The close of the year is a good time to reflect on what passed and look forward to what lies ahead. This week I offer my annual review of the opinions and needs of the folks I’m honored to represent.
Communication with constituents is a big part of a Senator’s job. This year I had over 6,500 contacts with more than 4,500 people in the 31st district on dozens of issues. Most people chose to send an email but 44 hard-working, old-fashioned souls took the time to send a handwritten letter or postcard.
Almost 300 people made the long trip to Madison to meet with me. Many came to celebrate a special occasion – like the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Wisconsin. Others came to testify or attend a public hearing. This year, many people from western Wisconsin traveled to Madison to stop legislation that took away local powers especially related to sand mines.
For the second time in three years “Sand Mines” topped the list as the number one reason people contacted me. For the first time, 100% of people who wrote or called were opposed to the mines.
Several pieces of legislation spurred contact from local people. Senator Tiffany’s bill to take away local powers related to sand mines was one reason so many people wrote me about mines. Senator Kenzie’s bill to weaken environmental oversight of high capacity wells also brought many letters with unanimous opposition.
Many of those who contacted me shared problems related to existing sand mines and high-cap wells. In one case a local mayor expressed concern about the drop in the municipal well he attributed to a big increase in local high-cap wells. Of course the two issues are related as sand mines use high-cap wells.
Other topics were important to local people. “Minimum Wage” ranked number two with most constituents in favor of raising the minimum wage. Many people wrote about what to do with the supposed ‘surplus’ of state money. In about equal numbers, people wanted to use the money to provide free technical college tuition or use the surplus for a tax cut. Firearm regulation continued to be a big topic of concern among constituents.
Folks are surprised when I tell them half of my job is social work. But a big part of my job is connecting people with what they need in state government. Sometimes they need a DNR permit or help with a license. Others need help signing up for a certain service. Nearly one in seven people who contact my office do so with a particular problem related to state government. These ‘constituent cases’ as I call them are my opportunity to help people navigate the sometimes slow and confusing bureaucracy of state government.
I saw a steady increase in the number of constituent cases over the past three years. In 2012 I had just a third of the number of 2014 cases. Perhaps folks are getting the message their state Senator can help or maybe things are not working as well.
With the beginning of the Health Care Marketplace I received many calls about health insurance and assisted many in signing up for BadgerCare. I send a big thanks to the hardworking staff at the Department of Health who help me help you on a regular basis.
This year brought a huge increase in the number of people who called with concerns about the safety of trains. Whistles, unsafe crossings, fast trains in populated areas and worn out rail lines were all people’s concerns. Finally failing infrastructure has made it to the list of problems including the recently closed deteriorating bridge in Taylor.
Money for the bridge in Taylor will be on the top of the list I’ll send to Santa. Next week I will take a look into the future. You can bet money for roads and bridges will be a big topic in 2015.
A big thank-you is due to my Senate staff including Joel Nilsestuen who is leaving us to move on to greener pastures. Thank you to all of you who provided me with the opportunity to serve. Wishing you and yours a very Happy Holiday!