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home : news : county/state news April 25, 2015

11/1/2012 7:30:00 AM
Swearingen says mining would be top priority
Assembly candidate would put support behind legislation that aids job creation
Kyle Rogers

All of the candidates running for the 34th Assembly seat being vacated by Rep. Dan Meyer (R-Eagle River) have called the Northwoods home for a couple of decades. But only one of the candidates, Republican Rob Swearingen, can boast Northwoods residency beyond that. It's a fact that Swearingen, a Rhinelander native, often points to when answering that age-old election question: Why should people be voting for you?

"I'm the only candidate that was actually born in the district," Swearingen said. "I've lived here all my life. I went to school here. Raised a family here. I never left the district, so I would argue I think I know what the district needs."

Swearingen, 49, is a 1981 graduate of Rhinelander High School and has been a small businessman in the area for most of the last 25 years. He owned and operated "The Hop," a '50s and '60s nightclub for four years on Lincoln Street where a BP gas station now sits. He sold that business in 1991. Two years later, Swearingen and his wife, Amy, bought the Al-Gen Dinner Club and have been operating that long-standing area institution ever since.

Swearingen has had less time to be involved in the daily operations of the Al-Gen since declaring his candidacy for the 34th Assembly District last April. In the August primary, he defeated Rhinelander City Council alderman Alex Young to move on to Tuesday's general election.

"We've been trying to get to every little nook and cranny of the 34th District," Swearingen said of his campaign. "It is all consuming."

"You have to develop a thick skin," he added, referring largely to some of the public comments that have been made regarding his absence at different forums over the past few months that other candidates have attended.

"That's why I want to meet people in person, so they can form their own opinion about me instead of reading something on somebody's Facebook page or seeing an attack ad," Swearingen said.

He said he hasn't avoided the forums. Rather it's a matter of when invitations were received and whether or not they worked into a busy schedule. He said he has chosen not to weigh in on the debate though.

"It's not worth the negative impact," Swearingen said.

On the other, he said he's had people approach him out of nowhere offering messages of support. Swearingen is calling Nov. 6 "the most important election of our lives."

"Every election, we say, 'This is the most important election of our lives,' but I think this is," Swearingen said.

He said Madison needs representatives with open minds who can work together for the betterment of the state and thinks he can be that person for the 34th Assembly District.

"We need to stop the shouting and get back to work," Swearingen said. "One of the reasons I'm running is the frustration on some of these issues where either side may take the opposite position just because. They're not looking at the piece of legislation. They're just looking for another wedge. If you're going to get something done, you've got to be able to extend your hand across the aisle."

"I'm no stranger to the Madison process," Swearingen added, citing his time representing the interests of 5,000 businesses across the state as president of the Wisconsin Tavern League. "I would like to take a crack at doing it from the inside out versus the outside in."

If elected, Swearingen said mining would be his top issue.

"Clearly we had a missed opportunity with the mining last session," Swearingen said, noting that he thinks, beyond the direct mining jobs created, there would be a trickle-down effect and jobs created in other areas.

"If Minnesota can do it and Michigan can do it, Wisconsin can do it safely and responsibly," Swearingen said.

He said timelines need to be established so potential mining companies understand the process and aren't just continuously waiting on a decision from state officials.

"I understand there has to be an amount of red tape because of the environmental issue, but we also need to cut some of that red tape so we can keep things moving and keep these companies interested," Swearingen said.

Ultimately, with how far technology has come, Swearingen said he thinks mining can be addressed in a safe way that appeases all parties.

Like the mining issue, Swearingen said he would look at any introduced legislation under the scope of job creation.

The promotion of the Northwoods is another area that should be emphasized in order to grow the area's economy, he said.

"Not only is (the Northwoods) a great place to live, work, retire, raise a family, it's also a great place to start an industry. So we need to promote the Northwoods in general," Swearingen said.

Tourism, specifically, continues to be an important part of the Northwoods economy and should be an emphasis of that promotion, he said.

"The governor increased the tourism budget last year, and I would love to see that increased again if the funds are available," Swearingen said. "Let's keep the promotion of the Northwoods going and these JEM (Joint Effort Marketing) grants. Three Lakes got a JEM grant this past summer for their Heritage Fest and that gave them the opportunity to promote something brand new in the area. I think we're on the right track."

However, Swearingen emphasizes that he supports things like an increase to the tourism budget only if the funds are available. He said he doesn't want to put any more of a burden on taxpayers.

"One of the pledges I made to the people of the 34th District is I want to hold the line on taxes," Swearingen said. "So anything that would raise taxes, I would have to take a serious look at."

He said he wants to look further into any fraud that may be occurring in government programs like FoodShare. There are some people who truly need such programs, Swearingen said, while others are wasting tax dollars with fraudulent claims.

"Anything costing taxpayers wasted money needs to be looked at," he said.

Taxes are also why, on the issue of school funding, Swearingen said he doesn't support state superintendent Tony Evers' Fair Funding for our Future plan, which includes redirecting the school levy tax credit.

"Ultimately, that means a tax hike," Swearingen said. "I respect Tony Evers, but I don't want to put an extra burden on the taxpayers."

But Swearingen said he is willing to look at changes to the current funding formula. The constant heard from area school officials is that the formula doesn't provide enough state aid to northern school districts that are property rich, but income poor. Too much of the funding burden is on the taxpayer.

Swearingen said he's in favor of looking at changes that would add an income portion to the formula, so it isn't based solely on property values.

"The problem is if you start messing with the formula, it's going to impact every district in the state, not just the Northwoods," he said. "So you're going to get push back from especially school districts in the south. But I'm willing to look at and entertain any ideas."

He said because there are certain expenses (i.e. transportation) that cost more in the northern districts, the way to direct more state funding to area schools may be to focus on categorical aids.

Kyle Rogers may be reached at

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