FORT ATKINSON — Democrat Lori Compas is squaring off in Wisconsin’s 13th Senate District in a bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, in June’s recall election.
Compas talked with the Daily Times this week about her platform and her desire to upset the longtime incumbent who has aligned himself with Gov. Scott Walker as the two men fight off challengers in the statewide recall.
Compas was born in Joplin, Mo., in 1970. She is married with a son, Tom, 15, and a daughter, Anna, 12. She obtained a degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Missouri at Columbia. She said it was the “perfect degree” for her because she has since been active in virtually all forms of communication.
Compas returned to her alma mater in the late 1990s to work as a website editor and taught college-level website design. She arrived in Wisconsin in 2001 to allow her husband to obtain his Ph.D. She then moved to Australia, returning to Wisconsin and Fort Atkinson in 2007 when her spouse was hired to teach geography at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Compas said she also has work experience with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, performing communications tasks for the forestry division.
Compas recently started her own photography business and is currently specializing in shooting weddings and senior portraits. She said she is transitioning to communications consulting for small businesses. She also noted she is “very versatile in communications.”
“I was ready to do that type of a business, but then the recall turned my life around and my business is on hold,” she said.
Compas said she didn’t fully intend to run against Fitzgerald, thinking someone else would step to the plate.
“I just assumed someone like Andy Jorgensen or someone else who would be a good candidate would run,” she said. “But I think some people — not Andy — are afraid of Fitzgerald. People called on me to run. It was an extraordinary opportunity with the grassroots teams so fired up, and I thought, ‘If they want me to do it, I should learn how and give it try.’”
Compas said she feels qualified to run for the office because she is “an honest and open person” who is willing to listen to people regardless of anyone’s political beliefs. She also said her background in journalism makes her the perfect listener.
“I listen well and I learn quickly. I can grasp details and then explain the issues to other people,” she said. “To be an effective leader you have to listen to all sides, internalize information, make decisions, then explain why you decided to do what you are doing. You are not going to please everyone all the time and that is something you learn very quickly in journalism.”
Compas is a board member for Heart of the City, a local organization that promotes sustainable development and civic preservation. She is part of the Eagle Parent Organization and is a member of the Fort Atkinson Arts Council as well as the Fort Atkinson Garden Club.
Compas said Fitzgerald is “trying to do anything he can to deflect attention away from his record.” She said her campaign platform focuses on jobs and economic development among many other concerns such as restoring control to local government.
“I’ve done my homework in that area,” she said. “I’ve met with economic development specialists and planners, I’ve been told the average size business in Jefferson County is 19 people, and I think we need to support these smaller and micro-businesses more. I feel like there are a lot of other people like me out there who can capitalize on their skills, so I want to look at how to encourage these smaller businesses. I want to stress that I support businesses that are already here. I want to make them happy, and encourage entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them grow. I have been assured it’s much easier to expand businesses that already have roots than it is to entice businesses from other places. The current administration’s technique is to entice outside business with the approach, ‘I sure hope we can get somebody to come here.’”
Compas has also come out in support of public education, and restoring women’s rights and protections. She said she wants to work toward balancing the state budget, improving environmental protection and she also wants to increase protection of the Wisconsin Retirement System. Affordable health care is on her list of goals.
Compas elaborated on her wish to see Wisconsin “return to good government.”
“What we’ve seen over the past year and a half is a case where Scott Fitzgerald had been championing jobs and their development, and then things changed,” Compas said. “I don’t remember anybody talking about rolling back voting rights or women not getting equal pay for equal work. Scott didn’t campaign on attacks on teachers and he did nothing to lead us to believe he would enact these sweeping changes. To me, this has not been good government.”
Compas was also critical of what she described as Fitzgerald’s unwillingness to make himself available to constituents.
“Once a person is elected, it would be nice to be able to contact that person,” Compas said. “At Scott’s district phone number, no one ever picked up. He would not respond to emails. He is unreachable. One guy I know of even drove to the capital every day to try to talk to him. Granted, a lot was going on, but Scott has a staff, and that is their job to communicate with constituents, and that was very troubling to me. A leader is expected to explain why they are doing what they are doing, listen to people and cooperate with co-workers, and we were not seeing any of that.”
She also said a return to good government, to her, means a return to civility.
“I met with (Fitzgerald’s) predecessors and they said they have never seen the lack of civility as bad as it was in 2011 in terms of blatant disrespect,” Compas said. “Scott has just dripped contempt at times. The atmosphere he has created in the Legislature has been divisive, and it has taken the attention away from jobs and the things people need and turned us away from the issues of vital importance to the constituency.”
Compas said, if elected, she would work toward restoring workers’ rights.
“I talked to many people about this and I’m concerned about us crossing out collective bargaining without any public debate,” she said. “I’ve talked with people who have had their dignity taken away and they now have no say in their working conditions. At times that is a safety issue. I’m not a union member and my husband is not a union member, but when I hear from so many people that (the inability to bargain collectively) is really hurting them personally, it makes me think we should look at that. I feel the people of this district want collective bargaining rights restored. People deserve the right to come to the table. People in this district are very supportive of people’s rights, and taking rights away does not go over very well around here.”
She said since making the transition from concerned citizen to state Senate candidate, she has been inspired and honored by the outpouring of support she has received.
“I look forward to working together to return our state to its best traditions of open government, civility and a bipartisan commitment to progress.”