Merlin Van Buren, 51, of Rhinelander, announced his intention to run for the soon-to-be-vacated 34th District Wisconsin Assembly seat at a press conference in front of the Oneida County Courthouse March 20.
Van Buren, a Democrat, is no stranger to running for office. He made a run for the same seat against incumbent 34th District Assemblyman Dan Meyer in 2010. Meyer announced his intention to retire in January, and several candidates have already declared their interest in the seat. Van Buren joins Eagle River political activist Roberta Retrum on the Democratic ticket, meaning their will be a September primary election for the seat. Rhinelander City Alderman and Downtown Rhinelander Inc. President Alex Young is running as a Republican, while Eagle River political activist and Tea Party organizer Kim Simac has also expressed interest in the seat. Todd Albano of Woodruff has declared his intentions to run as an Independent.
At his press conference, Van Buren said he expects this race to differ greatly from his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Meyer in 2010.
“When I ran in 2010, it was, quite frankly, a bad time to be running for office in this state as a Democrat,” said Van Buren. “That situation has changed pretty substantially over the last year.”
Van Buren said he made the decision to run for the seat nearly a year ago, long before Meyer announced his retirement. He said Meyer’s retirement will “not play a role” in how he conducts his campaign.
“Representing a rural area in the State Assembly shouldn’t be about partisanship,” said Van Buren. “When I ran in 2010, I jumped in right at the end, and didn’t have a lot of time to campaign. I feel much more comfortable now.”
Van Buren was born and raised on a dairy farm near Waupun, graduating from Waupun High School in 1978 and UW-Madison in 1982. He and his wife, Ann, moved to the Rhinelander area with their two sons 16 years ago to, as Van Buren said, “get back to Wisconsin values” after living in the suburbs of Chicago. He said that he grew up in a “very Republican” household in a conservative area of the state, and considered himself a staunch conservative for many years before growing disillusioned with the Republican Party.
“I was once proud to call myself a Republican, but the truth is that today’s Republican Party is much, much different than the party I grew up with,” said Van Buren.
Van Buren is employed in the purchasing department at Foster and Smith, and is quite active in the community, serving as a Cub and Boy Scout leader, an assistant soccer coach at Rhinelander High School and volunteering for a number of activities with First Congregational Church. Van Buren also currently sits on the School District of Rhinelander’s Board of Education, and considers education a key to his platform. The Rhinelander School Board is currently attempting to figure out how to cut nearly $2 million out of their 2012-13 budget to get it balanced.
“Education provides the basis for the future generation to support their families and provide the quality employees that our employers need,” said Van Buren. “The sate can’t keep making cuts to education and funneling that money elsewhere. When it comes to our kids’ education, we only have one shot to do it right.”
Van Buren also said that the economy is extremely important in this election. He said he disagrees greatly with Gov. Scott Walker’s job creation plan.
“I’m sick and tired of politicians repeating the mantra that giving tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations is going to create jobs,” said Van Buren. “That idea doesn’t work. Demand for goods and services from the middle class is what creates jobs. The middle class are the job creators, and the backbone of our community.”
Van Buren also touched on the environment, in particular the controversial mining legislation that was recently voted down in the State Senate. He said that while he is not against mining per se, he said that any legislation passed needs to take the environment into account.
“I feel that the compromise bill that Republican Sen. Dale Schultz helped author would have done that, but his Republican cohorts wouldn’t listen to compromise,” said Van Buren. “Mining could bring an economic boost to northern Wisconsin, but it needs to be done responsibly.”
Van Buren said he was unfamiliar for the most part with his prospective opponents in the race, never meeting Young or Albano, and only meeting Retrum at a event in Vilas County last week. He said he looks forward to getting to know his opponents, along with the thousands of other prospective voters in the 34th District.
“I don’t have a lot of money to run a campaign, so I’m going to depend on people that believe in my message to spread the word,” said Van Buren. “My goal is to provide the Northwoods with the representation in Madison that they deserve.”
Editor Craig Mandli is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.