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Neumann's priority is jobs

Creating jobs is nothing new to him and would, though in a less direct way than in his private life, be his priority as governor of Wisconsin, says Mark Neumann.

Neumann, one of seven Republicans registered as candidates in this year's race, visited River Falls, Hudson and Menomonie Monday, walking Main Street in all three communities. Six Democrats and seven independents are also registered gubernatorial candidates

He stands out from the whole group because of his background in private business and his work in Congress, said Neumann, 56.

He said his priority would be "Jobs, clearly, and restoring our economy."

During a Sunday gathering that included people from Hudson, Menomonie and Eau Claire, young people told him they have friends two, three or even four years out of college who haven't yet found jobs, said Neumann.

"That's really sad," he said, and he has an eight-year plan to help.

The plan is specific: If the state has a 2% yearly real economic growth and the annual inflation rate is 3%, Wisconsin's revenue gain is 5%. If state spending is capped at 1% less than the rate of inflation, by 2018 the growth in revenue will create a surplus than can be used to reduce taxes by 24%.

"With Wisconsin tax rates significantly lower and a plan in place to reduce the rate even further, Wisconsin will once again become competitive in the global markets," claims Neumann.

That means, he said, keeping the jobs already here, creation of new jobs by Wisconsin companies and attracting new businesses to the state.

Neumann, who grew up in East Troy, earned his first degree from UW-Whitewater in 1975. Then he and his wife Sue moved to River Falls, where he earned his master's while teaching math and coaching football and basketball at River Falls High School.

Later while teaching classes at Milton College, UW-Rock County and UW-Whitewater, Neumann remodeled an old gas station as an office for the family's growing construction and real estate business.

By 1990 the company was building 120 houses a year and providing jobs for over 240 people, says Neumann.

He turned to politics, losing two elections before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1994.

His goal there was the same as it will be in Wisconsin, to balance the budget and cut taxes, said Neumann.

Four years after he was elected to Congress, the federal budget was balanced, the deficit was being paid down and the largest tax cut in American history was passed, he said.

Wisconsin's current $2-billion shortfall is, on a percentage basis, comparable to deficits the nation was facing back then, said Neumann. The federal results were obtained under a Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate and a Democratic president.

"We struggled as much with Republicans as we did with Democrats," said Neumann, who doesn't see a Democrat-controlled Legislature as an obstacle to a Republican governor.

Coming from the private sector gives him another advantage, said Neumann. He can stand up to controversy without worrying that he could lose the next election because even if he does, he'll have a job.

The Neumanns' youngest son has taken over their real estate business.

"He's promised me a job," joked his father.

Neumann has also helped start and is co-chairman of Educational Enterprises, a not-for-profit organization that opened four "choice" schools -- three in Milwaukee and one in Arizona -- with nearly 1,000 students now enrolled. Another son has become CEO of those schools.

"This nation was formed by people doing what we're doing," said Neumann, explaining that the founders put aside their businesses to devote time to public service.

While campaigning for office is a challenge, it's also a gift as was his ability to start first one business and then others after leaving Congress in 1998, said Neumann.

"Where else in the world could we have this kind of opportunity?" he asked rhetorically.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.