By Congressional Quarterly
Kind told voters that he would be the same independent representative as the man he was seeking to succeed, Republican Steve Gunderson.
Kind sees balancing the budget as the most pressing issue facing Congress. During his campaign for this seat, Kind proposed his own balanced-budget plan. It targets 80 spending programs for elimination or reductions, many of which are operated by the Defense Department. He also calls for eliminating 56 "corporate subsidies and tax breaks." Another key element to balancing the budget is controlling the growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid, Kind says, which should be achieved through health care reform.
The former county prosecutor also says he would like to see the federal government provide better coordination to help local authorities catch criminals. He backs the development of a national database that would increase the sharing of resources and information between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
While he says he supports quick and severe punishment for those who commit crimes, Kind says the federal government could help local communities reach children before they turn to crime by continuing federal funding for programs such as Head Start.
As a member of the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, Kind will have a chance to work on such issues. He also says he will work to increase funding for school-to-work programs that provide vocational training for students who choose not to go to college.
Unlike Gunderson, Kind did not land a spot on the Agriculture Committee but says he will continue to work to reform the milk marketing order system, which Wisconsin dairy farmers say puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
Kind defeated a dairy farmer, GOP former state Sen. Jim Harsdorf, to win his seat in Congress. But before he could take on Harsdorf in the general election, Kind had to get past four other Democrats in the 1996 primary.
His biggest rival for the party's nod was 1994 Democratic candidate Lee Rasch. Rasch tried to portray himself as the moderate in the race, while painting Kind as a liberal.
Both Rasch and Kind were listed as candidates from La Crosse, one of the district's largest cities. But Kind stressed that he had been born and raised in La Crosse, unlike Rasch, who did not grow up in the district.
Kind is something of a local success story. A high school football star, Kind won an academic scholarship to Harvard University. He later went on to earn a master's degree at The London School of Economics and a law degree from the University of Minnesota. After a brief stint at a Milwaukee law firm, Kind moved back to his hometown and became a local prosecutor.
Harsdorf, meanwhile, had no major competition for his party's nomination but still walked into the general election race in a weakened position. Throughout the first half of 1996, Gunderson had expressed interest in reversing his decision and remaining in Congress, particularly after a series of changing circumstances put him in line to chair the Agriculture Committee in the 105th Congress.
Despite his obvious interest, Gunderson said he would not get into the race unless Harsdorf stepped aside. Harsdorf refused. Gunderson then honored his commitment, despite pleas from some dairy groups and an effort to organize a write-in campaign for the primary. In the end, however, Gunderson refused to endorse Harsdorf in the November contest against Kind -- a factor some observers considered a key to Kind's victory.
Kind tried to cast Harsdorf as a right-wing Republican who would walk in lock-step with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. At the same time, he touted himself as an independent thinker in the mold of former Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., for whom he was once an intern. He also compared his independence to that of Gunderson, a moderate who was the first openly gay Republican in the House.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
Wisconsin - 8th District
Jay W. Johnson (D-Wis.)
Born: Sept. 30, 1943, Bessemer, Mich.
Education: Gogebic Community College, A.A. 1963; Northern Michigan U., B.A. 1965; Michigan State U., M.A. 1970.
Military Service: Army, 1966-68.
Occupation: Broadcast journalist.
Family: Wife, JoLee; two stepchildren.
Political Career: No previous office.
Capitol Office: 1313 Longworth Bldg. 20515; 225-5665.
By Congressional Quarterly
Johnson's victory was something of an upset in the GOP-leaning district. The former Green Bay newscaster is only the second Democrat to represent Wisconsin's 10th District in the last four decades. Robert J. Cornell, the last Democrat to represent the 8th, was ousted in 1978 after only two terms by Republican Toby Roth, who held the seat until his retirement in January 1997.
But Johnson's familiar face and affable style wore well, as did his frequent references to the Green Bay Packers football team -- which was enjoying its best season since the 1960s.
Johnson lists educational issues as his top concern in Congress. Johnson says he would like to see increased funding for programs such as Head Start, expanded access to the Internet for poorer school districts and the implementation of tax credits to help pay college tuition. Johnson had hoped to land a spot on the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, a panel that would have given him the chance to focus on these issues, but was instead given a seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Johnson also wants to work to bolster federal protection of the environment. He is most concerned about proposed mining operations within his district and efforts to revise regulations on wildlife refuges.
Even though he opposes a balanced-budget amendment, Johnson says he does want to work to balance the budget and favors the appointment of a bipartisan commission to study options for attaining that goal. While stressing that "everything must be put on the table," he also says it is important to protect Medicare and believes Congress should look to "corporate welfare" and defense programs for cutbacks.
Johnson managed to defeat Republican David Prosser, the state Assembly Speaker and strong ally of popular GOP Gov. Tommy G. Thompson. Prosser was seen as the race's heavyweight from the start but soon encountered problems.
The first came in the form of a little-known businessman, Charles Dettman Jr., who waged a bitter challenge against Prosser for the GOP nomination. Funding his campaign largely out of his own pocket, Dettman blasted Prosser in TV ads for his leadership in pushing through a controversial funding package, which included a regional tax increase, for a new stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. Dettman also questioned Prosser's commitment to family values by noting that Prosser was unmarried.
With the backing of Thompson and other party leaders, Prosser pulled out a primary victory but went limping into the general election race. Johnson, meanwhile, emerged unscathed from his primary race, narrowly defeating the 1994 Democratic nominee, former state Rep. Stan Gruszynski, who had the backing of many local unions.
In both races, Johnson's most formidable asset was his superior name recognition. Despite nearly two decades as a state legislator, Prosser could not overcome the 15 years of exposure Johnson had received as a reporter and news anchor on Green Bay television.
Prosser attempted to make the case that residents would be better off if they sent a veteran legislator to Washington instead of someone who the Republican claimed was inexperienced and not well informed on important issues. Prosser ran one television ad featuring a herd of cows expressing concern about a proposal Johnson made -- and later retracted -- to tax milk 25 cents per hundredweight to help pay for education and other programs.
Johnson blasted Prosser for refusing to pull the ad even after Johnson acknowledged making the proposal after reading incorrect information and disowned the idea. Johnson often pointed to his own lack of political experience as a plus. He portrayed himself as an outsider and Prosser as an out-of-touch career politician who had mishandled the Milwaukee stadium issue.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
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