An independent businessman and Democratic candidate for the seventh congressional district, Lawrence Dale ended up in the Northwoods about a quarter-century ago just like many others who find their way here - he came for a visit and never left.
Dale, who has a masters degree in industrial labor relations from the University of Oregon, says he arrived in the U.P. to visit family.
"I came up in '94 and I decided, 'I don't think I want to leave,'" Dale told The Times in a recent interview. "I got a gig job to keep me going."
Eventually, Dale wound up in northern Wisconsin, going to work for WRJO radio in 2006. He has been in insurance since 2011, and he has lived in the seventh congressional district for 12 out of the last 13 years, he says.
The upcoming special election for the seat vacated by Sean Duffy is all about the Republican Party, Dale says.
"The reason I got into this is because, basically, what we are looking at here is a referendum," he said. "A special election is a referendum, if people want to look at it seriously and figure out what it really is. It is a referendum on the Republican Party's performance at least since (former Gov. Scott) Walker."
Having lived in the district for more than a decade, Dale says he is aware of what would help the region economically.
"We have a tourist economy," he said. "We want new industry to come in and diversify more, but in an environmentally friendly manner that dovetails nicely with our multi-billion dollar tourism economy."
Lawrence says diversification and building on the strength of the tourism sector are major priorities for him.
"That's my focus, but I don't see that focus being carried over to the Republican Party," he said. "I don't think they look at it that way. And that's why I think people should look at this election as a referendum on them."
Congressional elections amount to a report card given by voters every two years, Dale said.
"Is the path that we are on now one that will lead us to prosperity, or is it one that is going to inhibit prosperity from happening?" he asked. "Are we bringing in the right industries to help our economy or are those industries not going to help and in fact may even hurt us?"
When he assesses those questions, Dale says he looks at two major sectors.
"I look at the farm economy," he said. "Obviously we are an agricultural area. We have to see what kind of performance the Republican leadership has done with regard to that sector."
It's not a good one, Dale says. Since 2004, 7,000 Wisconsin small businesses have failed in the dairy sector, and he says GOP policies are to blame.
"In the dairy industry they have been preceding the previous year's production in every year since 2000," he said. "So why is it that under the administration of Scott Walker in 2012, we put in Grow Wisconsin Dairy. These were incentives to make our small dairy farms more productive. They were given all kinds of incentives. They met their goals and exceeded them. Now come to find out that this policy led directly to the overproduction of dairy that has exacerbated small family farms leaving the industry."
At the same time, Dale said, the state has been bringing in CAFOs, or large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations.
"Since 2004, we have 7,000 fewer farms but the same number of cows," he said. "It's been a swap-out effectively, when the small farmer is forced to leave because of oversupply and not being able to cover their costs because such an oversupply depresses the price of milk. This is what we have done. We have bad policy."
CAFOs are not sustainable, Dale asserts, saying that in 2011 a national health organization reviewed 40 studies about CAFOs and concluded that there should be a moratorium on them. In Congress, Dale said he would fight for legislation to review CAFOs and determine if they really pose a health hazard, which he said they appear to do.
The Democratic Party is not entirely blameless on the issue, Dale said.
"(Former Democratic Gov. Jim) Doyle started it," he said. "But the current leadership must be held responsible for continuing a policy that is impacting an industry that is so iconic to Wisconsin, which is dairy farming."
In Canada, Dale said, there is a national policy of keeping small dairy farmers in business, and that is needed here because the market will not ultimately work for those farmers.
"It's like any other farm product," he said. "The vagaries of the market, the weather, disease - farmers can be high for two or three years, making the money they need to make, and then the next four or five years they are in the doldrums, and so if you just left it to the market, you probably wouldn't have any farmers."
The government's reason for being
Dale said the role of the federal government is to step in when the private sector fails to adequately provide what people need.
"Perhaps it's market forces beyond their control," he said. "Maybe it's like the great Depression of the 30s, perhaps there were forces at work that the private sector couldn't overcome, though a lot of people said it was the private sector that created the conditions that caused the Depression worldwide."
Health care today provides a modern example, Dale said.
"We have worked and worked with the private sector in making health care work, subsidizing it by billions of dollars every year, and we still can't get roughly 87 million Americans covered - many not covered enough and the rest not covered at all," he said. "That's a lot of people left out there in the cold."
But Dale said health care also provides an example of how the federal government could use its power and use policies that it can create through Congress to ensure that all Americans have health care.
Dale also took a more expansive view of the U.S. Constitution's general welfare clause. Conservatives believe that cause restricts Congress from taking any action unless it both falls within its enumerated powers and provides for the general welfare of all people and all U.S. places, as opposed to certain groups and locations, while liberals believe the clause enables Congress to act broadly on whatever it considers to be in the public interest, whether or not those actions are enumerated or apply to all people and places.
Dale took the latter view.
"If you see anything that is inhibiting the general welfare, you had better take action because that is what the government is for, is to stand up for and stand behind the people," he said.
A great example, Dale said, was the recent decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to allow a CAFO to locate in a Wood County community, whether or not the people wanted it there.
"So home rule was wiped out concerning something that affected their health and well-being," he said. "There's another example where the Republican Party had an opportunity to come in and say, 'We stand with these people' and put in a brief to their own Supreme Court saying that, (but they didn't.)"
Dale said economic development - how to grow the northern economy - has been one of the most compelling things that drew him into the race.
"I believe we have the ability to diversify this economy in an environmentally friendly manner," he said.
But he also said such an effort requires a committed elected official at the federal level.
"I don't think it can be done unless you have a congressman who is committed to the development of this rural economy," he said.
What enables a rural economy to achieve such development is the fact that there are a lot of federal dollars available to make it happen, Dale said.
"However, if you are not familiar with how to go about doing it, you would be flailing," he said.
So the question is, Dale said, what kind of industry could we bring in that would be compatible with the region's multi-billion dollar tourist economy? The answer is, he said, a network of farm cooperatives that would slaughter, process, and direct market high-demand meat products.
"I would be ready to start Day One once elected because I know we have the ability here to create a system of small anchors - they would be slaughterhouse, meat processing, and direct marketing cooperatives that would be eligible for federal funding, and also be eligible for Small Business Administration backing, and eligible for foundation grants," he said. "The funding would not be the problem."
The seventh congressional district encompasses 28 counties, Dale said, and there is a big market for meat products. He believes a network of farmers' cooperatives using a corporate cooperative business model could be commercially viable and capture enough of a niche market from the multi-million dollar high demand meat products market to be profitable.
Dale says he completed a comprehensive feasibility study that was vetted by an expert cooperative agriculture economist from North Dakota State University.
"The fact is, we have the ability to supply our own food here, at least a fraction of it, and we aren't taking advantage of that," he said.
Such an enterprise would attract hobby farmers and small family farmers, creating hundreds of new small family farm businesses, and the industry would have the support of the UW Extension services, Dale said.
On the question of Foxconn and whether up to $3.6 billion in subsidies to the corporate giant would help or hurt Wisconsin in general and northern Wisconsin in particular, Dale said he initially supported the deal.
"It was something that sounded like it was going to provide a lot of good-paying jobs," he said. "I didn't really focus on the details of it, but conceptually, yes."
Some on both the Left and Right have criticized the deal, saying targeted subsidies help one region at the expense of the others, and now a similar proposal by the Brookings Institute would channel federal subsidies of up to a billion dollars a year for 10 years to Madison to create a targeted tech cluster there.
On that question, Dale said he would have to see the proposal.
"The Brookings Institute is well-respected and I'm sure they are thorough, but I would have to see it," he said. "And I'm sorry I didn't look more into Foxconn, but it seemed so far away and it seemed so in flux all the time."
Dale said voters should look not only at what Republicans have not done for various industries, such as dairy, but what they have tried to do - actions he said would have negatively impacted the region's tourist economy if they had been successful.
In particular, he pointed to the 2014 mining bill passed by Republicans, a bill that revised iron mining regulations to make it possible to mine again in northern Wisconsin.
"They (the GOP leadership) need to be held accountable," he said. "It is very apparent that they are more beholden to big monied interests than they are to their own constituents."
Dale says he's not supportive of the Trump administration's tariff policies and the trade war he says they have sparked, but he also says he never supported the original NAFTA deal with Canada and Mexico negotiated in the 1990s by President Bill Clinton.
"In fact, at the time I was working for a local (union) in Syracuse and we were having demonstrations against NAFTA," he said. "Back then they were asking me to get on the phone for Clinton, and I said, 'No way. This guy has taken part in this crusade to basically de-industrialize our country.'"
He also criticized Clinton for engineering the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banks from investment banking to prevent commercial banks from making risky investments with customer deposits. That was another bad decision, Dale said.
"The Democrats and the media have not made that connection between Glass-Steagall and the Great Recession of 2007 and 2008," he said. "That's another reason why I can't support the establishment Democratic Party."
The real Democratic Party is the FDR Democratic Party, Dale said.
"We're not the party that collaborates with the Republican Party to put together these trade deals that decimate our industrial base, throwing a lot of blue-collar workers out of work," he said.
The United States has the most sought after markets in the world, Dale said, and so the answer in trade is to set benchmarks for authoritarian governments that aren't playing fair.
"These benchmarks include how they treat their own people," he said. "Are they going to include a system of due process if people are accused of a crime? Will they be able to have the right to negotiate a contract with an employer? Simple democratic benchmarks. If they meet the benchmarks, we can trade."
Issues in the presidential campaign
In the arena of health care, Dale says Medicare for All makes a lot of sense.
"A lot of people say that's just getting something else for free, which is really bogus," he said. "Back in 1960, one in four Americans had the ability to have a good-paying manufacturing job. A lot of those jobs were organized. They made good wages back then. Today, it's one in 10."
Now the U.S. is more of a service economy, Dale said, which is low paying, forcing people to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet.
"So the question is, should we go to a system whereby if you want a college education, you can get one," he said. "If you need medical care, you can get it with very minimal out-of-pocket costs. Is that the moral and right thing to do?"
The question gets down to, how do we pay for it? Dale said. He likes both Bernie Sanders's and Elizabeth Warren's ideas - Sanders advocates taxing capital gains at ordinary rates for households making more than $250,000 a year, while Warren has proposed a wealth tax.
"If we put a sales tax on these Wall Street traders so that they had to pay the same tax that any merchant in this town had to pay when they sold something, that would be enough accumulation of wealth right there to fund our entire health-care system," he said. "I have no reason to doubt that."
In addition, Dale said, what he hears from Elizabeth Warren is that American billionaires can afford to pay 2% of every dollar over $50 million in wealth, and their standard of living would not be undermined in any way.
At the end of the day, Dale says, people want change.
"I think it's time for new blood," he said. "If we do a careful review of the Republican Party's leadership over the last few years, it's been a very poor showing. The record shows that they have in fact bent over backwards to help out large concentrated animal feeding operations."
Dale believes there should be a moratorium on CAFOs "forever."
The GOP mining bill shepherded by Republican candidate Tom Tiffany is another example of the GOP turning its back on the district's constituents to win the favor of large corporate interests, Dale said.
"I think we have to have more of a commitment to people than to big agricultural interests, and, trying to be as objective as one can be, it's clear that they are tilting the scale to allow for more of these large feeding operations," he said.
The fact is, Dale continued, those large operations are not sustainable and will cause the price of milk to skyrocket: "The small family farm is more environmentally sustainable," he said. "They are efficient producers of milk."
Dale wants change inside the Democratic Party, too, saying northern Democrats and northern Wisconsin residents in general identify with the progressive wing of the party.
"I'm a Sanders' supporter, but I'm also a pragmatist," he said. "Certain things work and certain things don't. I think calling yourself a democratic socialist is foolish. We are FDR Democrats, ... and I don't think we can continue to build the Democratic brand by supporting policies that people up here don't want."
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.
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