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When: Tuesday, November 8th, 2022; polls open 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Find your voting location at myvote.wi. All absentee ballots must be requested by November 3rd and turned in no later than 8:00 p.m. on November 8th either by mail or dropped off in-person. In-Person absentee voting will start Tuesday, October 25th and end Friday, November 4th. You can vote early Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you plan to vote by mail, voters are strongly encouraged to mail their ballots as soon as possible to ensure their ballot is received by the deadline.

What it’s about: The Wisconsin State Senate is made up of 33 senators, 1/2 of which are up for election every two years and are elected for four year terms. This year, the odd numbered Senate districts are up. Incumbent Janet Bewley will not be seeking reelection. The candidates for District 31 Senate are:
• Jeff Smith, Incumbent (D-Eau Claire) Website
• David Estenson (R-Whitehall) Website

Who can vote: The election is open to residents of the 31st Senate District. Click on the image to pull up a more detailed and interactive map.

Where you vote and who is on your ballot:

• Go to myvote.wi.gov
• Enter your voting address to learn which races are on your ballot and where you vote.

Why this questionnaire: The Good Government Council (GGC) is a committee of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce dedicated to encouraging voter participation and providing members of the business community with non-biased information about candidates’ positions on important issues. Although the Chamber is active in policy issues, it is non-partisan and does not endorse political candidates.

Candidate Responses

1.) Why are you running for this office, and what are the top three priorities you will emphasize if elected to the next session of the legislature?

Jeff Smith: I’ve spent my whole life in Eau Claire. I raised a family, owned and operated a window cleaning business for over 25 years and my deep roots in our community are why I am running for reelection. My top priorities for the next session are; 1) Recovering from the pandemic. We helped businesses with grants and loans and passed a budget with the largest tax cut in state history while making critical investments. We must build on this success to continue our recovery. 2) Protecting our water. We must act quickly on PFAS and other groundwater contaminates. Eau Claire has done great job, but we need a statewide approach to address this issue going forward. 3) Workforce Development. Unemployment is at an all-time low, so we need to retrain workers for high-demand positions and figure out a way to entice new residents to Wisconsin. There’s no silver bullet to address this challenge, but every action we take in the legislature must contribute to attracting the talent we need.

David Estenson: I am running because I am tired of saying “Someone needs to do something about…(fill in the blank)”. My top priorities will be reducing crime, working with schools to provide the best education possible while facilitating cooperation between public schools and parents, and allowing our state and local economy to grow and thrive by removing overbearing government regulation and bureaucracy that stifles economic growth.

2.) What role should state government take in supporting a vibrant business economy in Wisconsin? What specific actions or policies would you propose to accomplish it?

Jeff Smith: Easy first steps for promoting a vibrant business economy is making sure the playing field is level by closing the darkstore loophole. Allowing big box stores to skirt their property tax obligation shifts the burden onto everyone else. This has broad support and I plan to reintroduce this bill again. With the budget surplus, we should finally eliminate the personal property tax too. I supported Governor’s plan to eliminate the personal property tax and I’m hopeful we can get it done this next session. We need to look at how regulations are impacting the shifting trend for consumers. Businesses quick to pivot their service model for curbside and delivery during the pandemic were successful. We need to look at how we can capitalize on this approach and help businesses meet their consumers. I’m also interested in figuring out ways to alleviate supply chain issues and address inflation whatever ways we can as a state.

David Estenson: Government in general is only an hinderance to economic growth. I plan to remove as many government barriers to the free market as possible.

3.) Businesses today face several significant workforce challenges, with more jobs open than individuals available to fill them. Among these issues are demographics related to the size of the workforce; state support to recruit and retain employees to the area; housing supply and affordability; and a crisis in childcare availability for working parents. What is the legislature’s role in addressing these issues?

Jeff Smith: When I was a small business owner, each employee had a different challenge for getting to work. For some, childcare was unpredictable and expensive, transportation was unreliable, others struggled with health crises, or some left because they could find better wages elsewhere. The point is, our workforce challenges are as diverse as the employees who fill each position. We must focus on the major bottlenecks like childcare, skills training and healthcare. Every action we take in the legislature to make it just a little easier for workers will pay off in their ability to be more efficient, happier and remain in their jobs. For 12 years, previous legislators and administrations blamed the state’s budget woes on workers. That caused a mass exodus of qualified workers to leave Wisconsin. It will take time to bring workers back, but thankfully the Governor’s actions have resulted in the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history. Easy first steps for solving this issue are expanding Medicaid, fixing the neglected unemployment insurance system, helping families afford childcare with tax incentives, encouraging communities to address housing access and affordability

David Estenson: The state legislature can start by helping high schools promote trade school education, and allow students to earn an associates degree while earning a diploma. That would increase the workforce in the trades almost immediately. The childcare issue is one that is 100% government caused. The regulations regarding childcare facilities creates a situation where operating a facility is impossible to do at a profit. Reducing those regulations is the only way to solve that issue.

4.) The 2019-21 State Budget included funding for the first phase of the new Science and Health Sciences Building at UW-Eau Claire to replace aging and obsolete Phillips Hall. The University is now awaiting the second phase funding so that it can begin construction. What level of priority will you put on ensuring that funding is included in the state’s 2023-25 budget, and what steps will you take to make that happen?

Jeff Smith: My first goal in 2019 was securing the first phase of funding for this critical project and we did it. During the last budget, my first priority was the second phase funding for the new Science and Health Services Building at UWEC. For the upcoming budget, my priority hasn’t changed. I will request the same priority. Thankfully, we’ve seen bipartisan support on this issue and I hope we will see it happen again. Our state has the money and UWEC is in desperate need of better science facilities. The private investment from Mayo Clinic makes this a no-brainer for our state to move forward with the second phase.

David Estenson: I do not know enough about that issue to answer at this time. As a former police officer, I am use to hearing all points of view before making any decisions, or forming any opinions. I will be taking that approach with this issue, and any other issues that will arise.

5.) Why should a business person in the Chippewa Valley vote for you to represent them in the state legislature?

Jeff Smith: Two reasons – I’ve lived in this community all my life and my experience as a business owner in the community for most of my life are why I would be a good choice for state senator. There are times when we disagree, but I’ve always listened to each side of the issue. To be an effective senator, I’ve used my conversations and input from Chamber members to guide me for each vote and every bill I introduce. I will continue that approach as an active Chamber member and as your state senator.

David Estenson: I am not only a former police officer. I am also currently a small business owner. I know what it means to sign the front of a paycheck, and take a paycheck for yourself last. Or not at all! I’ve been in business for 10 years through the ups and downs of market swings. I intend to do everything I can to create the best economic environment for businesses to thrive.

More Information
Election 2022: Guide to the Fall General Election (Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce)

Posted by Danya Morman, Governmental Affairs Intern
morman@eauclairechamber.org

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