State Sen. Jennifer Shilling touted her experience as the Democratic leader in the Wisconsin as she prepared to take on political newcomer Jared Landry of La Farge in the Aug. 9 primary.
The La Crosse Democrat has represented Wisconsin’s 32nd district since unseating Dan Kapanke in the 2011 recall election and will face her second Democratic challenger next week in Landry.
Shilling said she is proud of her five-year record working with her colleagues across the aisle to approve bills in the state’s best interest, particularly the 17 unanimous votes included in the two HOPE packages designed to combat the growing problems of heroin and opiate addiction.
“That’s across socioeconomic classes, that’s urban, it’s rural … It really is a statewide issue,” Shilling said.
Shilling said it was important to find common ground with those across the aisle, even developing her own “Chex Mix diplomacy” to foster positive relationships and get things done.
“It makes it much more difficult to vilify your political opponent when you have sent them a snack from the other side of aisle,” she said.
While Landry hopes to be elected to office and then build that into a life of service, he disavowed the title “politician.”
“I promise I will never turn into a politician. It’s not good for us,” Landry said.
Landry, a private investigator, said he suspended his campaign for 60 days while in Iowa investigating what he said was a homicide, and said the tragic circumstances of his trip to Wisconsin’s neighbor has redoubled his dedication to serving the public.
“I’m going into this, wanting to be a senator because of things like this,” he said. “I just feel really strongly that things need to change.”
Among Shilling’s priorities going into the next legislative session are expanding broadband, which she called the “electrification of the 21st century,” and increasing transportation funding.
“Our local elected officials are very interested in transportation … Some towns are talking about removing their asphalt and returning it to gravel in some rural parts of the states,” Shilling said.
Shilling also hopes to continue her work to get legislation to allow people to refinance student loan debt similar to what people do with mortgages or car loans already. She also has suggested plans to allow Wisconsinites to deduct student loan interest from their state income taxes.
Landry said he disagreed with Shilling’s plans for higher education debt but declined to offer specific criticisms. Instead he emphasized the importance of specialized education plans for young students.
“Children need to be treated as individuals,” Landry said.
Among his proposed policy changes is a drastic change to retirement, lowering the retirement age to 45 and an alternative to Social Security.
“Our Social Security system is shot. I would like to see, when you have a child, you have a million dollars put into your bank account,” Landry said.
He would require people to work or attend college to receive the funds, he said.
Landry’s other main priority is lowering the cost of health care through a government-run system.
“I don’t believe that money should be made on human lives,” Landry said.
He suggested the legalization and taxation of medical marijuana would offset the cost difference.
“It’s not only about doing that, but it’d bring many, many jobs to this area,” Landry said.
Legalizing marijuana would also reduce the pressure on the justice system, he said. His time in jail after a conviction for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated showed him ways the system could be changed to rehabilitate offenders, he said.
Shilling is also inclined to support the use of medical marijuana prescribed by a physician, saying, “I believe that we should provide cancer patients, glaucoma sufferers, and other ailing citizens with as many tools as possible to treat their medical conditions and ease their suffering.”
The winner of the primary will face off Nov. 8 against independent Chip DeNure and the winner of the Republican primary between Kapanke and John Sarnowski.
The 32nd District includes the towns of Angelo, Adrian, Tomah, Leon, Wells, Ridgeville, Wilton, Portland, Jefferson, Sheldon and Wellington and villages of Norwalk, Wilton, Melvina and Cashton in Monroe County.