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Newly-elected state Sen. Pfaff announces run for Congress

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Sen. Brad Pfaff

Sen. Brad Pfaff represents the 32nd Senate District, which includes La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford, and southern Monroe counties.

Wisconsin state Sen. Brad Pfaff, D-Onalaska, announced Monday he is running to represent the 3rd Congressional District just eight months to the day after assuming his Senate seat.

Pfaff, 54, told the Tribune in an exclusive interview Sunday that he hopes to bring civility and a bipartisan lens to the U.S. House of Representatives if elected, and pointed to his work so far in Madison as an example of that.

“Today, too many people in Washington have forgotten that getting things done for us is their job. They treat politics like a blood sport where the only thing that matters is destroying your opponent. That’s not what I am and that’s not who we are,” Pfaff said in a statement announcing his run. “I’m running because there is a better way forward for our community and our country.”

“We recognize the fact of how important it is that we have a representative in Washington D.C. that understands our way of life, understands our values, understands the western Wisconsin way,” Pfaff told the Tribune.

If he were to win, Pfaff would fill the shoes of yet another longtime Democrat from western Wisconsin after he narrowly won the state Senate seat formerly held by Jennifer Schilling for nearly a decade. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, announced in August that he would not seek another term representing the 3rd District after more than two decades in office.

“I heard from a number of people who reached out to me and asked me to strongly consider this,” Pfaff told the Tribune, saying he respected Kind’s work in Congress.

Pfaff is no stranger to D.C. He served in the Obama administration within the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2009 to 2017 and worked for more than 12 years on the congressional staff of Kind, and on the staff of former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.

In 2018, Pfaff was appointed by Gov. Tony Evers to lead the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, but the Republican-led Legislature voted against his nomination after open debates over funding for farmers’ mental health.

Pfaff then made a successful run for state Senate in 2020, his second attempt, winning narrowly against longtime Republican Dan Kapanke.

Since taking office in the state Legislature, Pfaff said that he has strived to work across the aisle to get work done.

“I’m proud of the work that together we’ve all been able to do in Madison,” he said.

“I’ve led. I’ve been at the table, I’ve been part of these conversations. I’ve continued to try and move issues and policies that are important to western Wisconsin forward,” Pfaff said, pointing to small business assistance, farm and rural issues, broadband, healthcare, and the income tax cut that was included in the state’s budget.

Pfaff will face Derrick Van Orden, R-Prairie du Chien, in one of the most-watched House races in the 2022 midterms. Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL, lost to Kind by less than 3% in 2020.

"Whoever is nominated to run as the Democrat in this race would undoubtedly be just another Pelosi-Approved rubber stamp for her radical agenda," Van Orden said in a statement Monday morning.

Pfaff told the Tribune that he will bring more civility to office than Van Orden, who ran a fiery campaign against Kind and has come under fire in recent months for being present in D.C. on Jan. 6 and an incident at his local library.

“I was raised on the values of hard work, dedication, recognizing that when times are tough people come together. We learn from one another, we cooperate, we share, we get things done. When times are tough, we come together. And those are my values. Those are western Wisconsin’s values,” Pfaff said. “Quite frankly, those are the values that we need to have in our representative in Washington D.C. I don’t see that with Derrick Van Orden. I just don’t.”

In his announcement Monday, Pfaff said, “Growing up on the farm, we used our pitchforks for lifting hay, not for storming Congress.”

Van Orden has disputed claims that he was on Capitol grounds during the Jan. 6 insurrection. After the Tribune reported on an incident where staff at the Prairie du Chien Memorial Library say they felt threatened by Van Orden over its LGBTQ children’s display, he said he “unequivocally supports” the rights of the LGBTQ community and that the incident largely centered around one children’s book he said was inaccurate.

Pfaff, a western Wisconsin native, has also served on the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors and under former state Rep. Virgil Roberts. He currently lives in Onalaska, and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and a master’s degree from George Mason University.

His current term in the state Senate ends in 2025.

“I’m running because there is a better way forward for our community and our country. ... I’ve led. I’ve been at the table, ... I’ve continued to try and move issues and policies that are important to western Wisconsin forward.”

State Sen. Brad Pfaff

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