Flesch running for 96th Assembly District

Flesch running against Nerison
Crawford County Board Chairman Pete Flesch speaks during the open house for the remodeled courthouse this past May.


County Board Chairman to run for 96th Assembly District seat

By Ted Pennekamp


Crawford County Board Chairman Pete Flesch has decided to run for the 96th Assembly District against incumbent Lee Nerison (R Westby) in the November election. 

“I have decided to run for the 96th Assembly seat because I feel our district needs a strong voice that reflects the values and effectively represents the interests of Southwest Wisconsin,” said Flesch. “In the Assembly, I will strive to be a leader on issues that are important to our small towns and rural communities. I feel my many years of experience as a farmer and as a town and county official make me uniquely qualified to be an effective representative for the 96th District.”

Flesch is well-known and very active in Crawford County and is eager to get to know the people in other parts of the 96 District.

“There are a lot of folks to meet in the northern part of the district, to listen to their concerns and discuss what works and what needs to improve,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting as many people as possible between now and November.” 

Flesch owns and operates a 250-acre dairy and beef farm near Soldiers Grove which he purchased from his grandparents in 1977. He has lived in Crawford County his entire life. Flesch was a Century Farm honoree at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1997. He served on the Town Board of the town of Clayton from 1999 to 2005, and as Town Board Chairman from 2003-2005. In 2002, he was elected to the Crawford County Board and began serving on the Ag and Extension Committee, Land Conservation Committee, Fair Board, and Highway Committee. In 2010, he was elected Chairman of the Crawford County Board. Flesch is also the Chairman of the Crawford County Ag and Extension Committee and the Crawford County Fair Board, and President of the Crawford County Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors. He serves on the Finance Committee of the Southwest Badger RC&D Council and as a local elected official for Western Wisconsin Workforce Development. When he’s not working on civic activities, he enjoys reading and working on and driving antique/collector cars and trucks. 

One important issue that Flesch has been involved in in Crawford County is the frac sand mining industry. Flesch said that he felt that industrial sand mining was an important issue and that Crawford County had the opportunity to get out in front of it, so he proposed, and the County Board adopted in April of 2012, a 6-month moratorium on industrial sand mining. During the moratorium, Flesch formed, and chaired, a study group to determine the best way forward. The study group found that, without county-wide zoning, it was not clear the county had the authority to regulate industrial sand mines. Towns and villages, however, clearly have the necessary regulatory authority, so the study group held several meetings with town and village officials to educate and gather input, and put together a draft licensing ordinance for non-metallic mines that towns and villages could modify and adopt if they so chose. The county has made available its Land Conservation Office to assist towns and villages in administering their mining ordinances. Most of the towns in Crawford County have adopted a version of this mining ordinance. 

What concerns Flesch now about industrial sand mining is that there is a bill before the Wisconsin Legislature that proposes to take local control by the villages and towns away and give control to the state. He said that if he is elected to the 96th District, he will strongly oppose this bill. “I am very much opposed,” he said. “It (the bill) will nullify all of the hard work that went into having our local villages and towns decide what they want to do about sand mining.”

Another issue is redistricting reform. Flesch said that he will support redistricting reform and exploring the Iowa model of deciding the boundaries of voting districts. “I believe that the voters should choose their representatives, not vice-versa,” said Flesch in noting that there are “a lot of crazy shaped districts” which are not designed for their intended purpose but rather to help re-elect whichever party is in power at any given time period. “The boundaries need to make sense,” said Flesch. “We need more competitive races.” 

Two top priorities for Flesch are schools and roads. “It’s been a disappointment that the legislature has decided to send millions of dollars to private voucher schools in Milwaukee, Racine and Green Bay when our local school districts are struggling financially,” he said. “I don’t believe that the state can support two school systems. We need to support giving quality public education to every child.” 

Flesch said that he would work to put some of the current budget surplus money back into public education and also into transportation. Property tax relief would also be a good idea, he said. Flesch noted that the state borrowed $1 billion this past year in order to keep the transportation fund going. “We can’t keep doing this every year,” he said. “Obviously, this is not sustainable.” Flesch said that he would work hard to help improve roads in the 96th District.

The 96th District also needs rural broadband, high-speed Internet access, according to Flesch. “High-speed Internet is a necessity in today’s economy,” he said. Nearly 80 years ago, through public-private co-ops and the Rural Electrification Administration, a way was found to bring electricity to all rural households, noted Flesch. “We need a similar commitment with high-speed Internet so rural Wisconsin doesn’t get left behind as the rural economy moves forward,” he said.

Among the accomplishments Crawford County has seen during Flesch’s time as County Board Chairman are the remodeling of the courthouse building and the forming of the Crawford County Economic Development Corporation. 

Crawford County’s courthouse, built in 1867, is the second oldest courthouse in Wisconsin still in use. The last major work on the building was in the 1930s when an east wing was added. This historic building was sorely in need of an update for reasons of security, electric and information technology infrastructure, heating, cooling, and ventilation. A major consideration was honoring the historic nature of the building. Flesch said, “Despite the struggling national economy, the County Board voted to invest nearly $2.4 million in the courthouse. Besides the obvious need, it was felt that interest rates would probably never be lower, and contractors, anxious for work, would bid very competitively. The result is a modern, secure, efficient, functional courthouse that retains its historic feel. This project is being highlighted by the district court as a model of cooperation between the county and the court.”

When Flesch became chairman, neither the county nor any municipality in Crawford County had an economic development professional working full time, or even part time. The few scattered economic development efforts in the county were done by volunteers. “I, along with my UW Extension Community Development Educator, identified a funding source, identified stakeholders, and formed a steering committee to create the Crawford County Economic Development Corporation, a public-private partnership, said Flesch. “We now have a full time economic development professional working throughout the county on business retention, expansion, and attraction.”

Now that he has officially thrown his hat into the ring, Flesch said that he is eager to get on the campaign trail. “I gave a lot of thought to this,” he said. “I will give a whole lot of effort and shoe leather to get to know the people of my district and their concerns. I’m confident that I can earn their support.”

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