It isn’t often we get to meet and question a candidate for governor of Wisconsin. I had that chance April 19 when Sen. Kathleen Vinehout came to Baraboo and spoke to a large audience before a meeting of the Sauk County Democrats.
After she greeted everyone at the door, she talked about the journey that brought her to the Wisconsin Senate and why she’s running for governor.
Success didn’t come easily to her; she came from a large family with limited finances. After high school, she worked as a nursing assistant to pay her tuition to a two-year college. She continued working and enhancing her education. Over the years, she’s earned graduate degrees in health services research and public health as well as an associate degree in agriculture.
Farming always appealed to her, so 25 years ago, as her website explains, “She started her own dairy farm in rural Buffalo County, milking 50 cows in an old red barn with tie stalls.” Sen. Vinehout and her husband still own the organic farm that produces hay and grain.
While farming, she learned how important health care was after their young son developed serious health problems. She didn’t think it was fair that self-employed people have to mortgage their homes, farms and properties to pay for medical bills.
Because Sen. Vinehout wanted to change things, she ran in 2006 for a state Senate seat and won as a Democrat in a Republican-dominated district. She’s been re-elected in contested races ever since. And she hasn’t forgotten the importance of affordable health care.
On her website, she states, “Solving Wisconsin’s health care crisis has been at the top of my list since I first ran in 2006. In 2007, before the (Affordable Care Act), I was one of three Senate authors of Healthy Wisconsin, a plan that covered everyone in our state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the changes to health insurance I was able to pass ‘the most extensive in a decade’. Fixing health care is my passion.”
A couple of her votes have angered some Democrats, though, like those she made concerning firearms regulation. When asked about that at the meeting, Sen. Vinehout said she voted the way 87 percent of her constituents wanted her to, which is what she was elected to do.
As to the current state government, she’s dismayed at how the legislative process has changed. Before Gov. Scott Walker was elected, lawmakers had time to study proposed laws. Now, legislation is done “fast and secretly.” As an example, she said, the Senate was presented with “125 bills the day before we were to vote on them.” Despite that, she went through all of them. They included one to remove consumer protections by changing rules that cover insurance policies and one that prohibits communities from enacting laws that protect overtime, safety and labor agreements.
She also discovered that almost all of them lead to someone who’s wealthy and about to get wealthier. For example, recent Republican legislation rewards insurance and cellphone companies and penalizes ordinary people.
Sen. Vinehout also noted that people are working harder and getting paid less since the passage of the Republicans’ right-to-work law, the elimination of the prevailing wage law and Act 10, which took away the right of public workers to collectively bargain for salary, benefits and work rules.
Rural areas, their struggling schools, and a lack of high-speed internet also are at the top of her list. She said the $4.5 billion in taxpayer money that Walker and his cronies are giving to Taiwanese company Foxconn could be used to provide high-speed internet to areas that are without it. Some of it also could be used to repair our roads, which are some of the worst in the country.
The environment also is one of Vinehout’s passions. Under Gov. Walker, the Department of Natural Resources’ reason for being — to protect the quality of our land, air, forests and water — has all but been eliminated. Instead, they’ve crippled the DNR and instructed it to be “open for business.” She noted that in the last budget, Republicans eliminated its Bureau of Science Services along with its 49 full-time positions. In The Capital Times on April 21, Vinehout wrote how the Legislative Audit Bureau found the new DNR consistently fails to take action against industries and municipalities that violate environmental regulations.
Sen. Vinehout has solutions to many important issues, such as the high cost of college tuition and student debt. She describes them all on her campaign website at kathleenvinehout.org. I hope voters check it out before they cast their ballots in the Aug. 14 primary election.