Wisconsin legislature: 85th Assembly District race

(First published in the October 18, 2018 issue of City Pages)

Dem Challenger Alyson Leahy takes on Pat Snyder for a seat in Madison


Alyson Leahy

Alyson Leahy’s entry into the world of politics has been fast and furious. Only weeks after she won her seat on the Marathon County Board — unseating appointed member Todd Van Ryn after losing out to him for the appointment to the seat — Leahy, a 31-year-old copywriter at Footlocker from Wausau, announced she was running for State Assembly.

She is taking on Republican incumbent Patrick Snyder, the 62-year-old former radio host from Schofield, who is seeking his second term in office.

So far Leahy is out-raising Snyder, according to state campaign finance records, with total receipts of $16,336 in 2018 as of the July Continuing campaign finance report — the latest available report as of publication. Snyder reported raising $11,198 in that same time period. But Snyder in that report claimed to have a cash balance of $36,445; Leahy $11,116.

It’s a quick jump from county board to state assembly, but Leahy says the time is right. With analysts predicting a blue wave for this mid-term elections, and with record numbers of female candidates nationwide, Leahy will seek to capitalize on that momentum to win a seat in the Wisconsin legislature in the Nov. 6 vote. The number of female candidates competing for seats in state legislatures this election throughout the U.S. skyrocketed compared to past election cycles: 2,380 female Democratic candidates will run for state positions this election, compared to about 1,700 two years ago. Republican female candidates increased too, by about 100.

One of the top issues for Leahy, if elected, will be helping to establish fair, less gerrymandered election maps. It’s something she is hearing from her constituents, she says, and is something important to ensure electors feel like their voices are heard. And tackling campaign financing and dark money in politics will also be a top priority if elected.

District 85 — the district they’re competing in — includes much of the eastern half of the county, including Wausau, Rothschild and Schofield. Weston, Mosinee, Marathon City, as well as part of Marshfield and Auburndale comprise the adjoining 86thDistrict.


Pat Snyder

Continuing his work on improving conditions in foster care is a top priority for the incumbent assemblyman, Snyder says. Snyder helped author a number of bills increasing funding for foster care families and to help foster care children, but says one of the most important things that still needs to be addressed is children “aging out” of foster care. Teens aging out of foster care without any plan will cost the state $300,000, Snyder told City Pages. Those costs come as a result of reliance on state assistance or entering the correction system.

“The sad fact is that one in five become homeless,” Snyder says.

On the subject of the workforce, both candidates agree that more needs to be done to address the talent gap but differ on how to accomplish that. Snyder emphasized the role of technical colleges and vocational programs, pointing to programs at D.C. Everest and Wausau school districts that steer kids to manufacturing and other vocation programs.

For Leahy, the first step is funding public education to its appropriate levels. While the latest state budget restored some funding for K-12 and university education, it came after a decade of slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from education, more than was made up for in the last budget.

Leahy emphasized a need to focus on the student loan issue. Focusing on a student loan forgiveness program could be a great way to attract workers to the state, Leahy says. She’s also sensitive to the issue of living wages. “We are seeing low levels of unemployment and that sounds great, but it’s important to understand if we want to attract workers, the pay, living wages, benefits are all things we will have to look into

On the subject of drug abuse and addiction, both candidates support increasing funding for and an emphasis on treatment rather than incarceration. Snyder said he supported the idea of turning Lincoln Hills, slated to close soon, into some kind of rehabilitation facility. That could combine with training for careers for a total rehabilitation experience, Snyder said.

And serving on the Marathon County Board, Leahy has seen firsthand the impacts of the opioid crisis on the county and its resources.

Snyder says he wants to see the dark store issue — the practice of businesses using empty stores sometimes hundreds of miles away to argue for lower tax bills — be addressed in the next session. Snyder argued for a possible compromise, such as the possibility of limiting the distance a comparable property could be used to determine tax value.

Leahy takes a stronger stance, saying the loophole needs to be closed, because it shifts the tax burden to local home and business owners. Municipal leaders argue the same; and in some communities, such as Rib Mountain, enough dark store suits could decimate the town’s budget, leaders there have told City Pages.

“I think we should definitely close that loophole,” Leahy says. “It’s not fair to burden the average taxpayer and homeowner with increased taxes because multi-million dollar corporations don’t want to pay their fare share.”

Snyder was elected the same night Donald Trump stunned analysts with his polls-defying defeat of Hillary Clinton in an election that went decidedly red. With a blue wave predicted for this mid-term, Leahy will hope to capitalize on something similar as low Trump approval ratings is expected to lead to a blue backlash.