Both 96th Assembly primary candidates focused on rural life

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Paul Buhr

Alicia Leinberger

By Correne Martin

Primary election voters in the 96th Assembly have a choice on the Democratic ticket. They may select between two candidates, Paul Buhr and Alicia Leinberger, in choosing who they wish to face Republican Loren Oldenburg in November. All candidates in the race for this seat are from Viroqua. 

The person elected will replace retiring legislator Lee Nerison (R-Westby). The 96th Assembly District includes Crawford County, Vernon County and part of Monroe County.

 

Paul Buhr, 65, is a 43-year dairy farmer who grew up in Cashton, graduated from UW-Platteville, married his college sweetheart, has three successful adult children, served on a number of rural boards and feels an obligation to serve. 

Serving on the Heartland Country Co-op Board and the National Holstein Association Board were the two positions Buhr believes have given him the most beneficial, passionate perspective as he moves into state politics. He’s proud the Heartland Country Co-op utilized a “pay-as-we-grow” technique and doubled its net worth in short order before selling. 

“Serving on these boards gave me a real understanding of rural Wisconsin. Not only do we need infrastructure to support farms that are growing but we also need to have programs in place to show young farmers the way to knowledge is to create value-added products on the farm,” Buhr explained, in speaking about the dairy farm crisis. “Things like grapes, vegetables, farmstead cheeses—we could have much more of that. We need to work universally, encouraging the Wisconsin Idea system be used to generate new ideas. It’s not going to work to compete against the factory farms. We have to make small farms our asset and move forward quickly to keep our youth here.”

Another crucial factor in Wisconsin’s efforts to retain young professionals, in Buhr’s opinion, is to provide broadband for everyone. To do that, he suggests that, as a state, Wisconsin must find a way to incentivize broadband expansion. This, of course, is in addition to the areas of roads and good public schools where the state needs to be proactive as well, he stated. 

Just like the Wisconsin Idea philosophy was applied in starting the UW-Madison farm short course, Buhr would like to see the same convictions implemented today in terms of responsible spending across the state. (Note: The Wisconsin Idea is a philosophy embraced by the University of Wisconsin System that holds that university research should be applied to solve problems and improve health, quality of life, the environment, and agriculture for all citizens of the state.)

“As a farmer, I’ve always kept my capital expenses in the budget. If you saw how I run my business, I’ll put that up against any conservative,” he said. “The current agenda coming out of Madison, I feel, shows no balance of ideas in government. If we keep doing the same thing, we can't expect different results.”

Regarding the condition of the state’s roads, Buhr commented that 58 percent of Wisconsin’s roads are in poor or worse condition. He said the current schedule is basically an 80-year replacement plan through which the state borrows money to fund road repairs.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” he quipped. “We cannot constantly borrow money to fund road repairs. We have to budget responsibly.”

“The average driver spends an extra $630 worth of expenses on their vehicle per year, plus gas taxes, because of our state’s roads,” he pointed out, calling it a “hidden tax” like that he said is pinned on taxpayers who essentially pay for private schools through the voucher system in addition to the public schools their children attend. 

“Twenty-two cents of every gas tax dollar goes to serve the debt of the Department of Transportation. It’s unsustainable,” Buhr shared.

In his eyes, that, alone, is one factor that symbolizes the fact that “Madison is ignoring rural Wisconsin." He hopes to bring local control back to local governments to solve local problems. As Thomas Jefferson said, the “best government is the one closest to the people.”

“We’ve had much of our abilities as communities to define ourselves stripped away,” he said. Buhr is committed to reexamine that issue in particular. He intends to try to “clean the system up” too, via fair redistricting in 2020. 

One of Buhr’s key goals is to bring more fairness into government, whether it’s regarding roads, schools or senior living facilities. “This is my first foray into government but I want to give a voice to this region and be an advocate to sustain this tradition of rural America,” he said. “It’s disheartening that people on both sides won’t listen to good ideas. I believe they’re our problems in our communities and I want to bring everyone together so this part of the state can thrive in the future.”

One such issue is international trade, which he understands has a large impact on the dairy economy. Buhr milks 65 registered holsteins and has been a farmer or sitting around a kitchen table hearing the plight of farmers for 60 years. 

“We need a multi-pronged approach,” he noted. 

“1) Of course we have overproduction. 

“2) Our trading partners don’t trust us and are looking for other countries to fill their needs. That has driven our prices down. 

“3) Truth in labeling—We’re trying to get the Food and Drug Administration to enforce labeling appropriation. 

“4) Finally, health care costs are so high, and that’s an issue that faces everyone.”

Buhr, who was Outstanding Conservation Farmer in 1995, adds that conservation and water quality are significant parts of Wisconsin’s approach for the future. 

“I feel I run a very successful farm and that I can bring that common sense approach to our urban legislators,” Buhr said, further describing himself as one of those simple men whose word is his honor, whose survival of family is his main concern. 

 

Alicia Leinberger, 50, has been an innovative community servant for more than 20 years. She’s a mother to two teenage daughters. She’s familiar with the election process, having made an unsuccessful run in 2016 to unseat Nerison. 

Leinberger spent three years in the Peace Corps training small coffee farmers in conservation practices. She then worked in Wisconsin dairy markets, applying Fair Trade principles to ensure better returns for family farmers. She pioneered Seventh Generation Energy Systems and has educated citizens about the role of renewable energy toward a sustainable future. She is the current owner/operator of Ethos Green Power, which installs solar energy systems for residents, farms and businesses.

“I believe my Fair Trade knowledge could be a useful tool for our region. I know how to look at the trade chain and try to get a bigger percentage back to the farmer,” Leinberger said.

Through her personal background, Leinberger has gained a strong history of working with a wide diversity of people, from investment bankers to farmers to community educators. She’s proud of her wide range of experience and believes it gives her the perspective to understand everybody’s point of view. 

“I don’t see people as siloed into parties,” she stated.

Her interests are in small business and policy with regard to energy, agricultural projects and conservation. “I know how public policy affects rural policy and how I can make it work better for us,” she added.

Because of these experiences and her passionate personality, Leinberger is 100 percent willing to confront authority and not back down. “I’m a fighter,” she said. “I have a strong sense of people power over money power. I’m also not going to kowtow to parties. I’d rather see independent analysis."

She admitted however that having a primary opponent in this race has been good for politics. She said it’s forced all candidates to sharpen their ideas, messages and strategies a lot sooner. 

Running with numerous principles close to her heart, Leinberger has three main priorities she is ready to tackle: 

“1) Health care guaranteed for all Wisconsinites through the single-payer system. 

“I feel like, right now, it’s all profit-driven, private industries. The personal costs are unbearable,” she said. “All we have to do is follow the examples we have from all over the world or from the number of pieces of legislation introduced in our own state before.

“2) Water quality

“Agriculture is such an important part of our economy. Our heritage is of conservation and stewardship and we need that a lot more,” she continued. “We need to keep private industries away again from our most precious commodity, something we all share. There are places where our water is literally poisoned. For me, that’s where its really important we lay the line down in the sand.

“3) Tax money must be redirected into our rural communities where it can work for us. We need to fund: a) our schools, b) road repair and maintenance, and c) rural broadband because, otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to function in the world.”

In an effort to be as well-versed as possible in her prospective assembly position, Leinberger has attended local county and municipal meetings.

“I’ve been hearing the horrible stories of people trying to make it on crumbs,” she remarked. “I just don’t understand why we have not had a person in the assembly who stands up and says ‘hell no.’ Change is going to take a bunch of independent legislators who are willing to do that, and I’m one of them.”

In closing, Leinberger made sure to point out the significance that more and more women are running for office. It’s a movement she feels is headed in the right direction.

“As a strong woman and mom, I know how to solve things as resourcefully as possible,” she said. “I like the challenge.”

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