest growing area in the state. We need to stand up for our area.”
He said he was surprised when his opponent (Diane Odeen) was critical of the city of Hudson’s debate with the School District of Hudson over a rezoning issue.
“It is not the role of the state to criticize local officials,” Knudson said. “Local government deserves to have local control and I’ll defend that process.”
Knudson said his experience in local government has helped him on the job.
“I ran because I had experience in balancing a budget. We need to be more effective, more efficient and stand up for the taxpayer.
“People expect good quality service, but do it efficiently. It isn’t the state’s job to create jobs, but we can do things to hinder job growth, or help create jobs.
“Self-government -- we have the greatest system, but it’s messy sometimes.”
- Husband, Mike Kahlow; children, Andrea (20) and Emily (18).
- River Falls
- Undergraduate, Lawrence University (Appleton); Law degree, Hamline University; Ph.D., University of Minnesota.
- Attorney, Lommen Abdo
Previous elected office:
Odeen: Politics have become too ‘polarized’
Diane Odeen is running for the 30th State Assembly District because she believes civility and cooperation must be brought back to Madison.
“We’ve become so polarized,” Odeen said. “Unfortunately the extremes have stretched from Madison into all our neighborhoods. That has been accelerated in the past two years.”
The challenger from River Falls said Act 10, passed by Gov. Scott Walker and state house and senate Republicans, was sort of the crowning blow. Act 10 prohibits most collective bargaining rights of public employees.
“That alone was not the cause of all the polarization -- it was probably more a symptom of the way people see government,” Odeen said. “The bill was rushed through without input from both sides. Redistricting is another example.
“No one party has all the answers. We have to sit down and hear each other.”
Odeen said that sort of negotiation goes on all the time in her legal practice. She said the two sides get together and hammer out an agreement.
“That has not been happening in Madison,” she said. “If Act 10 had been more thought out, it would not have resulted in such a large amount of expensive and confusing litigation.”
She said the future of Act 10 will continue to have an impact.
“We can’t go back,” Odeen said. “We have to take time for the dust to settle.”
She admitted, however, that if Democrats regain control of the state at some point, there is a chance that the right to bargain could be addressed and possibly restored.
Odeen said the key to a good economy is education.
“Education has to be a priority in the budget,” she said. “It has to be appropriately funded. Wisconsin has done very well over the past couple of decades. Our public schools and colleges are national models. We have to make sure that doesn’t change.”
She said a strong education system will be part of the economic recovery.
“Highly educated people tend to stay in the state and become innovative small business owners.”
She disputes the idea that there is a “brain drain” -- the idea that students are educated in Wisconsin and leave the state to find jobs.
Odeen noted the book titled “Caught in the Middle,” shows statistics that when the Midwest started losing jobs to countries overseas, there was still vitality and growth in towns that had colleges and universities.
“UW-River Falls is the largest employer in the 30th district,” Odeen said. “It’s a great regional resource and brings students and revenue to the state. At UW-River Falls about half the students come from Minnesota. That helps the economy in our district.”
Odeen said she would like to assure students and parents that tuition rates are manageable at the state universities. She believes there is a variety of ways to make additional funding available and offer more finance options.
“When it comes to comprehensives I would like to see UW-River Falls valued as much as UW-Madison,” Odeen said.
She said she would also like to see more work done on getting the classes needed to graduate from college in a timely fashion.
Odeen said some students find it hard to graduate in four years because certain classes are only offered at certain times. She called it a funding issue -- more professors could mean more available classes.
Odeen said the state needs more jobs.
“Education can help bridge the gap,” Odeen said. “But the budget should reflect a priority of creating good jobs. The Walker tax incentives went to out-of-state corporations. I would like to see those investments go into ‘main street.’”
She said lowering taxes does not attract new businesses.
“Lowering business taxes has not worked for the past two years,” Odeen said. “Wisconsin is not gaining any jobs, while Minnesota is showing significant gains.
“Lowering taxes has not led to additional jobs. Tax codes need to be fair, but incentives for businesses need accountability.”
Regarding her criticism of the city Hudson in its debate with the Hudson School District over a rezoning issue, Odeen said an opportunity was lost.
“Voters spoke and elected officials are expected to get it done. Voters ought to be listened to.” She said there was an opportunity to find a solution to satisfy everyone.
“It’s not easy work, but it needs to be done.”
Odeen was critical of her opponent (incumbent Dean Knudson).
“When he ran for office two years ago, he said he would be an independent voice in Madison,” Odeen said. “He has not been. He has voted right along party lines to the detriment of the state.”
Odeen said she would fight for family-sustaining jobs, invest in quality public education, seek affordable health care for all families, and preserve and promote vital community services throughout the district.
“Recently we’ve started to lose these Wisconsin values,” Odeen said. “I want to return our government to the values that made this state a great place to live and work.”
Odeen said she would represent the interests of the 30th District.
“Some of our interests are different up here. We’re not like Madison and Milwaukee. This is a great district. We have a beautiful environment, good school districts and a diverse economy.”
Odeen said she would have improved communications with the citizens in the district.
“We just don’t get much from Madison. I would have regular office hours in the district and have more information on a website.”