For Tony Evers, it was more than a campaign stop in his bid for governor; it was a reunion with friends and co-workers.
Evers kicked off a day of campaigning in Tomah Thursday as he and running mate Mandela Barnes greeted a packed room of about 50 supporters at Natural Connection Health Store and Coffee Shop.
Evers worked for eight years in the Tomah Area School District as a principal and administrator. He told the audience that he bought his first house in Tomah and that his twin children were delivered at Tomah Memorial Hospital.
“You’re going to have a Tomah guy as governor of Wisconsin,” said Evers, who won the Democratic nomination in August and faces Republican Scott Walker in the Nov. 6 election. Walker is seeking a third four-year term, and polls show a very tight race.
Several people who worked with Evers in Tomah attended the rally, including TASD superintendent Cindy Zahrte, who took vacation time to greet Evers. It was Evers who hired Zahrte for her first job in education as a social studies teacher at Tomah High School.
Zahrte doesn’t remember much about the job interview but has positive recollections of Evers as THS principal. She described Evers as a “down-to-earth” educator.
“My first impression really came with working with Tony on a day-to-day basis,” Zahrte said. “He would come into the teachers’ work area and sit down with us at lunch and ask us, ‘How are things going?’ and ‘What do you need help with?’”
Rita Uchytil worked with Evers two school districts. She taught class at Miller Elementary School when Evers was principal there and was later hired by Evers when he was superintendent in the Verona School District.
“He was wonderful,” Uchytil said. “I went into that interview in Verona, and there he was − the same smile, the same ‘hello.’ People down there loved him.”
Evers later became administrator of a CESA district before winning the first of his three elections as State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2009.
He recalled Tomah as a place where public education is valued and people don’t put their partisan beliefs on their sleeves.
“When working with school board members, some of them were Democrats, some of them were Republicans, but, frankly, I wouldn’t even know,” he said. “They were concerned about the kids.”
Evers and Barnes stressed education, health care and transportation during a 15-minute presentation in which they both spoke.
Evers criticized Republicans for rejecting $1.1 billion in federal Medicaid funds and opposing the Affordable Care Act. The legislation bans health insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and Evers condemned Walker for backing a lawsuit that would invalidate the law.
“If you’re against the Affordable Care Act, you’re against (protections for) pre-existing conditions,” Evers said.
On education, Evers promised to restore the $800 million that was slashed during Act 10. He promised to get local school districts off the cycle of passing referendums to exceed state-imposed revenue caps.
“They can’t keep going to a referendum every two years to keep the doors open,” he said.
When asked during a separate interview how he planned to pay for increased funding of public schools, Evers said it’s an issue of “budget priorities.”
“Scott Walker didn’t have any problem finding $4 billion for Foxconn,” Evers said.
Barnes said the Democrats are stressing issues that directly impact the daily lives of voters.
“Health care is on the ballot. Our schools are on the ballot. The environment is on the ballot,” Barnes said.
Cari Fay, a Merrillan Democrat challenging incumbent Republican Nancy VanderMeer of Tomah in the 70th Assembly District, also addressed the crowd. She stressed the environment and said lawmakers have a responsibility to protect the state’s water resources.
“We need to make sure water is available and that it is clean,” she said.
She also criticized Walker’s education policies.
“Act 10 caused a lot of people to exit the educational system,” Fay said.
Zahrte said electing Evers would send a positive message to educators across the state.
“Tony understands the importance of elevating our educators and the importance of work that they do,” she said. “That’s important for our community if we’re going to attract and retain quality teachers.”
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at email@example.com.