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Listening to needs of rural communities enlightening

Russ Feingold

We know Wisconsin is strongest when people from every corner of our state have the opportunity to succeed in this economy. When we invest in technology, infrastructure and education resources we need to compete in a 21st century economy, Wisconsin workers, businesses and families all benefit.

But too often, Washington politicians aren’t listening to the people — especially not to those who live in our rural communities. I kicked off this campaign by visiting with Wisconsinites in all 72 counties, listening to the needs of middle class and working families. My opponent spent the last five years in Washington making sure multinational corporations and billionaires get their tax loopholes and handouts.

Sen. Ron Johnson has shown time and again that he listens to Washington Republican insiders and corporate interests … but not to Wisconsin families.

The bipartisan 2014 Farm Bill was projected to reduce the deficit by $23 billion, and aims to reinvest $14 billion of the savings to help protect farmers and create jobs. It provides much-needed stability for the dairy industry and thousands of Wisconsin farms, protecting their financial and job security. That’s good for farmers and it’s good for families. But Sen. Johnson put loyalty to special interests ahead of Wisconsin and opposed it.

As I travel across Wisconsin, people in small towns tell me they often have only one choice for broadband service, which can be too expensive and too slow — if they have access at all. In far too many communities I heard a familiar story: High school students, after a long day of classes and extracurricular activities, return to the school parking lot at night. Why? Because it’s the only place they can access quality Internet to complete their assignments.

This should be unacceptable in any community. Yet Sen. Johnson thinks the broadband internet speed is actually too fast. He worked for months against rules that would keep the internet free and accessible, just so big telecom could reap more profits. If we treat access to the internet like a utility, we can empower local communities to develop their own broadband service, providing fast and cheap internet. We’ve seen this succeed in Reedsburg where they established municipal broadband, and we can expand this to other Wisconsin communities. To compete in a global economy, all Wisconsinites need access to broadband internet.

Traveling through northeastern Wisconsin, I learned about a serious water problem. A 2015 study showed that the water in 34 percent of the 320 wells in Kewaunee County was unsafe to drink. I met with local leaders to discuss how we work together and fix this problem that’s putting their families’ health and local businesses at risk. But when confronted with the troubling evidence of water contamination, Sen. Johnson suggested rolling back public safety protections was the only solution. And like a typical Washington politician, Sen. Johnson voted to overturn a rule to protect Wisconsin’s access to clean water. Sure, this makes corporations an extra buck. But is that really more important than ensuring our families have access to clean water?

If you spend the time to listen to folks across the state, you learn a lot about just how important the small towns and rural communities of Wisconsin are. But right now, their needs are taking a back seat to corporate tax giveaways. Sen. Johnson has made his agenda clear: He’ll fight for wealthy corporate interests and powerful D.C. insiders — just not for you. I’ll always listen to you and fight for our entire state, because Wisconsin can only move forward if we do so together.

Russ Feingold is a Democratic candidate running for the U.S. Senate. He served in the senate for 18 years.