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Your Choice, Your Democracy

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 20 December 2023
in Wisconsin

voter-us-electionsSenator Smith writes about his bipartisan bill to create final five voting for U.S. Senate and Representative elections.


MADISON - Under the current lay of the land, the political parties are in control – that means the most important part of the U.S. Senate and House of Representative elections occurs during the primary election. Senators and representatives run further to the right or left to appease their base electorate to get out of the primary as the winner rather than what might be best for the general public. Elections are too important to have a partisan primary voting system that forces voters to choose only between two candidates for the general election.

Final five voting offers voters choices and it will force candidates and your elected officials to be more responsive to you. I’ve introduced this bipartisan bill (2023 Senate Bill 528) with Senator Jesse James (R-Altoona), Representative Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee) and Representative Ron Tusler (R-Harrison).

This is how it works:

1. All candidates who fulfill the expectations to run for office are listed together on the same ballot in the primary, regardless of party affiliation. The five candidates who receive the most votes will advance to the general election.

2. On the general election ballot, voters will rank their choices of the final five. A voter’s top choice would be number one, then he or she may select a 2nd choice, 3rd choice, 4th choice and 5th choice. After all the votes are cast, an instant runoff occurs. It will eliminate the lowest performing candidates and automatically transfer the voter’s vote to next highest ranked candidate until only two candidates remain. The candidate with the most votes between the two remaining candidates wins.

Some politicians fear changes such as rank choice voting. Answering to voters is oftentimes their main concern. Just last week, legislators circulated a constitutional amendment to ban ranked choice voting from becoming an option in Wisconsin.

Opponents claim rank choice voting can be complicated and clumsy. For instance, without the open primary like we used in SB 528, there might be 35 candidates on the ballot which voters would need to rank. Yes, simply using rank choice voting without the primary to whittle it down to 5 candidates would be messy like it has been in some locales. The key is the open primary where the voter only votes for one candidate of their choice to advance to the general election.

wi-senate-swearing-inThe La Crosse Tribune recently wrote an editorial supporting final five voting. Their sentiment hit the nail on the head when they wrote, “The problem is that the voters are losing. Solution-based legislation is losing. Good governance is losing. Democracy is losing. Who is winning? Special-interest groups that fund the extremes and count on the gridlock of status quo to paralyze responsible governance.”

Under final five voting, candidates for federal office must be more responsive to the voters from the start. As lawmakers in Washington they must listen to the public. They must spend less time and resources bashing other candidates or their ideas because they may need that 2nd or 3rd choice from supporters of their rival. A more civil and constructive campaign happens. Radical agendas lose and civil candidates can win.

While voters get more civil engagement, ordinary citizens may also feel more compelled to run for office. Voters may see more idea sharing in campaigns and, once elected, your elected officials should be more willing to work with everyone across all political stripes. They will become less interested in their political party and special interests and more interested in you. The voters become the winners under final five voting.

As Republican U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin’s 8th District said, “At a time of intense partisanship, we’re in dire need of solutions. This idea is not just a good place to start, but a way for our state to revitalize its rich history in political innovation.”

Something must change, but nothing changes if we don’t try.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Bravely Defending the Wisconsin Idea

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 13 December 2023
in Wisconsin

uw-mdsn-bascom-hillSenator Smith writes about Speaker Robin Vos and the Republicans’ attempt to ransom UW employee pay raises and scrub DEI initiatives from the University of Wisconsin campuses.


MADISON - In September I wrote about Republicans gaslighting students into thinking they are being indoctrinated by universities. In other words, students are being told they are wrong for owning their vision of what the future holds for them and how they are shaping our society.

Over the weekend, the Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin rejected Speaker Robin Vos’ (R-Burlington) attempt to ransom pay raises for UW employees and a new engineering building at UW-Madison for pushing his conservative ideals across all our campuses. It was a brave move to reject this false choice between funding and striving for diverse, equitable and inclusive campuses and initiatives. Speaker Vos’ rhetoric about the UW System has been mean-spirited and inaccurate. We are long overdue for someone to stand up against his tyrannical approach to governance.

The UW’s primary job is to help young adults become ready to face the world they plan to live in, work in and participate as an adult. The foundation of the University of Wisconsin is the Wisconsin Idea. It goes beyond just the classroom. The university system shapes our identity as a state, contributes to our nation and builds up our communities with students knowledgeable and capable to make a difference in our society.

DEI is a huge part of that mission – lifting up and offering access to everyone regardless of race, ability or sexual orientation ensures everyone has an opportunity to play a role in how our society looks today and in the future. It isn’t just happening in Wisconsin, we’ve come to learn over decades that our country is stronger when everyone plays a part and has the opportunity to participate. Communities and businesses are finding DEI initiatives to be a core philosophy for progress. It should come to no one’s surprise our UW schools are joining the movement.

Students must be ready and our universities are geared to meet the demand we are seeing across the country and the world…despite what Speaker Robin Vos wants. Wisconsin students have the most to lose from Republicans’ misguided war on DEI, making students less prepared for the workforce and our progress closing the achievement gap will suffer. Our state contributes a lot of money for our universities and students pay far too much to not be prepared for what they need to be ready for.

assembly-wi-robin-vosRepublicans desperately want a “win” by using the UW as their petri dish for conservative thought at the expense of students and university employees being used as bargaining chips. It isn’t just about DEI. They’ve already used $3 million in taxpayer money to create the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership (Speaker Vos is a member of their board) to expand conservative thought at UW-Madison. Now, one of Speaker Vos’ demands states that he wants UW-Madison to seek philanthropic support to create an endowed chair to focus on conservative political thought, classical economic theory, or classical liberalism. For someone who continually says students are being indoctrinated, he certainly does his fair share of pushing his conservative agenda at our UW-System.

jeff-smith-2022Wisconsin deserves better than someone hell-bent on holding UW hostage over his tirade about DEI. Regardless of how anyone sees the issue politically, the actions Speaker Vos has taken are similar to that of Senator Joe McCarthy when he was censured by the U.S. Senate for his baseless allegations against communists in the 1950s. In fact, in June of this year, Speaker Vos said he is embarrassed to be an alum of the UW-System. We should all be embarrassed by Speaker Vos tilting at windmills over DEI.

On the other side of this saga, students will continue to shape our society and we will reinvest in our diversity to strengthen our state and communities. We will unfortunately have to endure narrowmindedness and hatred, but we will endure.

My thoughts go out to our university employees and their families. Brave acts are not without consequences. I sincerely hope we can move past this and uplift our universities and the Wisconsin Idea they fiercely defend and promote.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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A Wisconsin Winter Wonderland

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 06 December 2023
in Wisconsin

wi-farm-winterSenator Smith writes about the wealth of opportunities for winter recreation we have right here in Wisconsin.


Early winter is a magical time. Wisconsinites are blessed with four beautiful seasons and all the recreational opportunities that come with them. Before the doldrums of winter set in, when the season is fresh and new, it’s a great time to get back to the winter activities that truly make our state a winter wonderland. Rather than being stuck in the house, there’s a whole world outside to enjoy.

ice-skatingAt the beginning of the holiday season, I think fondly of my time as a youngster growing up on the north side of Eau Claire. When I wasn’t building snow forts and sliding down big hills with my friends, we’d sling our skates over our shoulders and hike down to the city park. The park’s skating rink would be full of friends, and there’d be a crackling bonfire to warm us up. If we were feeling really ambitious, we’d catch a ride to Half Moon Lake to punch holes in the ice and take our chances at hooking some fish to bring home.

When it comes to the snow, necessity is the mother of invention. Prior to 1900, Wisconsinites were experimenting with vehicles to make travel over snow easier. Early attempts ranged from bicycles on runners to steam-propelled sleighs and even modified Model T Fords. But in a shed behind a pub in Sayner, Wisconsin, Carl Eliason made innovations that led to the development of the snowmobile as we know it today.

Eliason could not wear skis or snowshoes due to a foot disability, leaving him frustrated in the winter when he could not keep up with his friends. So in the early 1920s he mounted some old skis, parts from a Model T Ford, a boat motor and his bicycle to a long toboggan to build his prototype “motor toboggan,” which was patented in 1927 and improved throughout the decades. In under a century, we’ve gone from a cobbled-together toboggan to the modern snowmobiles of today. What a leap!

snowmobilesWhen I was a teenager, my dad bought a snowmobile. We spent many days and nights exploring the trails. Once I was able to drive and load our machines up, we rode trails that took us through woods and up hills I’d never been before. Later came downhill skiing, which added to my enjoyment of winter in beautiful western Wisconsin.

The list of activities one can do on a Wisconsin winter day is endless, and the recreational options in Wisconsin have continued growing since I was young. Cross-country skiing has become one of the most popular sports for so many, and our woodland trails are the perfect place to enjoy some time outside.

In fact, cross-country skiing has put Wisconsin winter sports on the map. The American Birkebeiner (or “Birkie”) is held every February between Cable and Hayward, Wisconsin. In 1973, thirty-five skiers held the first Birkie and now, as an annual event, it attracts both professional and amateur skiers from around the world.

jeff-smithFebruary marked the 50th anniversary of the first Birkie, and this year a record 12,986 skiers are signed up to participate in the four major ski events, with thousands more participating in the youth ski tour, the ParaBirkie, the Barkie Birkie Skijor and the Birkie Giant Ski Event.

If peace and quiet are your thing, many hiking trails are open throughout the winter. With a pair of snowshoes, you can walk these snowy trails and enjoy the fresh beauty of the winter scenery. Hiking is a great opportunity to see a whole new side of our state’s glorious ecosystem at a slower pace.

With all this winter fun available to us, the final thing I’ll say I’m grateful for at the end of a winter day spent outdoors is a nice toasty fire and a hot chocolate. Stay safe and warm out there, and enjoy this wonderful time to live in Wisconsin.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

Subscribe to Senator Smith’s e-updates!

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Consider the Source Before Giving Your Trust Blindly

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 29 November 2023
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsSenator Smith writes about bipartisan legislation to ensure local control of Wisconsin’s electric grid, and what is true and not true about Right of First Refusal (ROFR) legislation.


MADISON - I receive hundreds of emails a week about a variety of issues. Some are original and informed, while others are auto-generated form emails. Certain advocacy groups have a history of harnessing misinformation and outrage to drive such emails.

In my time as an elected official, I’ve learned a lot about what advocacy groups to trust. Every background information memo received from advocacy groups must be combed over closely to understand why they want me to support or oppose legislation. Trust goes a long way in politics, but verification is equally important.

Recently, at a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Utilities and Technology, we held a public hearing on Senate Bill 481 (SB 481). Testimony at that hearing clearly demonstrated the importance of trust in politics. SB 481 has to do with allowing Wisconsin’s existing electric utilities to have the first opportunity to expand and enhance our current energy infrastructure and for them to be regulated by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, our state’s utility regulators. The nickname for this bill is the “Right of First Refusal,” or ROFR (pronounced ROW-fer) for short.

This legislation was introduced last session, and advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity leveled unproven claims unsupported by facts. This group notoriously sounds and looks like a grassroots group, but it’s funded by wealthy corporations. They’ve used baseless attacks on good bills, because there’s money to be made for out-of-state, unknown corporations. These corporations want to take control of our electric distribution infrastructure, replacing trusted providers who have served Wisconsin for decades.

Before the recent public hearing, folks across the state were getting emails and seeing social media ads saying this bill would increase electricity rates. Trusting this information, folks put their names on form emails declaring their opposition to the bill and demanding we vote “no.”

family-worried-billsUnfortunately many people gave their trust without verifying the source or the accuracy of this information. Throughout the hearing we heard conjecture and “free-market” political ideology that managed to convince people, without evidence, to believe rate increases are inevitable.

During the hearing, my colleagues and I repeatedly asked opponents of this bill for hard evidence backing up their claims. Oddly, the only documentation used as proof was that rates have increased 10% over the last decade. They offered no evidence that the increases were linked to policies like these.

Legislation like ROFR has been passed in other states, so there should be evidence, but these individuals couldn’t provide documentation because rate increases didn’t happen.

Building transmission lines and associated infrastructure for the 21st century is expensive. It gets more expensive when delays and missteps occur, as we’ve seen in other states where the bidding process was too loose and left to oversimplification. This bill prevents unnecessary costs and preserves what little control our state has in developing reliable and affordable energy infrastructure.

jeff-smithDo we want to be at the mercy of out-of-state “one size fits all” entities? It’s happening in other states, but Wisconsin doesn’t need to be added to that list. When we invest in local companies, we invest in companies that are more responsive to our local needs.

ROFR is a bipartisan effort to preserve Wisconsin control in our energy infrastructure. We don’t encounter this kind of bipartisan agreement every day, and it says a lot about the aim of this bill and how it will help Wisconsin.

It’s wise to investigate all sides of an argument before handing over your trust. There is plenty of information at your fingertips. Every bill proposed has a public analysis done by the Legislative Reference Bureau, a legislative nonpartisan service agency.

Before posting misinformed comments or signing your name to emails someone else has composed for you, take the time to look up the bill and ask questions of the bill’s authors. You can always count on my office to give you details and relevant information whenever you as a constituent contact me about an issue.

Trust must constantly be earned and reaffirmed to be lasting and meaningful, and that’s as it should be. Your trust is important – don’t give it up too easily.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

Subscribe to Senator Smith’s e-updates!

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CWD Continues to Spread Through Western Wisconsin

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 22 November 2023
in Wisconsin

deer-in-fieldSen. Smith writes about the history and science of Chronic Wasting Disease spreading through deer herds in Wisconsin and new legislation he’s introduced to support programs needed to control the spread.


EAU CLAIRE - As deer season opens and Wisconsinites flock to the woods to sit in tree stands for their yearly ration of venison, conversation turns not just to hours spent outside, but also about the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The story of CWD is a gruesome one. Similar to Mad Cow Disease, CWD causes abnormalities in an animal’s appearance and behavior before inevitably leading to its death. In the 1970s, wildlife veterinarian Beth Williams noticed odd lesions on the brains of necropsied deer and elk and identified them as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. The first signs of the disease are difficulties in movement, leading those with a more dramatic turn of phrase to call them “zombie deer.”

CWD is an always-fatal transmissible neurological disease affecting cervids like deer, moose and elk. It’s transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through contact with objects or environments containing contaminated material, like carcasses, saliva, urine or feces. CWD spreads through what is called a “prion,” a protein that can trigger normal proteins in the brain to fold abnormally. Prions can live in soil and plants, and carcasses left in the woods can spread the disease long after an animal’s death of an animal. No cases have yet been found in humans, but there are documented instances of the disease making the jump to other primates.

After CWD’s discovery in 1978, it spread quickly. In 1981 it was found in wild herds in Colorado. In the nineties it was found in captive herds in Saskatchewan. By 2000 CWD was found in animals in Oklahoma and Nebraska. In 2001, the first recorded instance of CWD infecting a white-tailed deer occurred in South Dakota.

Wisconsin had its first recorded case of CWD in 2002. At first the disease affected herds in southern Wisconsin, CWD made its slow, inevitable way up to our area of western Wisconsin starting with two cases in Eau Claire in 2018 and spreading to animals in Dunn, Buffalo and Trempealeau counties.

Recent data from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) show that CWD continues its spread.  Just last month a wild deer tested positive for CWD in Trempealeau County. So far this year, two deer have tested positive in Eau Claire County. In 2022, there were six confirmed positives in Senate District 31: one in Eau Claire County, one in Dunn County and four in Buffalo County.

This is troubling because many of these cases are in deer from wild populations. If left unchecked, CWD will spread faster, kill more deer and threaten our ability to preserve Wisconsin’s deer hunting legacy.

It’s vital that we stay on top of the spread of CWD in western Wisconsin. Otherwise, these numbers could skyrocket, as has happened in many counties to the south. Successful management of the CWD epidemic depends on research, testing and disposal.

jeff-smithResearch into the issue has been ongoing since Beth Williams first observed CWD back in the seventies. Recent research has yielded best practices for wildlife management and limiting the spread of CWD. If you’re hunting this season, you can help us better understand the scope and shape of the CWD epidemic. The DNR, in partnership with biologists and scientists across the world, have been collecting data about the spread of CWD. Currently, hunters can submit samples for free testing at kiosks across the state (find one near you here).

Many Wisconsin hunters are already doing what they can to contribute to the long-term health of our deer herds. But sampling kiosks, carcass disposal sites and personnel all cost money. This week, I’m once again introducing legislation focusing on CWD research, testing and disposal with my colleague Representative Kristina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). This legislation provides vital funding and gives direction for our state’s response to this widespread health hazard.

The down payment we make now on testing and transmission prevention efforts is a small price to pay compared to the immeasurable amount we stand to lose if we aren’t vigilant about CWD. The white-tailed deer herd has always been an integral part of Wisconsin’s hunting heritage, contributing to our local economies and tourism industry. I’m proud to re-introduce legislation to keep our herds healthy for generations to come.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

Subscribe to Senator Smith’s e-updates!

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