Monk Elmer Shaped by Father’s Struggle

Dr. Montgomery “Monk” Elmer (Democrat – Kimberly)

Profession: Family Physician

Prior Community Service: Kimberly school board president; President of Fox Cities/ Kurgon, Siberia Sister Cities program; Physicians for Social Responsibility

Dr. Montgomery “Monk” Elmer

Dr. Montgomery “Monk” Elmer grew up in small Iowa town, where his father’s struggles with alcohol would inspire him to become a doctor. His father was an alcoholic and a domestic abuser, which led to his death during Elmer’s sophomore year of college at the University of Iowa.

That childhood struggle not only inspired Elmer’s dream to become a doctor, but it shaped his commitment to community service and politics, instilling an appreciation for the social welfare programs.

“With my father’s death, I received a bit of social security money and Pell Grants that helped me go to school and accomplish my goals,” Elmer said over coffee at Blue Horse Bistro last winter, shortly after announcing his candidacy for Wisconsin’s 1st Senate District seat.

Elmer finished medical school, completing his training in Appleton and settling his family there. In the 1980s he got involved with Physicians for Social Responsibility, an advocacy organization of medical and public health professionals, which formed to prevent nuclear proliferation and nuclear war. Then, in 1991 he made the first of 15 trips to Kurgon, Russia as president of the Fox Cities/ Kurgon Sister Cities program.

“It started as a way of connecting with our former enemies,” he said. “We had teacher and mayor exchanges, and in 1992 we were able to convince the U.S. Air Force to fly medical supplies over to people in need.”

Elmer does not come across as particularly political. He’s a Democrat, he said, “mainly because I had to pick a team.” He speaks repeatedly of the need to break down political and community silos that prevent people from talking and working together to do the best for Wisconsin.

“The progressive nature of Wisconsin is what draws me to this race,” he said. “It’s inspiring. We have to figure out ways to let that nature loose again and have the tough discussions with respect for each other.”

Noting that most of government isn’t put into practice in Washington or Madison, but at the local level, he lamented how poorly the different levels of government communicate.

“We need to break down the barriers between state, county, and local government to consolidate efforts,” he said. “Most of the solutions to the problems we face are local solutions.”

Elmer would be the only doctor in the Senate if elected, where he hopes to focus the legislature on the cost of care, not just the cost of insurance. With BadgerCare the state has only figured out a path to coverage, he says.

The health care industry incentivizes fee-for-service care, he said, driving up costs and not allowing for honest competition. “If we’re going to have 10 people compete to make a chair, we say ‘here’s the chair you have to make.’ With health care, we need to do the same thing. We need to tell them, ‘Here’s the care you’re going to create, what are you going to charge?’”

Health care needs to be addressed as part of any meaningful effort to create job growth or address school funding, Elmer said.

“Jobs don’t matter if 15 – 20 cents of every dollar goes to health care costs,” he said. “People don’t realize what health care costs are doing to job growth, to educational finance.”

If elected, Elmer said he would bring a different philosophy to government than retiring Republican Senator Alan Lasee, the man who has held the seat for nearly 36 years. “He would just say no to anything,” Elmer said. “That may have been appealing to many, but I look to the politics of the possible. I’m elected to lead. I will be a listening leader, but we can’t hold a referendum on every issue.”

“To stop listening to part of the population on political lines is ridiculous,” he said. “More and more silos have been built over the years on both sides and it has not been good for our residents. Now, I know that when I’m elected the skies aren’t going to part and we’re not all going to sing Kumbaya around the table. But we have to be able to work together to figure out what is going to move Wisconsin forward.”