Tricia Zunker seeks to make history with a win
It seems that people, and congressional districts, have short memories.
Langlade County’s current district, the Wisconsin 7th, was represented by Dave Obey for nearly four decades. When Obey retired in 2010, the seat was claimed by Sean Duffy, a Republican, who served until his resignation in September.
During Duffy’s reign, attitudes and perceptions shifted, and the national media now describes the Seventh as “Deep Red.” Democratic nominee Tricia Zunker aims to flip that seat back, and return the district to its populist roots.
If elected, Zunker would be the first woman to represent the district in Congress, and the first Native American to represent Wisconsin.
Zunker is a born-and-raised northern Wisconsin success story. She is Ho-Chunk through her paternal grandmother, and comes from generations of dairy farmers on her mother’s side. Now, the possibilities of her election shine through when she discusses that heritage, and what victory could mean.
“Representation matters,” Zunker stated. “People need to see themselves reflected in congressional leadership. Whatever that looks like. We don’t have a government that’s reflective of society right now. The first woman to represent this district is an overdue representation.
“But I’m not asking anyone to vote for me because I’m a woman,” she continued. “I’m asking them to vote for me because I’m a qualified woman who’s going to work hard for them, and get the job done. Women’s issues are human issues, and its high time our women, and our girls, see themselves reflected in Congressional leadership, and our boys need to see it too.
“To be the first Native American to represent Wisconsin in Congress would be deeply humbling. A lot of people ask why I even decided to get into this, and the short answer is I really believe in public service. I think about my Ho-Chunk grandma and her parents selling baskets on the side of the road to make ends meet, and how that was a means of survival. Their persistence and their resilience made it possible for me to be here today.
“I believe I have an obligation and a duty to give back. I’m not here to just care about myself, or my son. To use my voice in a way to make things better for people on a greater level, that’s why I’m running for this seat.”
Zunker currently serves as the president of the Wausau School Board and as associate justice of the Ho-Chunk Supreme Court. She teaches remotely as a professor at three different institutions. Facing off against a member of the state legislature, Zunker often gets asked about their so-called experience differential.
“I don’t think we should have a career politician representing the Seventh District. I think we need to have someone who is going to go to Congress and work hard for the people, I’m a first generation college graduate, I come from very humble beginnings. Because there were opportunities, I was able to make my life better.
“I believe that’s the role of a representative, to make sure that people have opportunities for the best chance of success if they want to take them. I’m not a career politician, I’m simply someone that wants to show up and do what’s right, and I think that we need more people like that in Congress.”
Zunker says she has heard from folks throughout the district that the time has come for new ideas.
“There’s a common theme, that people are tired of attacks, they are tired of political division, they’re tired of gridlock, they just want to see changes that make their lives better,” she said. “I’m the same way. We don’t have time for division and gridlock, we need to get things done. You need to develop relationships, be willing to work across the aisle. Respectful communication, going to the facts and data, listen to the experts, thats what I will bring to Congress.”
In terms of Langlade County issues, Zunker takes a strong stance. She is adamantly opposed to the exploratory Schoepke Mine project along the Wolf River. Zunker attended and spoke at the Wolf River Waterwalk in Crandon last month, and submitted comments and phoned in to the recent Oneida County committee meeting regarding the project.
“We need to ensure clean air and clean water and ensure our beautiful lands stay protected from corporate greed for generations to come. We need to bring good paying jobs here, but those mining jobs are temporary. We need to focus on green and clean jobs.”
Zunker’s campaign website offers further information on issues she is passionate about, including healthcare, family farms, education, campaign finance reform, and criminal justice reform.
Tom Tiffany focuses on experience, ties to Trump
Tom Tiffany is no stranger to Antigo.
When he first sought political office—as a representative to the state Assembly—Tiffany visited here early and often, arriving in a beat-up compact pick-up truck. When asked, one time, if he used the truck as a campaign prop, to illustrate his rural roots, he had a quick answer.
“No,” he said. “That’s what I drive.”
Now, decades later, he is attempting to make the biggest leap of his political career, from the statehouse in Madison to the House of Representatives in Washington D.C.
Tuesday’s election will be bittersweet, Tiffany, who represents the 12th Senate District, said.
“I filed a declaration of noncandidacy for my Senate seat,” he said, noting that if the numbers don’t swing his way, he will be out of politics, at least for the time being.
Tiffany has established deep roots in the 7th Congressional District over the past 30 years where he and his wife, Chris, have lived and raised their three daughters. He owned and operated Wilderness Cruises for 20 years, and worked as a dam tender for 25 years on the Willow Flowage.
He served one term in the State Assembly and is currentlyhis second term in the State Senate.
“I don’t need training wheels,” Tiffany stressed. “That will allow me, if elected to allow a seamless transition from Sean Duffy to Tom Tiffany in the House of Representatives.”
Over his career in Madison, Tiffany has become a powerhouse lawmaker, serving on a number of legislative committees including the Joint Finance Committee, which works on the state’s budget, and as chairman of the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry.
He is proud of his occasionally contentious role as a champion for mining in the northwoods, stressing the bill he authored set strict environmental standards.
“We gave local control,” he said. “We listened to the people to make sure they had a say in the issue.”
Tiffany grew up on a dairy farm near Elmwood, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin–River Falls with a degree in agricultural economics, so he is familiar with a large swath of Wisconsin.
But the 12th Senate, although among the state’s largest with 10 counties, pales in comparison to the 7th Congressional District, with stretches across 26 counties from the St. Croix River on the west to the Lake Superior shoreline on the north, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the north.
“It presents more of a challenge to get the message out to people,” he admitted, “and there are different regional issues and dynamics across the district.”
That’s where experience is key, he said. “I’ve worked with people from all walks of life.” he said.
On the issues, Tiffany said he will work with President Trump to keep America great and ensure prosperity and freedom for future generations. He said federal spending is out of control and that lawmakers must take an underlying look at the whole federal budget – how the government operates and where to find massive, systemic savings for the taxpayer.
He is proud to be pro-life, has defunded Planned Parenthood at the state level and will work in Congress, so no taxpayers' dollars go to support abortions.
Tiffany initiatives like the SWAMP Act, which would take federal agencies and move them right into the heart of the country. And he is strongly in favor of building a wall to secure the nation’s southern border. Then, there can be a broader discussion about ending chain migration and a merit-based immigration process.
He also counts him as a strong defender of the Second Amendment, champions free and fair trade deals to support Wisconsin’s agricultural economy, and wants to promote homegrown American energy.
Tiffany supports President Trump's efforts to hold drug companies accountable with greater transparency, suggesting it will lead to lower prices on prescription drugs and health care in general.
“By inserting competition into health care, we can lower costs,” he said. “Providers will have to compete for patients' business.”
Tiffany said he is excited about the opportunities.
“I’ve always run for the right reasons, I want to make Wisconsin a better state,” he said. “I see similar problems at the federal level. I refuse to sit back and not try to do something about it.”