State News: Lawmakers Approve Funding for Farmer Mental-Health Program

State lawmakers unanimously approved funding last week for a program to support Wisconsin farmers’ mental health. The approval comes a little more than a month after GOP lawmakers and the Evers administration first clashed over the subject. 

The $200,000 program, administered by the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, provides mental-health counseling vouchers and mental-health workshops to farmers and farm families through the Wisconsin Farm Center, which also provides financial consulting, mediation and technical assistance with production and processing.

Speaking before the state Legislature’s budget-writing committee Wednesday, DATCP Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff said Wisconsin farmers are facing a “triple whammy” of stressors: dropping prices for their products, reduced exports resulting from international trade deals, and severe weather events that have hindered production. 

“There is tremendous financial and emotional stress in the countryside,” Pfaff said.

According to a November 2018 report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, farmers are more likely to die by suicide than the general population.  

Through the funding, farmers will be eligible for the mental-health vouchers if they have at least $10,000 in farm sales and have financial limitations to accessing counseling, such as not having health insurance or having high co-pays for mental-health care.

Jim Sensenbrenner. Submitted.

Republicans Line Up for Sensenbrenner’s Seat

A field of potential GOP candidates for Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District is already forming after longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner announced Sept. 4 that he won’t seek re-election next year. He has served 21 terms in Congress. His southeastern Wisconsin district is seen as a conservative bastion, where the incumbent won with 62 percent of the vote in the 2018 election.

Republican candidates who have already expressed interest in the seat include former U.S. Senate candidates Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, state Sen. Chris Kapenga, state Rep. Adam Neylon and GOP aide Ben Voelkel. Matt Walker, former Gov. Scott Walker’s 25-year-old son, is reportedly also interested in running.

Evers Taps Hughes as New WEDC Secretary

Gov. Tony Evers has named a new CEO to lead the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the quasi-private state jobs agency he once promised as a candidate to defund.

Evers announced that Missy Hughes will head WEDC beginning Oct. 1. She has served as chief mission officer and general counsel for the Organic Valley/CROPP cooperative since 2003 and will replace current WEDC CEO Mark Hogan, who was tapped by former Gov. Scott Walker to lead the agency in 2015.

A law Republicans passed during December’s lame-duck legislative session blocked Evers from making a new pick to head WEDC until Sept. 1. In a written statement, the governor said Hughes’ experience helping small businesses and farms, coupled with her experience navigating complex regulations, would help her grow the state’s economy.

Tiffany Digs at Dems in Campaign Kickoff

The special election in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District has its first official contender: State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) announced his candidacy Tuesday during several stops around the district. 

In August, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wausau) announced he would resign from the office because his wife, Fox News commentator Rachel Campos Duffy, faces complications in her pregnancy. Duffy’s resignation is effective Sept. 23, and a special election will follow.

Tiffany acknowledged the national attention the race will bring, praising President Donald Trump and repeatedly referencing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The mostly rural district provided some of the state’s highest voting margins for Trump during the 2016 election, so the special election, whatever the outcome, is likely to be seen as a bellwether for Trump’s 2020 re-election chances in Wisconsin.

“Nancy Pelosi is salivating about a low-turnout special election to flip a seat in Trump country,” he said. “She is counting on us being divided. Let’s come together in the coming months to keep this seat red.”

State law dictates that the governor cannot call a special election until Duffy resigns, so no date has been set for that election. 

Tiffany is in his second term in the state Senate, and before that, he served in the state Assembly. He was a strong advocate in the effort to bring the Gogebic Taconite mining company to the state and led a successful effort to change Wisconsin’s environmental laws to ease the way for the company to create an iron mine in northern Wisconsin. The project became a lightning rod for environmentalists and the subject of multiple legal challenges. The company ultimately pulled out of Wisconsin in 2015 without completing the mine.

In a statement, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin referred to Tiffany as “Toxic Tom Tiffany” – a reference to the project – and said he has a “record of putting corporate special interests before the health and wellbeing of his constituents.”

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