Waupaca’s mayor running as Democrat
By Robert Cloud
Waupaca’s longest serving mayor now wants to become the first Democratic state senator to represent the 14th District since the Civil War.
Mayor Brian Smith is currently circulating petitions to run against State Sen. Luther Olsen, the Republican who was first elected to the seat in 2004.
“I’d like to see a change in attitude at the state level,” Smith told the Waupaca County Post. “I think we need a better working relationship between state government and local governments, between the state and government employees.”
Smith described the state’s current attitude toward public employees as harmful to morale and ineffective as a tool for providing additional funds for municipal operations.
“The majority of the people in Wisconsin agreed that it wasn’t fair that the state paid 100 percent of retirement for government employees, but they didn’t see any benefits other than a 6-cent per $1,000 cut on their property taxes,” Smith said, regarding Act 10, which was enacted shortly after Scott Walker became governor. “The state made employees pay half their retirement, but the state also cut road funding, cut shared revenue to city and county government, cut funding to schools. Is it worth it to see our roads deteriorating?”
Although Smith is running as a Democrat, he describes himself as an independent.
“I’m not a conservative, tea party individual and I’m just as far away from being a liberal socialist,” Smith said. “I’m in-between, which makes me a moderate.”
Smith said he plans to be more responsive to his constituents and their local concerns, rather than towing the party line.
“I’m not going to worry about my position in the party, I’m more worried about how it will affect the local economy,” Smith said.
He said that while Olsen publicly questioned the wisdom of Act 10 and Republican cuts to education, in the end he voted with the party on these issues.
“He’s been there a long time. He’s gained power within his party and the only way he keeps that power is by following the party line,” Smith said. “What I believe in and what I tell people is the way I’m going to vote.”
Smith said his positions will be based on what he hears from constituents and his upbringing in central Wisconsin.
As a father of three adult children and a grandfather of five children, Smith is concerned about the future of education in Wisconsin.
“The cuts to education have been made at the university level, all the way down to our public schools,” Smith said. “We need to fund schools properly. A good education means a skilled workforce.”
Smith noted the highest paying jobs in the Waupaca area – such as Waupaca Foundry, the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King and Gusmer Enterprises – require well-educated, highly skilled employees.
“I want the state to help industry so they can expand and find the employees they need,” Smith said, adding that manufacturing facilities compete in both national and international markets. “If we’re making these cuts in education and infrastructure, are we hurting industry and farming rather than keeping employers in our state?”
Smith pointed to his accomplishments as Waupaca’s mayor for nearly 15 years.
He said the city remodeled the recreation center, built a second gym, consolidated the youth center and the senior center in a single building and remodeled and modernized the police station while preserving the facade of the historic armory building.
“It was controversial when we built it, but it is now one of the city’s most important assets,” Smith said, noting the increased number of people who now use the facilities.
Smith said the city donated the land used by Fox Valley Technical College when it built its new center in Waupaca and worked with community volunteers in encouraging Waupaca Foundry and the Wiscolnsin Veterans Home to guarantee students and funding.
“South Park has been improved greatly, and not a lot of tax dollars were used on that project,” Smith said. “We were able to gain private help on that as well as state grants.”
Smith said the city has seen local industry expand its workforce, while Fleet Farm expanded its store after the city annexed it to provide water and sewer.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining our infrastructure with less road tax dollars from the state,” Smith said.
He also noted the city has raised its tax rate only once in the last five years and cut the tax rate in this year’s budget.