Trempealeau's Danou leaves Capitol with unfinished business

Caught in the Trump wave, Democrat Chris Danou exits the Legislature disappointed he could not accomplish more

posted Jan. 8, 2017 12:36 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Eric Lindquist. bio | email

After eight years in the state Assembly, Democratic Rep. Chris Danou was swept out of his post by a Donald Trump wave that engulfed much of rural Wisconsin, and now he’s worried about what Republican control of state and national politics will mean for Wisconsin.

Danou, of Trempealeau, said he outperformed the top of the ticket — Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — by 7.5 percentage points, but that wasn’t enough to retain his seat in a district that tilted strongly toward President-elect Trump. State Rep. Treig Pronschinske, R-Mondovi, replaced Danou last week after defeating the incumbent 13,605 to 12,540, or 52 to 48 percent, in the November election.

In the 92nd Assembly District, comprising most of Buffalo, Trempealeau and Jackson counties, Clinton attracted just 36.6 percent of the vote in Buffalo County, 41.6 percent in Trempealeau County and 41.5 percent in Jackson County.

Though internal polling showed he led the race by 12 percentage points three weeks before the election, Danou said he campaigned hard and never took the race for granted. In the end, he was the lone Assembly incumbent ousted by voters.

“The whole Trump thing caught a lot of people by surprise,” Danou said, speculating that rural Wisconsin voters may be growing more conservative.

For his part, Pronschinske said he connected well with voters, who he believes appreciated his leadership as mayor of Mondovi.

Though  Danou said it was an honor to represent the district, he acknowledged in a recent interview that he can’t help but view his time in the Legislature as somewhat of a disappointment because he couldn’t accomplish many of his goals.

As part of the majority in his first term, Danou said he and other Democrats spent much of their time “putting out fires” that were the result of the Great Recession. After that, Danou spent his last six years as part of the minority in a state government completely controlled by Republicans.

Entering the Legislature, Danou said one of his top priorities was to address declining support for rural schools, but instead he lamented that the problem has only gotten worse under GOP leadership, with substantial cuts in education funding and an expansion of the voucher school program that he said funnels money to unaccountable private schools. 

Danou also said it has been a struggle to get the Republican-led Legislature to invest in things that improve rural quality of life, such as roads, libraries, parks, recreational areas and high-speed internet, and added that he is concerned GOP plans to weaken the state Department of Natural Resources may result in harm to the environment.

At the same time, Gov. Scott Walker’s signature accomplishment, Act 10, “tore the state apart,” and has led to a teacher shortage and challenges for recruiting teachers, law enforcement officers and other public sector employees, Danou said. Act 10, passed by Republicans in 2011, cut benefits and eliminated collective bargaining for most public sector workers in the state.   

“I enjoyed the job, but since 2010 I just see the state going backward in many ways, and that’s a real concern,” he said. “In the long run, it seems like Wisconsin has some real problems coming that haven’t been dealt with.”

Danou recently accepted a position as director of government relations for Madison-based Gathering Waters Conservancy, an alliance for the state’s land trusts, and has no plans to seek public office again.

“Never say never,” he said, “but at this point I don’t think I would run again.”

Contact: 715-833-9209, eric.lindquist@ecpc.com, @ealscoop on Twitter