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Honoring the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers

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, 24 January 2024
in Wisconsin

ho-chunk-code-talkers-honoredSen. Smith writes about his work with Ho-Chunk members to advance the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers Memorial Highway bill through the State Senate. These dedicated and brave soldiers helped turn the tide in World War I and II.


MADISON - Four years ago, a dedicated individual named Sandy Winneshiek, contacted my office. She had an idea and she was motivated to get the job done, but she didn’t know where to start. Sandy served as the Ho-Chunk Nation’s Veteran Service Officer and she knew the rich history about the contributions Native Americans made as code talkers throughout World War I and World War II.

Her stories about the sacrifices made during these pivotal wars were incredible and she wanted everyone to know about these brave individuals who helped turn the tide in both of these tragic and prolific events. She pitched the idea of designating the stretch of Interstate-90 from the Minnesota state line to the Interstate-94 interchange near Tomah as the Ho-Chunk Code Talkers Memorial Highway. As a child of someone who served in WWII, I thought this was an incredible idea. I worked with her to draft a bill and introduce it.

As with most good ideas, it didn’t get done right away, and we saw no action from the legislature to advance the bill. We were patient and Sandy pushed harder. She built a coalition of Ho-Chunk members and charted a path with Republicans to gain their support. Just last week, the senate passed Senate Bill 633 unanimously and now it heads to the State Assembly before Governor Evers has the opportunity to sign it into law.

vets-wwii-europe-winterThe code talkers’ service is an example to the fortitude and social fabric within Native American tribes. Their role in World War II tells the story of American endurance, collaboration and the importance of sharing our strengths and skills.

Our country has a complex, painful history regarding the treatment of Native Americans. Despite attempts to help European settlers when they first arrived, Native Americans were forcibly removed from their land, introduced to deadly diseases and became victims of mass genocide. For many decades, even as late as the 1950s, white Americans suppressed members of the Tribal Nations, forcibly placing children in boarding schools and promoting assimilation policies in an attempt to destroy their culture.

Many Native Americans still held onto their native languages, despite this traumatic history and the attempts to strip them of their heritage. During the World Wars of the Twentieth Century, members from Tribal Nations were willing to enlist and fight for the same values that other soldiers believed in. As Native American members joined the military, they realized their ability to speak another language would make it difficult for enemies to interpret intercepted messages.  These enlisted members of Native American tribes became known as code talkers.

Although Native Americans were enlisted for this important duty, they still faced challenges working predominantly with English-speaking soldiers.

jeff-smithI heard a story about an enlisted Ho-Chunk Code Talker, selected for this role because he could speak his native language. He began his assignment in the radio room waiting for a message with a commanding officer. When a message arrived, the code talker couldn’t understand the sender’s message. The officer was puzzled and demanded to know why he told them he could speak his native language but then couldn’t understand this message. He replied that he is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the sender was speaking Navajo. This anecdote reminds us of the presumptions we may have of others, but the importance of learning from each other’s backgrounds.

As a nation of many cultures, religions and ethnicities, we should celebrate the code talkers’ legacy and their contribution to our country’s history. With this in mind, I hope we can get Senate Bill 633 through the Assembly and signed into law.

This bipartisan proposal is one small measure to honor Native Americans in our state, but we must do better to educate ourselves of these vital roles that are, too often, overlooked in our country’s history. Be sure to do what you can to learn more about our country’s history by listening, reading and having conversations with others.


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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Carbon Sequestration is a Big Win for WI Ag

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, 17 January 2024
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_farm_windmillSen. Smith writes about carbon sequestration for Wisconsin, the ecological and economical role farmers can play for curbing climate change and enhancing agricultural opportunities for future generations.


MADISON - Severe drought conditions plagued Wisconsin’s growing season this spring and summer. This winter shifted from fifty degrees and rainy to subzero temps and snowy. I don’t often put a lot of stock in short term weather observations as an indicator for climate change, but it’s hard not to notice over my own lifetime how our weather has progressively gone haywire. There is no doubt that cumulative observations and data gathering around the world is showing that climate change is to blame.

As carbon dioxide levels increase, we need a solution to put the carbon back into the ground where it belongs – it’s called carbon sequestration. This is where farmers play a key role in our work toward curbing the effects of climate change. Farmers don’t put on their bibs, grease up their equipment and say, “I’m going to sequester carbon today,” but they do a darn good job of it. Their primary goal is to profit from the land, but they accomplish far more than that just by doggedly pursuing their primary purpose.

farmer-wicornFarmers understand weather. It should come to no surprise, they are taking notice of erratic weather patterns, changing precipitation levels, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. For farmers to produce, they need goldilocks weather – not too hot, not too cold, not too dry, and not too wet. Consistent seasonal weather helps them plan for planting and harvesting. But climate change poses a significant challenge for farmers to produce high crop yields and maintain overall farm productivity.

Farmers are seeing the benefits of carbon sequestration practices such as cover cropping, agroforestry, and no-till farming. These actions stabilize soils during heavy rains, provide carbon to the soil through plant material that decays allowing microbes essential for plant growth to thrive and add nutrients back into the ground to be utilized by the next crop. Most of all though, carbon sequestration methods are natural and efficient ways to rehabilitate soils while also producing crops. It lets farmers leave the ground better for future generations.

If those reasons aren’t enough, increased profitability may be the main reason farmers are adopting carbon sequestration practices. Improved soil health leads to higher yields, reduces dependence on synthetic fertilizers, and lowers production costs. Farmers can market directly to carbon-conscious consumers too. Sustainably grown products fetch a premium in the market, offering Wisconsin farmers a competitive edge.

jeff-smithA carbon credit marketplace is emerging rapidly and farmers stand the most to gain from it. It essentially puts a price on pollution. Companies that cannot go green or want to go green can offset their emissions by purchasing credits from farmers or others who are committed to carbon sequestering practices. This presents a lucrative opportunity for farmers to diversify income streams. It is relatively new, but it could help farmers with the financial resources to retool their practices and put a little extra cash in their pockets just by doing the right thing.

The only stumbling block for the farmers in Wisconsin to participate in the carbon farming marketplace is a confidential and standardized calculator designed to show farmers how much they can be paid for adopting new practices.

Recently, in the Senate Agriculture and Tourism Committee, we approved Senate Bill 409. This bill from Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Loren Oldenburg (R-Viroqua) allows our Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to create a free online, interactive carbon calculator. This new tool would allow farmers to confidentially plug in information about their farming operation into the calculator to figure out new ways to reduce their carbon footprint and how to enhance their current practices for carbon sequestration.

Carbon sequestration is not merely a scientific concept; it is a practical solution with tangible benefits for Wisconsin farmers. It is truly a win-win-win for farmers – it lowers carbon dioxide emissions, regenerates soils and creates significant financial incentives. Farmers are resilient, resourceful individuals who are geared well for tackling climate change. They might just be the linchpin for our way out of this mess. Either way, farmers adopting carbon sequestration practices today will usher in a new era of agriculture designed for regeneration and sustainability for generations to come. That is something we can all believe in.


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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Moving and Feeding 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, 10 January 2024
in Wisconsin

roads-i-39-90-94Senator Smith previews the new Agricultural Road Improvement Program that seeks to bolster roads critical to agriculture and move food to families throughout Wisconsin.


Eau Claire, WI - “Wisconsin farmers may feed the world, but if a fertilizer truck cannot cross a rural bridge or a milk truck is weight limited from driving on a town road, it is hard for Wisconsin farmers to get their products to consumers.”

The statement above was made by my friend and colleague Senator Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska). He was reminding us all how much we depend on a safe and reliable transportation system to send food from the farm to our homes. It becomes a challenge for farmers to efficiently move their product to market and turn a profit when those roads deteriorate and fail.

Roads are built nowadays to withstand harsh weather conditions and the heavier cars, trucks and machinery that drive over them on a daily basis. Most of our agricultural routes are comprised of roads and bridges that were built decades ago when tractors, trucks and other farm machinery were much smaller. Although adequate for the time, these roads are critical for getting agricultural commodities to market have taken a beating from larger and heavier agricultural traffic seen today.

When road bed material becomes wet under the blacktop or concrete, it expands during the winter freeze. When spring comes, the road bed material thaws out, becoming softer and the blacktop and concrete fractures. This freezing and thawing cycle creates more and more weaknesses in our roads. Local governments with numerous farms have needed to place restrictions on these older roads, especially during the spring thaw when road beds are softer than other times of the year.

It’s very expensive to resurface roads and even more to rebuild them completely with upgraded materials to handle the newer, heavier traffic that keeps products and people moving. Town budgets were stretched to the limit for decades so it was a huge relief when the legislature restructured the shared revenue formula and added funding for municipalities in 2023. But, often overlooked in that conversation was a new program created when Governor Evers signed 2023 Wisconsin Act 13. The Agricultural Road Improvement Program (ARIP) goes beyond the Local Road Improvement Program (LRIP) that was already in place.

jeff-smithARIP will provide $150 million total split into two rounds of funding. The first $75 million round of funding will open up for local governments very soon and the second $75 million will open up later this summer or early fall. ARIP can provide up to 90% of the cost for each project, so be sure to get in touch with your local governments and encourage them to apply.

Agricultural road projects considered for ARIP funding are expected to result in the reduction of labor costs, fuel costs and repeated trips caused by weight limits. Priority will be given to projects that improve access by the largest number of agricultural producers to lands and facilities used for production; provide the greatest positive economic impact; target roads and structures that provide the only feasible access to agricultural lands; support local governments that can demonstrate fiscal or administrative challenges for completing a project; reduce the amount of trips for agricultural producers; and result in the greatest amount of goods transported.

This $150 million surely won’t go far enough to cover all the needs in our rural communities, especially here in western Wisconsin. However, it will give us a more accurate picture of what we need to do to strengthen our agricultural infrastructure in future budgets. Reach out to your local government officials and encourage them to submit grant requests for ARIP this year.

When farmers have good roads, they can get their goods to market. We all benefit from fresher products, cheaper prices and better selections for all the goodness Wisconsin farmers have to offer.


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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New Year, New Opportunities

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, 03 January 2024
in Wisconsin

new-year-happySenator Smith explores new opportunities for Republicans and Democrats to work together for solving Wisconsin’s challenges.


MADISON - The New Year is a time to look ahead, set goals, and make changes for the better. The best way forward is to glance backward, taking stock of what went well and what can be improved. Then, with last year in the rearview mirror, we can focus on how to make big impacts for the year ahead.

Last week I wrote about some of the bipartisan highlights we experienced throughout 2023. The first of our two-year biennial session is complete and the end of session is quickly approaching in May. There’s so much more to accomplish before legislators hit the road for campaign season.

Child care continues to remain the most pressing issue our growing families face each day. Without long term investments in programs like Child Care Counts, our economy will spiral out of control. Child Care Counts was a successful program borne out of the pandemic that helped child care workers earn a better wage and employers to retain quality early-childhood educators all while keeping the costs lower for families. Child Care Counts kept parents in the workforce and money in the pockets of the people who were spending it in our local economy.

assembly-wi-robin-vosRepublicans have had numerous chances to extend the program and a multi-billion dollar surplus leaves us no excuse to not make this critical investment in our workforce and the development of our youngest. Thankfully Governor Tony Evers (D) was able to use $170 million in emergency funding until June 2025. Our kids deserve better than a patch job. Wisconsin needs a long term solution for parents to stay in the workforce and for kids to have the early education they need to excel in life. We can get the job done, but it’ll take a big bipartisan lift in the years ahead.

There’s been a seismic shift in Wisconsin and nationally how we utilize renewable energy. Partisan disagreement is fading when it comes to climate-friendly energy alternatives. Businesses enjoy a better bottom line, residents can breathe better air quality and we can make the improvements needed to curb climate change now for our future generations. Our new energy infrastructure is coming from numerous sources spread over a wider area. That means infrastructure investments to transfer power from solar fields to subdivisions will need to be made.

The bill called, “Right of First Refusal” (ROFR) is making its way through the legislature. ROFR ensures that investments going to Wisconsin’s grid are done by energy providers we’ve trusted for decades instead of opening the door to out-of-state companies that are more interested in turning a profit than properly and efficiently serving customers. ROFR has bipartisan support and there’s a good chance it can pass into law before the end of session in May.

jeff-smithAnother New Year opportunity that’s gaining traction is Final Five Voting. A couple weeks ago I spelled out the advantages for adopting Final Five Voting in our federal U.S. Senate and House of Representative elections. Simply put, this bill allows voters to vote for one person in the primary, regardless of political party. During the general election, voters can list their preference for the candidates as first, second, third, fourth and fifth. An instant runoff occurs and the lowest performing candidates are eliminated, each person’s votes goes to the next pick on their ballot until only two candidates are left. The candidate with the most votes wins.

This bill is a great opportunity for voters to have candidates more interested in them instead of trashing their opponents. In addition to a more civil dialogue, it might even encourage ordinary citizens to run for office. It’ll be tough to get it done this session, but we will continue to push for a better alternative for voters to have their voices heard.

We’ve accomplished a lot last year and we have so many opportunities to build on our bipartisan work. There will undoubtedly be plenty of partisan squawking from legislators on each side of the aisle. However, if last year is was an indicator for what we can accomplish together, then Wisconsin is in store for some big opportunities in the New Year.


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 Bipartisan Bedrock to Build On

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, 27 December 2023
in Wisconsin

wi-farm-winterSenator Smith looks back at the bipartisan achievements of 2023 and the hope for continued collaboration in the New Year. Have a happy holidays!


BRUNSWICK, WI - While this is the time of year for reflection, it’s also a time when we should look forward. Families may have celebrated weddings, births and other life changing events – these are the hallmarks of our past year. In the political sphere, headlines usually focus on events that are not so positive. Constructive bipartisan accomplishments are worth commemorating and remembering as we start the New Year.

Wisconsin has a biennial legislative session, so in the odd-numbered year, the legislature and governor go right to work on the next biennial budget. Certainly many of us would have liked a final budget that reflected priorities Governor Evers had placed in his proposal. But, like each budget presented by the governor since winning his election in 2018, the Republican-led Joint Committee on Finance rejected it and crafted their own version.

Trashing the Governor’s budget wasn’t the best way to start bipartisanship this year, however, both Democrats and Republicans got the job done for UW-Eau Claire’s Science and Health Sciences building. That’s huge for the UWEC, the Eau Claire community, the Chippewa Valley region and our state. It’s an investment we can truly tout as a positive, bipartisan accomplishment. I hope you can be as excited as I am to see how the unique partnership between Mayo Clinic and UWEC plays out for our region being a leader in rural healthcare.

gb-bridge-closeFor decades towns, villages and cities saw their share of state revenue declining. Revenue limits made it impossible for communities to keep up with inflation. Year after year, it became harder for local governments to meet the needs and expectations of their citizens. During the 2022 campaign, incumbents and challengers alike promised that shared revenue would be a top priority. We all know how campaign promises don’t always pan out, but this bipartisan effort to fix shared revenue became real in 2023. In fact, the shared revenue bill was finished before the budget. This bipartisan achievement will pay dividends for our local communities for years to come.

A real headline grabber was state funding to upgrade the Brewers stadium. It captured the attention and imagination of the press and public. Opinions were all over the place about why public money should go toward a professional sports stadium. The state of Wisconsin is the owner and landlord of the property, and we have the responsibility to maintain it. I’m proud of the fact that, when the bill came to the Senate, we were able to foster a bipartisan partnership to protect our state’s interests, fulfill our obligations and keep the Brewers in Wisconsin. On top of it all, we found a way to direct more resources to communities in every corner of Wisconsin and up the contribution by the Brewers to fund the final deal.

jeff-smithAnother bipartisan effort to highlight that will pay off for rural Wisconsin was the creation of the Agricultural Road Improvement Program. This program offers a one-time $150 million investment to fix and upgrade deteriorating infrastructure to benefit agriculture. Keeping agricultural goods flowing through Wisconsin benefits everyone in our state.

Before we broke for the holidays, Republicans and Democrats teamed up again to modernize Wisconsin’s alcohol regulations. This overhaul legislation makes many changes to Wisconsin current alcohol regulations and creates a new state office to implement and oversee them. Some of the beneficial changes are allowing wineries to stay open as long as bars and local brewers can now sell out-of-state beer and own off-site locations. This bill was good for enhancing oversight while also creating new opportunities for our local wineries and craft brewers.

Democrats and Republicans may fight like cats and dogs at times, but when we work together, we can accomplish great things. Here’s to hoping 2023 was the bipartisan bedrock we can build on moving into 2024.


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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