Forum offers glimpse of Democratic candidates

Voters got a glimpse of the candidates vying for partisan county offices last week during a forum sponsored by the Douglas County Democratic Party. All contested races -- county treasurer, register of deeds and district attorney -- will be decide...

Voters got a glimpse of the candidates vying for partisan county offices last week during a forum sponsored by the Douglas County Democratic Party.

All contested races - county treasurer, register of deeds and district attorney - will be decided during the Aug. 9 primary because all the candidates are running as Democrats.

Congressional candidate Joel Lewis of Wausau, Wis., also had a chance to address the crowd. The other Democratic candidate for the 7th District, Mary Hoeft of Rice Lake, Wis., was unable to stay because of a prior commitment, said Jim Paine, chairman of the Douglas County Democratic Party and moderator of Thursday’s forum.


The county treasurer’s office is responsible for collecting property taxes and distributing them to other taxing jurisdictions, and managing the county’s investments.


Cindy Michalski, a 27-year veteran of the Douglas County Treasurer’s Office, is challenging appointed County Treasurer Carol Jones.

Jones has worked for the county treasurer for 12 years - six years as deputy treasurer - and was appointed to the post about 14 months ago, when Treasurer Linda Helenius retired last year before the end of her term.

"Our race has not been contested for probably 30 years because our elected officials always retire half-way through their term, and then they turn it over to their friend - the deputy - to finish their term," Michalski said. Michalski holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Jones was trained at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in accounting and has 36 years of experience, working in public, nonprofit and private sectors.

Jones defended her appointment to the post because it was an open hire process and the board approved her appointment to the seat.

"It was something that was interviewed for, and the Douglas County Board chair did select me for the job," Jones said.

Register of Deeds

The Register of Deeds Office is responsible for recording property transactions and deeds, and vital records such as birth and death certificates, military records and others.


Three candidates are vying for post that will be vacated by Register of Deeds Gayle Wahner at the end of the year.

Tracy Middleton of Parkland, Jon Winter of Lakeside and Kara Schmidt of Superior are all hoping for a chance to fill the seat.

"I have worked in that office for nine years, with an additional three years working for Superior Abstract and Title," Middleton said. She said she has the skills necessary and understands the language to do the job well.

Winter, owner of Winter Computer Systems, said he has a wide range of experience that includes building databases for county record-keepers, the Clerk of Courts and Register of Deeds offices, when he worked for Superior Abstract and Title. "My background in technology lends itself well to the changes in technology that we will see in the future," he said. Having worked for Superior Abstract and Title, he said he also understands how to do the job.

Schmidt, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Superior, said she has the energy to ensure she has the skills needed to do the job. "I have other skills that can be brought into the picture, and I think I have a different perspective," she said.

District attorney

The district attorney is responsible for leading the state’s prosecution of crime and providing services for victims and witnesses of crime.

District Attorney Dan Blank, first elected more than 25 years ago, is facing a challenge from Mark Fruehauf, a former assistant district attorney now working in the private sector.


"It’s a job that I’ve had and it’s a job that I love; it’s a job that I am passionate for and it’s a job that I’m good at," Blank said. He said when he ran initially for the post, he promised he would be a team player, effective on crime, and he intends to do that for at least four more years if he’s re-elected.

"I take very seriously that young Democrats need to be involved in politics, in the community," Fruehauf said. He said is running for district attorney because he is passionate about criminal law. "I think passion for criminal law is really important," he said, adding that he’s been involved as a prosecutor and defense attorney.

"You can’t jail your way out of crime," Fruehauf said. He said much of the crime is a result of mental health issues and chemical dependency issues, and getting the people the help they need could prevent crime. However, for those who won’t take advantage of treatment, public safety demands protecting the community from those individuals, he said.

"We’ve got to be more inclusive to the problem solvers in our community, and get to the table and real solutions instead of our status quo, same old process," Blank said. He said restorative justice principles are employed in cases.


Lewis was given a chance to talk to those who attended the forum.

Lewis said he supports a livable wage and health care for all; however, he said the Cadillac tax in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is something that has to be addressed.

"I would be willing to do that if you send me to Congress," Lewis said.


Other priorities include the environment and the creation of "green jobs" that don’t affect the environment negatively, addressing treatment for those with drug or mental health issues, and maintaining Social Security and Medicare.

"I don’t believe they should be privatized," Lewis said.

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