Rep. Ron Kind (D)
Wisconsin 3rd District
On the rolling land of western Wisconsin, in the knobby hills just east of the Mississippi River, is some of the most beautiful river landscape in the country. This is where author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family built their little house in the big woods in the 1870s, before the first railroad came steaming up the narrow floodplain alongside the Mississippi River. Today, it is hard to imagine the big woods. The trees have long since been cut down, and the hillsides are covered with grass grazed by placid dairy cattle. Where the pioneers tried to scratch out diversified crops, later generations of farmers created America’s premier dairy region, producing milk, butter and especially cheese. Some Amish communities from Pennsylvania have relocated here in recent years because land is cheaper. But since 1980, the area has been in flux. More than half of family dairy farmers have gone out of business. Cows have become more productive, and demand for milk has decreased. Wisconsin has also had trouble competing against the European Common Market’s subsidized cheese and butter, and more recently, with products from California’s large-scale agribusiness. But other businesses have done better; Dodgeville, in Iowa County (which is not on the Iowa border), is the headquarters of Lands’ End, the catalog retailer that was sold to Sears Roebuck. In the 1980s, many communities here lost population, but there has been growth since 1990. The most rapid growth in the state has been in commuter-oriented St. Croix County, part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District of Wisconsin follows the Mississippi from the border with Illinois north to St. Croix County, just east of St. Paul, covering the western edge of the state. The district’s two largest cities are Eau Claire, home to home-improvement giant Menards, and La Crosse. This is the nation’s No. 2 dairy district, with 6,000 dairy farms, but it is very different in character from the No. 1 district, California’s 21st, which has more dairy cows concentrated on just 400 farms. It was settled largely by German and Scandinavian immigrants, and it once consistently voted for Wisconsin’s La Follette progressives. More recently, the district has leaned Democratic. Western Wisconsin was the one segment of rural America where Democratic presidential nominees Al Gore and John Kerry ran even with historic Democratic percentages, which was vital to the narrow victory that each won in this state. It produced solid victories for other Democrats, including Gov. Jim Doyle in 2002 and 2006 and Sen. Russ Feingold in 2004. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama carried the district 58%-41%, winning in every county except St. Croix.
Rep. Ron Kind (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: March 16, 1963, La Crosse .
Home: La Crosse.
Education: Harvard U., B.A. 1985, London Schl. of Econ., 1986, U. of MN, J.D. 1990.
Family: Married (Tawni); 2 children.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1990–92; Asst. st. prosecutor, La Crosse Cnty., 1992–96.
The congressman from the 3rd District is Ron Kind, a Democrat elected in 1996. He grew up in a large family in La Crosse, the son of a telephone repairman and a secretary in the local schools. He went to Harvard University on a scholarship and played quarterback. He worked as a summer intern for Democratic Sen. William Proxmire, doing research for Proxmire’s Golden Fleece awards pointing out wasteful government spending. Kind attended the London School of Economics and the University of Minnesota’s law school, practiced law in a large firm in Milwaukee, then returned home to La Crosse to work as an assistant prosecutor on rape and sexual-abuse cases. Kind started running for Congress soon after moderate Republican Steve Gunderson announced in 1994 that he would not seek re-election. Former state Sen. Jim Harsdorf won the Republican primary and made a hard-edged case for a balanced budget and for Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s “Wisconsin Works” welfare-reform program. Kind presented his own balanced-budget proposal and urged reform of the campaign-finance system. Kind won, 52%-48%.
|Ron Kind (D)||225,208||(63%)||($916,105)|
|Paul Stark (R)||122,760||(34%)||($59,942)|
|Kevin Barrett (Lib)||8,236||(2%)|
|Ron Kind (D)||18,039||(100%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (65%), 2004 (56%), 2002 (63%), 2000 (64%), 1998 (71%), 1996 (52%)
In the House, Kind has compiled a moderate voting record. With dairy farming prominent in his district, he is vitally interested in issues affecting farmers. In 2007, he joined with conservative deficit hawks and suburban and urban Democrats in an attempt to add provisions to the farm bill that would have changed federal policy for agricultural subsidies and provided more funds for land conservation and school nutrition. “For too long, we’ve had large taxpayer subsidies going to a few very large farming entities to the disadvantage of family farmers,” Kind said. “It ultimately distorts the marketplace and distorts trade policy, which also hurts agriculture.” Although his district receives more farm subsidies than most others, he said that the vast majority of producers he represents don’t get huge agriculture subsidies because they’re not large agribusinesses. Kind won 200 votes for similar provisions in the 2002 farm bill, including support from then-Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, but this time around, the Democratic leadership was worried about angering farmers’ groups in rural swing districts and refused to allow a vote by the full House. The plan died in committee. Kind voted against the final version of the farm bill, calling it a “nightmare.” He said that congressional negotiators “managed to avoid every opportunity to reform wasteful, outdated subsidies while piling on additional layers of unnecessary spending.”
Kind is a co-founder of the Upper Mississippi River Congressional Task Force. His own home is on the river and was flooded in 2001. With members from Illinois and Iowa, he got the House to pass a bill to establish a water-quality monitoring network in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. As co-chairman of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, he said he wanted to expand access to broadband in rural areas and make his area “the Silicon Valley of agricultural research.” On foreign policy, Kind voted for the use of force in Iraq in 2002, for which he was criticized by liberals back home. Like many other lawmakers, he has since become critical of Bush-era policies in Iraq. He and Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin co-chair the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, a group of pro-conservation hunters who make up the largest bipartisan caucus in the House.
In 2004, Kind had his first credible challenger, Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz, a moderate in the Wisconsin Legislature for more than two decades. Schultz ran with an unlikely Republican theme, criticizing Kind as a free trader who had sent jobs overseas. Kind affirmed his support for trade agreements, but he criticized the Bush administration for its failure to enforce their labor and environmental protection terms. Schultz backed Bush’s handling of the war and promised to do more for agriculture, while Kind called for more support for education. Kind won, 56%-43%. He did not have a serious challenger in 2008 and won with 63% of the vote.