One of Jason Church's campaign slogans in his race to replace Sean Duffy in the seventh congressional district is "Serve. Fight. Do what's right."
Church is no stranger to either service or fighting. He is running for the Republican nomination, he says, because he wants to continue the service he gave to his country in the military, where he served as an Army captain and where in 2012 he lost both of his legs below the knee in an explosion while deployed in Afghanistan.
Undeterred by his injuries, Church has delved into the political world since coming home and now he says he is engaging in yet another fight - to provide leadership in the dysfunctional world of Washington, D.C.
Church grew up in Menomonie, but he was no stranger to military service. His father served 30 years in both reserve and active-duty capacities, and the military lineage didn't stop there.
"My uncle served, my grandfather served, my father served, so, for me, when I graduated from UW-LaCrosse, my thought was to become an officer in the Army," he told The Times in a recent interview. "So I went through ROTC and graduated, and from there I went down to Fort Benning, Georgia, and went through ranger school, airborne school, all those things."
From there he was deployed to Afghanistan, where, in 2012, he suffered his injuries in an IED explosion, which, as it turned out, set him on a course that would lead to Wisconsin politics.
"I was medically evacuated from there to Walter Reed where I began the majority of my recovery," Church said. "It was also there that I met Sen. Ron Johnson.
Sen Johnson visited me as a constituent. He had no idea of my political beliefs, or any of my background."
But, after about 45 minutes of conversation, Church says, Johnson learned Church was both opinionated and that they saw eye-to-eye on many things.
"So when I got through with all my therapy in the mornings, I would go down to Capitol Hill and see the dysfunction that is Washington, but I also saw what great leadership can bring to that," he says. "When I got done with everything there, I moved back to the state and finished my degree up at Madison and moved back to Hudson, just down the road from where I grew up."
Church said he worked off and on for Johnson in various capacities for six years, until fate came calling.
"I was his regional director and attorney in the office for the last couple of years," he said. "I was looking into going into private work, whether private practice or with a company, before Congressman Duffy's resignation, which triggered a lot of different things."
Among them, it triggered a run for Congress.
"I do not see doing this as a career," he said. "I wanted to serve my country in a uniform, but when I got injured, I couldn't do that anymore. So when I came home to Hudson, I still had that desire to serve. I want to give back and fight for the people who have taken care of me for decades and for the people of northern Wisconsin, and that's what motivates me to run."
The role of the federal government
Church believes the federal government needs to be far more limited than what it is now.
"The federal government's design by the Founders of the constitution was to take care of issues that could not be taken care of by the states, such as the defense of this country, securing the borders, true interstate commerce, and obviously upholding the constitution," he said.
But, in the last 60 to 70 years, Church says the federal government has grown to a level that was never intended by the Founding Fathers. In addition, he believes the general welfare clause of the constitution is more restrictive of federal power than expansive, which aligns with conservative thinking on the question.
"Those rights that weren't ceded to the federal government were reserved to the states, and to me there needs to be a compelling reason within the constitution to do something," he said. "When we have judicial interpretation by the Supreme Court, or the courts of appeal, or federal district courts that expands that, it becomes almost a catch-all clause and I find that to be an over-reach of judicial authority."
Church also addressed the legacy of the man he is seeking to replace.
"One thing Sean Duffy did was bring attention to this congressional district," he said. "This is a very large congressional district. In order to actually bring a voice to people in Washington, I think you need someone who is tireless - they need to be prepared to drive eight hours round trip to meet constituents, meet the businesses, meet the families, meet the farmers, and bring those concerns back to Washington."
It is a sacrifice of a job, Church said, but Duffy was able to convey those messages, and people in Washington respected his voice.
Church said the difference between him and Duffy would be Church's focus on what the intent of the federal government is.
"I came from a military background, and the point of the military is the defense of the nation and we need to be able to adequately fund it, to be able to train our forces and to be ready to fight the next conflict," he said.
Right now, Church says, the U.S. does not have its military in line with what needs to be done to deter another conflict.
"The federal budget is a reflection of priorities because at the end of the day you are allocating resources to what you view as the priorities of the nation, and for me that (military readiness) is something I would focus on because it is my belief that the federal government's priority certainly is the defense of the nation," he said.
On the Foxconn deal that promises up to $3.6 billion in targeted subsidies for job creation in southern Wisconsin, Church raised concerns.
"To be frank with you, I would have liked to have seen more done that would have been helpful to northern Wisconsin," he said. "At the end of the day, sometimes when things get done in the state Legislature, they forget about us up here, and while I think there is some benefit in bringing in one of the world's largest producers of TVs and iPhones and having a manufacturing plant here in Wisconsin, I would be more concerned with state legislators who went along with this and didn't make sure that people up here were being taken care of."
Church observed that his opponent in the primary, state Sen. Tim Tiffany, had voted for the deal, and he said it was part of a larger pattern in Tiffany's record.
"When politicians forget the districts they represent and the people they represent and go along with whatever the power brokers may want, whether it is in southeastern Wisconsin or in Washington, they lose the pulse of the people they represent, and it's indicative of people who are trying to move up the ladder to appease who they need to appease," he said. "I think my opponent in this race has shown time and time again a willingness to go along with what people in southeastern Wisconsin want him to do over the wishes of people up here."
Church also said he would oppose a similar federal proposal that would pump as much as a billion dollars a year in targeted subsidies for 10 years to create a technology industry cluster in Madison and other midwestern cities.
"I do not like any federal subsidization in this regard," he said. "This is taxpayer money that is not intended for that purpose. The real way to bring innovation and industry into an area is by having lower taxes and having environments that are friendly, whether regulatory or tax environments, so business can operate. When we invest in (targeted projects) to this degree, I don't think we can predict the outcomes of it, so, no, I would not support it."
Church says there are two parts to consider when it comes to addressing the staggering federal debt, which stands now at about $23 trillion.
One is how we got where we are in the first place, Church said.
"We got here because we have career politicians who move up the ladder and do everything they can to make decisions that keep them in office, instead of actually making the hard decisions that may have political consequences down the road, which is why I have said I don't plan on serving more than four terms, or eight years, and moving on," he said.
When you look at the federal budget, he said, you have to understand that a $23-trillion hole - $70,000 per head - is unsustainable.
"One-hundred-six-percent of our Gross Domestic Product right now is held in debt," he said. "That's the highest level since the end of the second World War."
The second part of the equation, Church says, is what to do about it.
"Seventy percent of the federal budget is in mandatory spending," he said. "So even if the Congress didn't do anything more, that money is still spent in the four big areas of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the federal debt."
To get serious about the debt, Church said, we have to look at those things and how we can actually reform them.
"We have a lot of fraud, waste, and abuse in the way the Medicare and Medicaid systems operate," he said. "No one is saying you need to obliterate these programs, but they need to be looked at and dissected and find where we can create efficiencies."
The problem is, Church said, when the federal government is the one administering a substantial portion of anything, there's a substantial amount of waste. As for discretionary programs such as defense, Church says those programs will get squeezed or we will have to borrow more to fund them.
"That's a tax on my unborn grandchildren," he said. "It's something that's unfair to people who aren't even born yet."
And so, Church said, there needs to be hard choices made about mandatory spending, but it's a conversation that Congress doesn't want to touch.
"We need people there who are willing to do it," he said.
Regulatory reformer but pro-prevailing wage
Church says he will also seek regulatory reform. When regulations are used to allow others to abuse the system and stifle competition - such as when New York taxicab drivers get medallions and don't allow others to operate unless they can purchase medallions that at one point cost a million dollars each - you are prohibiting people from being able to innovate and prosper, he says.
"Regulations that limit others' ability to do what someone else does is ridiculous," he said.
On another regulatory issue, Church says he believes Dodd-Frank has hurt small-town business and especially Main Street businesses.
But Church also says he supports a federal prevailing wage - a statutory regulation of wages on projects using federal funds that many if not most conservatives loathe.
For one thing, Church says northern Wisconsin is losing population "in droves," and the prevailing wage can help prevent that, or at least slow down out-migration.
"(Prevailing wage projects) are jobs that provide great working conditions and living wages for people who have lived up here for decades and decades," he said. "When other workers come in, there are also concerns that if you are underpaying them to a certain extent, the state is picking up the tab on other things, whether it's Badger Care or some other program."
Church said he took a pro-prevailing wage position because northern Wisconsin is in need of workers in the trades. The prevailing wage helps keeps workers with those jobs stay in the area rather than leave for better jobs elsewhere, he says.
"It is something that I view in the interest of the people in the district here," he said.
In another regulatory arena, Church said he would like to see the federal government play less of a role in education.
"One of the problems right now is when standards are being put out from Washington," he said. "Where you have bureaucrats who say, 'OK, here's the best way to educate your child,' it fails to comprehend the local understanding of an issue, so I would like to see less federal involvement in the education system."
Church said he would like to see the federal Department of Education shrink and go away over time, if it is done in a way that is not completely destructive.
Health care, climate change
In the health care arena, Church says repealing as much of the Affordable Care Act as possible is a start, but other measures are needed.
"When we talk about near-term solutions, there needs to be price transparency and the ability to cross state lines with insurance coverage," he said. "Right now when we go to a doctor, we don't know what we're paying for. Half the time the doctors don't know what they are charging for the particular service they are providing."
For example, Church said, if you knew cataract surgery cost $6,000 in Wausau but $1,000 in Oklahoma City, it would be well worth the plane ticket back and forth from Oklahoma City, as opposed to paying the $6,000 in Wausau.
But, Church continued, because we don't show those price comparisons, and because health insurance across state lines is such a complicated and ridiculous mess, it prevents innovation and it prevents access to reasonable solutions.
So those parts in particular, cost transparency and easing the ability to go across state lines, would be near-term solutions Church said he would pursue.
As for climate change, Church said he supported President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords.
"When you have signatories like China and India in this thing, it's more of a feel-good document," he said. "When we sign our name to something, it should bring teeth to it. If it's just feel good, I'm not a fan of it, and I support what the president did."
And "feel good" is what a lot of climate-change legislation is about, Church said.
"Up here, we have beautiful lakes, beautiful forests, beautiful rivers," he said. "Nobody in their right mind is saying we want to pollute and destroy this area. So when I see regulations proposed and they are not going to do something that is urgently needed, and it's just feel-good legislation, no thank you."
Church observed that the 10 most polluted rivers in the world are not in North America but in Asia.
"We have two countries right now that are hard-core polluters - Chin and India," he said. "If you are ever going to get those countries to do anything, you have to have leverage, which is what I think the president has been able to do with China on a couple of fronts."
Guns and mental health
Church says he's a staunch defender of the Second Amendment.
"I don't think it was put into the constitution for us to go hunt 12-point buck, although that is a very nice perk," he said. "It was intended to be able to fight back against a tyrannical government."
When they wrote the Second Amendment, Church said, the Founders had just finished fighting what was then the world's most pre-eminent military power - a power run by a King and Parliament that was very tyrannical.
"They were very fearful of that being the case here in the United States, and put the Second Amendment in for that very reason," he said.
Church said he would vote against universal background checks - a universal background check database is counterintuitive to the purpose of the Second Amendment, he said - as well as red-flag laws that Church says violate due process rights.
Mental health issues are a much greater problem and should be of much greater concern, Church said.
Church said there were still stigmas attached to mental health care that need to be overcome, and still too much reluctance to talk about those issues. The answer, he said, is to be found within local communities, where local leaders and elected officials know the people and the local social landscape.
The federal government is not the answer, Church says.
"There needs to be more empowerment in local communities to be able to address these problems, but I'm always skeptical when the federal government comes in and says, 'Hey, I'm here to help,'" he said. "Anytime you have a bureaucrat from Washington telling you what to do, usually that means they are giving you money with strings attached, and they are not the best arbiter of what's going on. What works in Ladysmith may be a lot different from what works in Los Angeles."
If the federal government can be helpful and provide guidance on some mental health care issues, that's great, Church said, but communities need to be self-sufficient and address mental health care at the local level.
"People know their local communities far better than some guy sitting in the swamp in Washington does," he said.
Church says he supports the delisting of the gray wolf, and would support and sponsor legislation to that effect, but he said he couldn't promise it would pass, given past resistance by congressional leadership.
"The Senate side, the House side - neither side has been able to push this through and change it from being just a regulatory interpretation of a statute that any court can change," he said. "But sure the statute has to change, and there are areas of bipartisan agreement on this. There are Democrats from other northern states that are affected by this."
But, like most things, Church said it comes down to prioritization.
"As I have seen this happen over the years - the wolf population grows and is as destructive as it is - yes, there needs to be action taken on it," he said. "I would be honored to put legislation forward. But when you see the squabbling that's going on in Washington right now and you see the dysfunction that it is right now, I'm a realist. I'm not going to feed you junk and say, 'I'm going to be the guy that knocks this out of the park for you.' I want to, but I have to be able to convince 434 other people that this is the right thing to do."
Editor's note: Profiles of the two Democratic candidates for the 7th Congressional seat, Tricia Zunker and Lawrence Dale, will be published in an upcoming edition of the River News.
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