September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Flesch will challenge incumbent Lee Nerison (R-Westby) in the Nov. 4 election to represent the 96th district. A Democrat, Flesch has a 250-acre farm near Soldiers Grove, Wis., where he has 35 crossbred dairy cows and a beef herd made of Red and Black Angus.
Flesch, 56, is no stranger to politics. A 1975 graduate of North Crawford High School, he has served on both the Clayton Town Board and the Crawford County Board.
In addition, he chaired the town board and still chairs the county board. The 96th Wisconsin Assembly District encompasses Crawford and Vernon counties, along with some of the southern townships of Monroe County.
Voters elected Flesch to the town board in 1999. At the time, the township faced "contentious issues" like comprehensive planning and land use, Flesch said.
"I felt like I could get in there and maybe help smooth things out," he said. "I've always thought everyone should serve their community in some capacity, whether it's (American) Legion or another service organization, or through their church. As I got into it, it seemed like something I was reasonably good at. And I enjoy it."
Although chairing a county board certainly isn't easy, Flesch said he thinks chairing a town board can be tougher.
"If a tree falls down on a road in the middle of a night, the town chairman takes the call," he said. "You do what I refer to as a 'midnight chainsaw run,'" instead of putting the local highway crew to work.
Flesch held down both jobs - town chairman and county chairman - for three years. Then he decided to drop one commitment so he could pay more attention to his farm.
"That making-a-living thing gets in the way sometimes," he said.
Flesch believes he has skills that could be put to good use in Madison. He works with 17 fellow county board members.
"I'm familiar with having to build coalitions and work with folks with diverse interests, in order to get things done," Flesch said.
In addition, his experience on the Crawford County Board has given him knowledge of things going on in Wisconsin.
Flesch said, "We do a lot of interacting with the state on a lot of programs."
Flesch said he likes to see tangible results from his work in local government. He is especially interested in developing rural economies and helped form the Crawford County Economic Development Corporation when he was elected board chairman.
Crawford County has seen economic growth lately. A prime example is the new hospital that's going up on the south end of Prairie du Chien, Wis.
"In a lot of statistics, Crawford County is still among the poorest. But I've never seen it written anywhere that it has to be," Flesch said.
As for some of the issues, Flesch said one that needs more attention is frac sand mining. Some local governments in Wisconsin have passed laws that let them regulate the mining.
But last year in the state legislature, a bill surfaced to strip local governments of that regulatory power.
Said Flesch, "I thought that was a bad idea - to just wipe away all the work our towns and villages put into that."
Another issue Flesch said needs addressing is access in rural areas to high-speed Internet service. Being forced to rely on the slower dial-up access and the sometimes-unreliable satellite service places rural businesses at a decided disadvantage, according to the farmer.
"If you're trying to start up a business or telecommute - this is the twenty-first century. The way the economy is right now, you need high-speed Internet access to really partake in the economy. That goes for farmers just as well as anyone else," Flesch said.
He likens the Internet situation to that of electricity 80 years ago. During the 1930s, electricity was available to about 90 percent of the people in cities. But electric companies felt it was too expensive to string power lines out to farms.
The formation of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) began to solve the problem. A historical marker between Richland Center and Boaz, about 20 miles from Flesch's farm, denotes the first farm in the United States that was hooked up to REA lines.
"I feel like we need to make a commitment like that today to make Internet access available in rural areas," Flesch said. "It's unacceptable to leave those of us in rural areas behind as the new economy moves forward."
It's important for people from rural areas who serve in the legislature to be able to communicate with their suburban and urban fellows, Flesch said.
"Living out here (in a decidedly rural place like Flesch's part of northeastern Crawford County) would be akin to living on the moon" to many legislators, he said.
Nevertheless, they end up voting on matters that affect farmers and other rural people.
Flesch chose farming over college, buying his grandparents' farm when he was 20. A self-described "avid" reader, he especially admires Harry Truman, who was raised on a farm in Missouri and went on to become the 33rd U.S. President.
Flesch said his lifelong, hands-on knowledge of farming would come in handy in the Wisconsin Assembly, adding that he shares the rural values of respect for his neighbors and the land. He plans to be on the campaign trail soon, meeting Crawford, Monroe and Vernon county folks at June Dairy Month breakfasts among other similar events. Flesch's 1976 Ford pickup will be his main campaign vehicle.
To make time for campaigning - and to serve in the legislature, if he's elected - Flesch has chosen to exit dairying. He usually takes a break from milking between Christmas and early March, but is looking to sell his cows.
However, Flesch will remain a dairy farmer at heart.
"I'm going to miss the cows," he said. "I've always enjoyed being around cattle. When I dried them off in December, knowing this was going to be the last time, it was a little emotional."
But he looks forward to two new challenges: getting elected to the Wisconsin Assembly and serving there.
"Between the rural issues, my agricultural background and a lot of years in local government, I feel like I'm qualified to represent this area well," Flesch said. "I want to go to Madison to get things done."
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