By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Godlewski’s first major policy plan of the campaign released Tuesday focuses on ways to improve life in rural Wisconsin, from bolstering access to health care, helping family farms survive and making broadband internet a public utility.
Godlewski, the state treasurer who is from Eau Claire, is one of several Democrats running to take on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in November. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, both from Milwaukee, focused their first policy initiatives on voting rights and other issues related to protecting the democracy.
Godlewski’s plan takes a different approach, trying to appeal to rural Democrats who could be an important voting bloc in the Aug. 9 primary. Another Democratic candidate in the primary, Ozaukee County Executive Tom Nelson, has also pitched himself to rural voters as a folksy populist.
Democrats have struggled to win over rural voters in statewide elections, instead riding to victory propelled largely by massive turnout in urban areas, particularly Milwaukee and Madison.
“Rural communities in Wisconsin have lost trust in the Democratic Party for not taking them seriously,” said Bill Hogseth, former chairman of the Dunn County Democrats, in a statement released by the Godlewski campaign. He said Godlewski’s plan shows she is serious about winning over rural voters.
Godlewski unveiled the plan ahead of a three-day tour that will take her to rural communities across the state.
Godlewski said her plan was designed to deliver on “kitchen table issues for rural Wisconsin” such as access to quality health care, access to broadband internet services, expanding educational and economic development opportunities, investing in farms and protecting natural resources and fighting climate change.
She promised that if elected, she will “ensure that Washington politicians finally start hearing Wisconsin’s rural voices.” Godlewski said she would seek a seat on the Senate’s agriculture committee to advocate for updating the farm bill and promote trade agreements that will benefit Wisconsin farmers, workers and the environment.
A big part of Godlewski’s five-point plan calls for making broadband internet, which she called “essential as electricity,” a public utility. She said doing that would allow the federal government to “regulate the internet service providers, stop price gouging, and hold these big telecommunication companies accountable.”
Her plan also emphasizes ensuring that rural Wisconsin residents have access to quality medical care, including hospitals which were struggling to survive even before the pandemic increased the strain. She calls for expanding Medicaid in the state, bolstering access to telehealth services and funneling more federal money into regional training for health care workers in Wausau and Green Bay.
She also calls for expanding loan forgiveness programs to entice more teachers, farmers, health care workers and others to live in rural areas; creating incentives for farmers to use biofuels, carbon capture, crop rotation to help the environment; and ban the future use of PFAS, known as forever chemicals because they linger in the environment.