SPOONER, Wis. -- DrydenWire.com recently sat down for our 10th Dock Talk segment with Wisconsin Representative Romaine Quinn (R - Rice Lake) at our favorite coffeehouse, The Dock Coffee - located in Spooner, Wisconsin - for a coffee and a chat. Rep. Quinn spoke to us about a range of topics over our 2-hour conversation, including: Foxconn; Broadband; Trump; Senator Bewley; Meth; and more.
So grab a cup of coffee, sit back & relax and enjoy our chat with Rep. Quinn.
What kind of coffee are you drinking today and is this your normal coffee choice?
I don’t really have a coffee brand of choice, but this morning I was drinking a house blend from The Dock. I remember walking by this store a few times but this is the first time I’ve spent some time inside. Great venue, great people, and great coffee! I’d highly recommend stopping in for a bite to eat or a relaxing moment over a cup of coffee.
I would assume as a politician, coffee must be a regular part of your day.
It depends on how late the day starts and whether I’m running behind. A busy schedule can sometimes get in the way of coffee!
Back in June, you had submitted your '21 Things You Might Not Know About Me' and to this day it was our most viewed '21 Things'. Why do you think so many people read and shared it?
I used that opportunity to share with your readers a small slice of my personal life from early on up to today. I think sometimes it can be refreshing for people to realize that their elected leaders are real people and share many of the same experiences they do, especially at a time when politics can be so divisive.
How many people do you represent in the 75th District? What areas does this include?
There are roughly 58,000 people in each assembly district. The 75th district includes all of Barron County, about 1/3 of Washburn County, and parts of Dunn, St. Croix, Polk, and Burnett County. It is a large area compared to many of my colleagues in the state.
Foxconn has been in our news links on our website many times over the last few weeks. Is Foxconn that big of a deal?
Foxconn is a HUGE deal. The investment and job creation that is coming is unlike anything we have seen in the past. When someone comes to you and says they want to hire 13,000 Wisconsinites inside of a brand new $10 billion-dollar plant that is three times the size of the Pentagon, it is more certainly a big deal.
How will this impact your constituents in Northwest Wisconsin?
Foxconn will be purchasing $1.4 billion annually in supplies from businesses across the state, including northwest Wisconsin. In fact, we’ve made the process easier by creating a portal for Wisconsin businesses so that they can list the kinds of goods and services they offer to connect them with other companies who might need their products, including Foxconn. But beyond the business aspect of Foxconn, what do you think will happen when 13,000 people have a chance to reach the middle class and have disposable income in their wallet? They are going to come “up north” for vacation and along the way, they’ll be spending that hard-earned money right here in our local shops. The cash flow that will result from this investment is going to be enormous.
What role do you as a legislator play in the Foxconn talks?
Most of the negotiations took place with Governor Walker and his cabinet. I also heard that Congressman Paul Ryan had a seat at the table in getting Foxconn to finally decide on Wisconsin. As a legislator, it is my job to examine the deal and make sure it is in the best interest of the taxpayers, which I believe it is. It is unfortunate that many politicians and opponents of the deal would rather see Foxconn go to another state to deny Governor Walker a so-called victory. At the end of the day, we should be worried about the mom and dad who sit at the kitchen table and struggle to balance the checkbook, not which Republican or Democrat was able to land deal.
You have been an advocate for rural broadband access. Can you give us an update on what you are doing on this front?
Getting folks access to broadband has been a big focus of mine since taking office. In the last session, I spearheaded legislation to add more money to our broadband expansion grant program. Although we did not get that specific bill passed, it created a new movement and interest in solving our broadband issues across the state. This led to a study committee being formed to perfect the program, as well as the Governor adding millions more in funding. Both the funding and changes to the program have been added to the budget and will soon be signed into law.
You recently issued a press release titled 'Telling the Truth about Broadband' and it was in response to Wisconsin Senator Janet Bewley issuing a press release a couple weeks earlier titled 'Northwestern Wisconsin Shut Out of Broadband Grants,' where you said that some money goes to rural areas, but those rural areas may be in other parts of Wisconsin. When will Northwest Wisconsin start getting some broadband love?
For those folks that read my press release, you will see that northwest Wisconsin has in fact received quite a bit of love (or money) from the program. The Senator’s press release was unfortunate, yet not surprising, as this is the second time she has tried to use the issue of broadband access as a political weapon to trash people. In fact, this past May the Senator issued a radio statement on broadband related issues and even the Rice Lake Chronotype editorial board took issue with it, calling Bewley’s statement confusing, and careless hyperbole.
It is also important to remember that the program is available to all rural and underserved people. There are families all over the state that struggle with getting access to broadband, including folks right here at home. When we create programs, we create them for all Wisconsinites. If every legislator tried to write programs that only served their own district, they would never get anything passed. That’s just how representative government works. It is also unfortunate that my former opponent, Stephen Smith, just recently took to the papers to criticize me on this issue as well. Mr. Smith clearly still doesn’t understand how the process of getting things done in Madison works, especially since he couldn’t get a bill passed in his two years in Madison.
Are there any talks about alternative ways to provide broadband to rural areas?
I am glad you asked this question because we are on the verge of completely re-inventing the way we deliver internet access to rural folks. Right now, Microsoft has developed technology that has the potential to be able to deliver internet access through unused “white noise” channels on your television. Do you remember when everyone had an antenna on their roof and were able to tune in about 13 channels (my fiancé’s dad still does)? Now instead of hating those channels that make that awful noise when you’re scrolling, you may love them as they could possibly be the vehicle in which internet is delivered to your home. Stayed tuned as this technology develops!
I would be remiss to not ask you your opinion about President Trump.
And I would be surprised if you didn’t ask the question! But in all honesty, I usually like to let people formulate their own opinions. Everyone would ask me who I was going to endorse during the Presidential primary last year, but I thought it was important for folks to look at the facts and make their own decision. If you see me on the street and want to know how I feel about President Trump, I’d be happy to chat. But Representative Quinn likes to stay above the fray on some of those questions.
What impact do you think President Trump is going to have on next years mid-terms elections?
I believe right now it is too early to tell.
What do you think is the biggest problem in politics in general?
People are starting to believe that those they disagree with are enemies rather than seeing them as fellow Americans with a different opinion. Another big problem is the lack of truthful information on certain issues.
I've noticed you are very engaged in replying to social media comments, most of our area politicians are not. Why do you?
Many times, I post questions or articles on Facebook because I want people to either know something or I want to know what they are thinking. If you give me a vague answer, of course, I’m going to follow up. I don’t do it to be argumentative, I just am trying to figure out what you’re thinking! I also find that both myself and the Facebook follower learn something from each other by having that dialogue.
You were elected mayor in Rice Lake at 19, when did you have that 'ah-ha' moment that you realized that you loved it wanted to do it as long as you could?
I’ve always enjoyed politics and learning about what goes on in government. What really motivates me is when I see people being hurt by the same government that is supposed to be working for them. Nothing angers me more. I see those situations happening quite a bit, especially at the state level, and that’s what motivates me to keep fighting day after day.
How often do spend time at the Capital? What is your weekly routine?
Can you please define routine? One of the best parts of being a legislator is that not only do you not have a set schedule, even when your schedule is set it can change. Some weeks I’ll be in Madison three or four days, the next week I push my meetings off because there is simply too much going on back home that I need to be at. It certainly keeps you on your toes, and it is not something someone would enjoy if they like to have that 9 to 5 work day and knowing you have every weekend off.
What do people not know about what it's like to be a State Representative?
If you had ten people in a room and asked them what they thought their representative does, or if their representative was good at their job, you’d get ten different answers. Some folks will judge my success based upon the number of bills I write and pass while others make their determination by if I showed up at their parade. If I had to choose what defined success as a legislator, I would argue that it is not just the bills you can get passed (although important), it is also what goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes it is even more important to kill a bad piece of legislation that it is to pass a good one.
In many cases, building relationships with other leaders and changing the dialogue on an issue is far more meaningful than passing a quick piece of legislation. Our broadband discussion is a perfect example. Would it have been great to pass my legislation last session to add $10 million in broadband expansion grants? Of course. But in lieu of getting that bill passed, it sparked a greater ongoing conversation which resulted in a positive revamp of the program, an investment of nearly $35 million in broadband related activities this session, and a greater awareness of this problem for all legislators across the state.
What is the biggest challenge facing the Wisconsin Assembly right now?
Getting our Senate counterparts to finalize a budget that doesn’t run up the state’s credit card in the transportation fund and for our own members to recognize that rural roads should be a priority too.
We have a serious meth epidemic in Northwest Wisconsin. However, there doesn't seem to be a universal answer as to how to solve this very real problem. Do you believe there is a way to fix this? If not, why do you think nobody can clearly state what we need to do?
The meth issue is a huge problem for our area and our state. Meth has shown to be more stubborn and costly than any other illegal drug we are currently dealing with. Families are being torn apart and lives are being ruined every day. Right now, I am in constant contact with local law enforcement and other groups who are on the front lines dealing with this epidemic in hopes that we can collectively find a solution. Unfortunately, there really is no silver bullet. As a legislator, I have been trying to raise awareness to my other colleagues in the state who are not experiencing meth issues. We were fortunate that through our negotiations in the budget, our state supported drug treatment facilities will now be able to treat meth and not just heroin, which is a bigger issue in other parts of the state.
Lastly, what is 1 of the funniest or most embarrassing things you have done or that has happened to you while working as a Representative in Madison?
Usually, when I take lunch I try to walk around the building and avoid the rotunda at noon because there are always at least a dozen protestors every day during that time. One day, I went through the capital anyway and was soon followed by one of the more obnoxious protestors. Fortunately, one of his friends quickly told him only to bother the legislators, not the staff. I guess being the youngest member of the Assembly does have its benefits (accidental camouflage as a staffer).
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. If someone had questions they would like to follow up with you on, what is the best way for them to do so?
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Dock Talk is an every-other Tuesday post on DrydenWire.com where we sit down for a Q&A with a person we feel our community would like to get to know a little more. If you are interested in doing a Dock Talk with us, please let us know by emailing Ben Dryden: email@example.com