10th District State Senate candidatesDan Olson challenges incumbent Sheila Harsdorf for the 10th District State Senate seat.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
Dan Olson challenges incumbent Sheila Harsdorf for the 10th District State Senate seat.
- 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.
- Dairy farmer and agricultural-loan officer.
Previous elected office:
- Wisconsin state Assembly, 1989-1999; Wisconsin state Senate, 2001-present.
Incumbent: Core values, constituents continue to be what will guide her
Despite last year’s controversies swirling out of Madison, Sheila Harsdorf said another side to state politics gets overlooked.
“While some things have been very polarized, almost 96% of the legislation in the last session passed with some sort of bipartisan support,” said the three-term state senator from rural River Falls. “So there was collaboration, and that’s always the way it is.
“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.”
Harsdorf, who easily won a bitterly contested 2011 recall election, agrees that civility matters but said that disagreeing is part of democracy.
“It’s OK to have differences in governing,” she said. “You have the two parties so it’s expected. At the same time you need to maintain a constructive dialogue, find areas of agreement and treat others with respect. That sets the tone.”
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.
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 (Stillwater bridge).
“That was a huge, huge win,” she said, crediting politicians from both parties and from both states, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Harsdorf said that Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) strenuous backing of the bridge resulted in a 100-0 passage in the U.S. Senate and clearly influenced the follow-up vote of approval in the House of Representatives.
After more than two decades of campaigning and work as a legislator, Harsdorf said her approach to this election is the same.
“Naturally you are shaped by your experiences and hopefully grow as a person,” she said. “At the same time, you can’t lose sight of the people you serve and being accessible to them. That’s how government should work.
“Every election is different. Just because some people supported you in an election doesn’t mean they will support you in the next one.”
Harsdorf says that by going door-to-door, having meetings, and attending fairs and parades she gets “to hear what’s on people’s minds.”
“It’s a constant learning process,” she said. “The issues and priorities keep changing. Our economy from the 1990s is far different from what it is right now.”
Harsdorf said she relies on a conservative outlook formed long ago.
“I grew up on a farm, and my dad taught me some sound financial beliefs,” she said. “You try to manage your resources, live within your means, get a good return on your investments, have an adequate cash flow and don’t overextend yourself (when borrowing).
“Those same beliefs gave me a good foundation that I still try to live by today.”
Her bedrock political principles are this: “I believe that what built this country is opportunity. There is a place for government -- to help those who can’t provide or who need help to make it through tough times.
“Government is not there to build dependency. It should be creating incentives for small business -- for people to start their own or to grow an existing business.”
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.”
She said feedback from business leaders is the “need for more skilled workers, more venture capital to invest and fewer regulations.”
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.
She added that she hears from college and tech-college officials that post-secondary schools are spending time and money for remedial education of unprepared high school graduates.
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 was pleased to lead the fight and sponsor a recently passed bill that added an “aggravated factor” in sexual violence cases. Harsdorf and River Falls Police investigator Chuck Golden teamed up to launch this legislation.
“This ties in with my concern for creating safer communities,” she said. “What the bill did was give the judge the ability to enhance the penalties for those convicted of domestic abuse if children were present during the incident.”
Another community safety issue that Harsdorf backed until it became law was making synthetic marijuana and bath salt drugs illegal.
Harsdorf is now pushing to pass “DNA Saves” legislation. This would require DNA testing during a felony arrest instead of after a felony conviction. About have the states have passed this.
“DNA is the 21st century new identifier,” Harsdorf said. “It’s very accurate and can identify the real offenders and exonerate the innocent.
“Using this process allows us to get matches faster on repeat offenders for rapes and murders, prevent crimes, and it therefore saves time and costs for law enforcement.”
The DNA samples are taken at the time of fingerprinting. If a suspect is later found not guilty, a request can be made to expunge the DNA record.
Harsdorf said the governor and state attorney general support the proposed DNA Save bill.
Harsdorf said she helped stop a mandate from going into effect in 2013 requiring communities to disinfect their water supplies regardless of whether they had tainted water.
She said the law would have cost millions of dollars to fix problems that didn’t exist. Such sizable expenditures would financially burden smaller towns.
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.
- Wife Lillias and daughters Lauren and Olivia
- Bachelor’s degree in broad field social studies (history and teaching), UW-Superior, 1993; master’s degree in education (teaching and learning), St. Mary’s University (Winona, Minn.), 2001; education administration certification, Concordia University Wisconsin, 2011-present
- Educator, soldier; Turtle Lake School District 1994-1998 (social studies, history, sociology, government, psychology, economics); St. Croix Falls School District 1998-present (world history, government); Wisconsin Army National Guard, 1989-present (Iraq War veteran, current company first sergeant in New Richmond, National Guard Unit)
- I have served my community, state and country for the past 23 years. I have been in leadership positions for the past 20 years, including leading troops in some of the most adverse conditions imaginable. I have also taught government, my passion, for the past 19 years.
Elected offices held:
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.”