Despite having only 12 days to gather signatures, six candidates have filed nomination papers to run for the upcoming 10th Senate District special election.
Three Democrats, two Republicans and one Libertarian will be on the ballot in the Tuesday, Dec. 19, primary for the seat vacated by state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls. Harsdorf resigned from the post she held since 2001 after GOP Gov. Scott Walker appointed her secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Harsdorf started the new job Nov. 13.
Republican legislators representing two of the three Assembly districts comprising the 10th Senate District, freshman Rep. Shannon Zimmerman of River Falls and two-term Rep. Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake, will square off in the Republican primary.
The Democratic primary will include John Calabrese, owner of a woodworking business and campaign finance reform advocate from Glenwood City; Patty Schachtner, the St. Croix County medical examiner from Somerset; and Reuben Herfindahl of River Falls, CEO of the IT service firm Digital Brigade.
Major party primary winners and Libertarian candidate Brian Corriea of Wilson will face off in the special election on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Parts of St. Croix, Dunn, Pierce, Polk and Burnett counties make up the 10th Senate District in western Wisconsin.
Despite the quick turnaround from the time of Harsdorf’s resignation to the primary, regional political insiders said the large field of candidates isn’t that surprising because it’s a rare open seat and Harsdorf’s potential appoint-ment was rumored for some time. That gave several candidates time to gear up for a campaign in advance of the governor’s call for a special election.
With all three Assembly districts composing the 10th District occupied by Republicans, it has to be considered a Republican-leaning district, said Brian Westrate, chairman of the 3rd Congressional District GOP.
But that may not mean much in a special election, especially one with such a short campaign that includes the state’s nine-day gun deer season and the Christmas and New Year’s holidays when people have other priorities than politics, he said.
It’s hard to predict how many people will vote in a primary six days before Christmas and a one-race general election in mid-January.
“It’s just going to come down to which candidate has the ability to better turn out their specific supporters,” Westrate said.
Lisa Herrmann, chairwoman of the 3rd Congressional District Democratic Party, expressed optimism about the Democrats’ chances of picking off the seat and cutting into the GOP’s 19-13 majority in the state Senate.
“Look at what’s happening in St. Croix, Polk and Burnett counties,” she said. “A lot of the town boards and city councils have turned over seats to some pretty progressive folks.”
With three Democrats joining the campaign on short notice, Herrmann said the message is that party members are eager to take back some power from Republicans who have controlled both houses in the Legislature and the governor’s mansion since 2011.
“It really comes down to the idea that people are coming to the realization that someone is going to have to step up and do it,” she said.
On the Democratic side, a news release announcing Schachtner’s candidacy portrayed her as a “bear-hunting, ice-fishing, straight-talking” candidate. She said the region is wrestling with a historic mental health and addiction epidemic that is largely ignored by Madison politicians and vowed, if elected, to put western Wisconsin first.
Schachtner also was featured in a 2006 episode of ABC’s series “Wife Swap” in which she traded places with a woman who ran a Miami modeling agency.
Calabrese has been legislative director for Wolf PAC Wisconsin, a volunteer group working to get money out of politics, for the past four years. He has vowed never to take corporate or PAC donations.
“The size of your bank account should not dictate how much free speech you have,” Calabrese said on his campaign website. “We should all have the same amount of free speech. Our government is for sale to the highest bidder. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can join our voices together and change this system now.”
Herfindahl said on his campaign Facebook page that Wisconsin’s worsening environmental record under Walker is one of the main reasons he is running.
Republicans Zimmerman and Jarchow both are stressing job creation and worker training in their campaigns.
Jarchow’s campaign website notes that he believes in the “citizen legislator” model and thus has kept his full-time job as a lawyer while serving in the Assembly.
Zimmerman and his wife, Angel, created one of the largest employers in western Wisconsin, Sajan, a global language translation company headquartered in River Falls, and also own and operate the Belle Vinez winery in River Falls.
Zimmerman’s campaign hit an obstacle recently after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that, in a video of remarks he made during a lecture four years ago at UW-River Falls, Zimmerman joked that his own employees’ language could be the toughest to translate and said women sometimes say one thing but mean another. The audience laughed and Zimmerman told the Journal Sentinel the remark was a “lighthearted attempt to address the communication barriers that exist ... between the sexes.”
However, the liberal group One Wisconsin Now has called the remark unacceptable and said it raises red flags about Zimmerman’s attitude toward women.
Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice also reported Nov. 20 that Zimmerman said in a campaign news release he had voted in favor of Walker’s state budget in September when he actually was grounded at an airport in Amsterdam while on a business trip for Sajan. Instead, Zimmerman showed up a day after the vote and read a statement into the legislative record indicating he would have voted for the spending plan if he had been in Madison.
Westrate said he doesn’t believe either incident will influence the outcome of the special election.
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