Conversations at the County Fairs

I love county fairs. I love the sights, sounds, smells and the tastes of the fair. Moreover, I
love all the people. Adorable little kids wander around with snow cones. Grandparents
catch up on family news. Hardworking 4-Hers show cattle, cakes and cookies.

I especially love the opportunity for conversations with voters about what’s important.
The relaxed atmosphere of the fair invites good conversations about what’s going on and
how our state should help.

Cookies, roads and health care took up much of my conversations.

Several home bakers spoke with me about a recent court decision that found a group of
home bakers could sell cookies and cakes at a local farmers’ market. But, the court
decision did not apply to all of our state’s home bakers, which frustrated Charlene of
Hixton and Ashley of Merrilllan.

Charlene told me home baking “will come to a screeching halt” if lawmakers don’t pass
legislation called the “Cookie Bill.” The proposal, which I support, allows people to sell
up to $25,000 of baked goods at farmers’ markets. I voted in favor of this bill in
committee and in the full Senate. However, for reasons unknown, the Assembly won’t
take up the bill.

Ashley has sold home baked goods for over a decade. The cinnamon rolls at Molly’s café
in Black River Falls were her creation. She pointed out that “we give people a choice
when they can pick up fresh baked goods made that day.”

Several bakers invited me to the Jackson County Farmers’ Market by the Lunda Center
on Thursday from 2:00pm - 6:00pm and Saturday from 9:00am - 1:00pm.

Bad roads were also on people’s minds. Due to no increase in road aid from the state,
Jackson County officials were forced to turn black top roads back to gravel. One man told
me, “We’ve got to fix the roads. We can’t keep borrowing money and sending it to
southeast Wisconsin. Roads are the backbone of Wisconsin.” He read my column about
increasing the gas tax by a nickel. “My mom said to raise it by twelve-cents,” he directed

Health care was a hot topic too.

Bobby from Eau Claire shared her concerns about chronically ill patients she works with
struggle to get needed care. She told me how the type of insurance a patient has can
dictate what care they receive, not the doctor’s orders. “If you have regular Medicare or
Medicaid, you can get the treatment you need,” she said. “But if you have another
insurance – that is paid for by Medicaid or Medicare – you have to go through this long
prior authorization process.”

Bobby also pointed out that “people can’t afford the premiums, the deductibles. We need
a one-payer system that puts everyone on the same level playing field.”
I heard over and over again stories about the middle class feeling squeezed.

People shared their struggles in daily life, such as a woman whose nine-year old son kept
trying to pull her away. His two front teeth were missing. She signed up for food stamps
after her partner was injured and couldn’t work. Trying to keep her family fed meant trips
to the food pantry.

I also met people reaching out to help those less fortunate. Donna spends her life helping
foster children. “Thirty-eight percent of kids in foster care end up homeless. Half of
children who are homeless used to be in foster care,” she told me. She started her own
nonprofit called Network for Youth to help foster kids.

I talked with Tena who is just as passionate about the mission to rescue people from the
destructive path of addiction. She started a group called #StoptheStigma.

“We ask no questions. We make no judgements. We meet our people where they are. We
save people one individual at a time,” she said. Tena is Ho-chunk. Many of her fellow
workers are also Ho-Chunk.

She emphasized that, “our people are everyone suffering from addiction… We speak up
for all who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

The county fair is a snapshot of our lives; people facing struggles and people who are the
heroes; people who make our communities great and so special. It is always an honor and
joy for me to engage with them in conversation.