Hanky Kapanke and The Man Who Bleeds Manure

By Eric Timmons

Republican Dan Kapanke is back and looking to reclaim the state senate seat he lost to Jennifer Shilling in 2011.  

Shilling recently stepped down from the District 32 seat, clearing the way for Democrat Brad Pfaff to run, setting up a rematch of the election he lost to Kapanke in 2004. 

District 32 covers all of Crawford and La Crosse counties, most of Vernon County and part of Monroe County.

Kapanke (pictured above), is the owner of the La Crosse Loggers, and held the seat from 2004 to 2011.  He made a crucial vote in the state senate in favor of Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 legislation that stripped public sector unions of most collective bargaining rights, and then lost his seat in the 2011 recall elections.

Act 10 devastated public sector unions in Wisconsin, and has led to a decline in the quality of key public sector jobs. But Kapanke, speaking in 2016, had no regrets about his vote in favor of the reforms.

″The state is better than we were and we certainly haven’t suffered,” Kapanke told the Associated Press. “It was a difficult vote, no question about it. But I’m convinced it was the right thing to do.”

More recently, Kapanke tweeted that Act 10 had saved “thousands of jobs” and generated $12 billion in savings for taxpayers. He neglects to mention that those “savings” came by slashing benefits for public employees like school teachers.

Kapanke has been campaigning across District 32 with what appears to be a complete disregard for the COVID-19 pandemic. His twitter feed is peppered with pictures of him taken over recent weeks enjoying close encounters with groups of people, often arm-in-arm, and always without a mask.

Kapanke will face a stiff challenge from Pfaff, in the rematch of their 2004 duel.  The pair have been working overtime to see who can do a better job extolling the virtues of the embattled but beloved Wisconsin family farm, and Pfaff may just have an edge. After all, Pfaff is a man who one state senator memorably said “bleeds manure.”

Last year, Pfaff was fired by the Republican-controlled Senate after a political fight that was connected to a mild attempt to impose some regulations on CAFOs that was later dropped.

However, Pfaff has friends in high places and in November, not long after he was fired, he was hired by Gov. Tony Evers as the state’s Director Of Business and Rural Development on a salary of $120,000. The previous incumbent was paid a salary of $87,000 but Pfaff’s substantially higher pay was justified due to newly expanded responsibilities for the role. Within a few months of taking the job, Pfaff announced he was running for Shilling’s old seat.

Pfaff is an alumni of U.S. Rep. Ron Kind’s office (as is Jennifer Shilling), having worked for the congressman for over a decade, before taking a job with the Obama administration as the Wisconsin State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency at the USDA. After Trump’s election, Pfaff left that job and returned for a time to Kind’s office.

It seems Pfaff has picked up some lessons from both Kind and Obama, who are masters of bland “bipartisan” messaging, that never really says much, but at least doesn’t offend anyone.

For example, a recent campaign statement from Pfaff declared: “I’ll bring western Wisconsin values and common sense to Madison. We need to stop dividing each other and start mending fences.” 

Pfaff’s firing by the Republican-controlled Senate seems to have been largely based on the fact that he had the temerity to support a rule that would have offered some protection from the health risks of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) to people who live near those facilities.

Photo credit: WisPolitics.com – Kapanke Campaign/CC BY-SA 2.0

In the face of Republican opposition, Pfaff eventually dropped the proposal, but it was too late. He had provoked the ire of Republicans and their agri-business allies, who voted to fire a member of the governor’s cabinet for the first time since the 1980s.

What was this terrible regulation that was so bad it forced Republicans to take a near unprecedented step in firing Pfaff?

Pfaff had proposed rules that would have increased restrictions on runoff from CAFOs to protect groundwater from manure leaks. Additionally, the regulations would have required farms with at least 500 animals to site manure storage facilities at least 600 feet from neighbor’s property lines. The move would have been a small step toward reducing the stench and risk of pollution for those neighbors.

CAFOs are a monstrous creation that show the failure of the kind of low-cost, high-efficiency factory farming that dominates the world today.

By dropping the proposed regulations, it seemed Pfaff was attempting to show he’d learned his lesson when he made the mistake of making a minor attempt to regulate CAFOs. But so extreme have Republicans become, Pfaff’s decision to drop the move wasn’t enough, and he was booted anyway.

With the backing of the Wisconsin Democratic establishment, Pfaff will have strong financial support in his bid to defeat Kapanke. The Democrat appears to be hewing firmly to the centrist wing of the party, and likely expected to face little pressure from the left, given who he’s running against, and the the slim majority Republicans hold in the senate, which could make the District 32 election pivotal.

However, there has been a late entrant to the race who will present a grassroots challenge to Pfaff in the Democratic primary. That candidate is Jayne Swiggum of Gays Mills, who has over 20 years experience working as a nurse and has pledged not to take any campaign contributions from any source. Check back to The La Crosse Independent this weekend, when we’ll post an interview with Swiggum to find out what she’s planning to bring to the campaign.

The District 32 Democratic primary is August 11, with the general election to follow on Nov. 3.

Featured photo: Dan Kapanke (left) pictured during the 2011 election campaign. Credit: WisPolitics.com – Kapanke Campaign/CC BY-SA 2.0

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