In 2008, Jay Schmelling was a political newcomer taking on an established incumbent for the Wisconsin 35th District Assembly seat. He lost that election, but he’s confident the outcome will be different this time.
Incumbent Don Friske (R-Merrill), who defeated Schmelling in 2008, is not seeking re-election. Schmelling, a Merrill Democrat, will face Republican Tom Tiffany who also gained some name recognition in his previous unsuccessful bid for state Senate.
Schmelling has been hitting the campaign trail hard, knocking on over 7,000 doors in the district so far. The top issues on voters’ minds in the 35th Assembly district are jobs, jobs and jobs, says Schmelling.
“Some people are concerned about accountability in government, but it’s all about jobs,” said Schmelling.
Schmelling said he and his fellow Democrats are committed to making Wisconsin a better place to do business, thus attracting more employers to the state.
“We want to encourage new business while maintaining the small businesses we have,” he said.
Schmelling’s professional background is in construction management.
“The average national size of a contractor is 10 employees,” he said. “That’s the quintessential small business. Small business is really the engine of our economy.”
Accompanying Schmelling on a campaign swing was House Assistant Majority Leader Donna Seidel, who represents the Wausau area.
The legislature recently passed $20 million in tax incentives for businesses, she noted.
“We’re seeing that pay off,” Seidel said. “Keeping and gaining jobs is the priority.”
Seidel said she believes Democrats will retain the majority in the legislature. The Democrats, she said, have governed wisely, protected citizens from tax increases and championed education.
“It’s going to be a tough election. We have strong candidates across the state,” she said.
Legislators came into the most recent session facing a $6.6 billion deficit and balanced it on time for the first time in 32 years.
“We cut state spending by $3.2 billion without raising taxes,” she said, “no sales tax increase, no property tax increase.”
The Democrats, she said, stand with middle class families. The legislature closed what is called the “Las Vegas” loophole, by which big business could invest their money in Nevada to be exempt from paying taxes on it.
“We said that’s not fair to working class families and small business,” Seidel said.
Closing the loophole generated an additional $375 million in taxes for Wisconsin.
“We think it’s fair that the big guys pay their fair share that everybody does,” she said.
The legislature will begin the next budget cycle facing a $2.7 billion shortfall. To make the cuts, Democrats are looking at less spending across the board, Seidel said.
“Education, public safety and local aids should be protected from the deepest cuts,” she added.
Schmelling said he intends to stand up for the north to make sure we get our fair share.
“I’ll be fighting to make sure we don’t get treated disproportionately from the rest of the state,” he said.
Although ultimately unsuccessful, the 2008 campaign introduced Schmelling to district voters.
“In 2008, the autism bill was a motivating factor for me to run,” Schmelling said. He met families who struggled to care for their children with autism. “For families that didn’t have insurance, the fear was they would give up everything and it still wouldn’t be enough.”
Along with jobs, Schmelling is also concerned that Wisconsin residents have access to affordable health care, something he said the Democrat led legislature has made advanced toward.
Education is also important, Schmelling added.
“Public education is a priority of legislative Democrats,” he said. “We have to have a trained workforce, and for that we need a strong education system.”