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Wisconsin governor takes time to listen in Superior

Residents and leaders have the opportunity to share their concerns before Gov. Tony Evers issues his budget to the Legislature in February.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, left, takes notes as he sits in on a group talking about healthcare, the environment and justice reform during his listening tour in the Yellowjacket Union on the UW-Superior campus
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, left, sits in on a group talking about health care, the environment and justice reform during his listening tour at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Educators, business people, health care professionals and ordinary citizens gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Tuesday, Jan. 17, to tell the governor and lieutenant governor what’s important to local people.

More than two-dozen people took part as Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez continued their “Doing the Right Thing” listening tour as they prepare to write the budget that will be presented to the Wisconsin Legislature in February.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez listens in the economy and infrastructure group during the governor’s listening tour
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez listens to the economy and infrastructure group during the governor’s listening tour at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Tuesday, Jan. 17. “I love being able to listen to people and hearing what their needs are and what their concerns are,” Rodriguez said.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“Budgets are a reflection of our values," Evers said. “And for me, our biennial budget has always been … about doing the right thing for the people.”

For nearly an hour, Evers and Rodriguez sat with groups of people in Superior to discuss education; health care, the environment and justice; and the economy and infrastructure.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers listens intently to the group talking about healthcare, the environment and justice reform during his listening tour in the Yellowjacket Union on the UW-Superior campus
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Reggie Leckel, of Superior, listen intently to the group talking about health care, the environment and justice reform during his listening tour at the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Evers jotted down notes as Lynn Goerdt, a professor and chairperson of the Human Behavior, Justice and Diversity Department at UWS, explained the challenge for recruiting and retaining mental health care providers in Superior. She said there are people who live in Superior but work in Minnesota so they can earn a higher wage.

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“Even if the Medicaid reimbursement rate is not able to get raised to a level that is comparable to Minnesota, we then need creative sources of funding for recruitment and retention because we need to be able to offer things in Wisconsin,” Goerdt said.

Chrissy Barnard, a peer specialist with indiGO, a nonprofit agency in Superior that serves people who have disabilities, encouraged the governor to consider funding for peer respite for people experiencing a mental health crisis. She said while the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Douglas County was successful in getting a grant from the city for $200,000 to establish a peer respite home in Superior, it’s just a portion of the funding the organization will need to help people successfully overcome mental health crises.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez talks to the media before the governor’s listening tour at the Yellowjacket Union on the UW-Superior campus
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez talks to the media before the governor’s listening tour at UW-Superior on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Superior Mayor Jim Paine, left, introduces Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers to the crowd during the governor’s listening tour
Superior Mayor Jim Paine, left, introduces Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers to the crowd during the governor’s listening tour at UW-Superior on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“We made important decisions by having critical conversations like this,” Evers said. He said with a projected $9.6 billion budget surplus by the end of the next biennium, it creates an opportunity for the state to invest in its people.

The governor said the conversations like this over the last four years have contributed to education funding, tax cuts, fixing more than 4,600 miles of road and 1,500 bridges across the state, in addition to the largest state investment in broadband.

But even with broadband being extended to about 387,000 homes and businesses over the last four years, he said there are still 500,000-600,000 households it hasn’t reached yet.

“It’s great that he comes to listen to people that live here,” said Garner Moffat, of Superior. “Because we’re the farthest city from Madison, the people here feel ignored or lesser in the eyes of the state capitol. So I really appreciate the governor making an effort to provide an active listening space for people in our community so they actually feel like they’re a part of what’s happening in our state.”

more by shelley nelson
Mayor Jim Paine said the city worked best when people could live, work and play in their own neighborhoods, and his goal is to create an environment where that can happen again.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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