This article was last modified on April 11, 2010.

Tom Nelson: Moving Outagamie Forward

Kaukauna native Tom Nelson could have been seen as gambling his entire political future when he ran for lieutenant governor last fall. Nelson had decided to pursue the new position without re-running for his previous one, Assembly Majority Leader. With the polls heavily favoring Scott Walker over Tom Barrett, that was a big gamble, and one Nelson inevitably lost.

Rather than hang his head and give up public service, he set his sights on the next election… and won. If he has not already knocked on your door and personally shook your hand, say hello to Nelson, your new Outagamie County executive. No one has worked harder to earn his constituents’ respect and was deserving of our vote. No one has walked more miles or knocked on more doors to find out what Fox Valley residents want to see changed. From raising awareness about the effects of depleted uranium on our troops to saving a historic home in Seymour to discussing health care issues with seniors, Tom Nelson takes a direct approach that was instilled in him by his respect for Senator Bill Proxmire.

While his time in the legislature was admirable, he knew inside that it was not accomplishing as much as he wanted. As Nelson tells me, “the legislature gave the governor 98% of what he asked for” in the past several years, regardless of the parties of the governor or the congressmen. If this figure is true, he is right to believe that the real change comes either top-down or locally, and not from the assembly or anywhere else.

Nelson brushed off concerns about the health care bill, pointing out that Wisconsin already has record lows in uninsured rates, with 5% or less not covered. With the states implementing the bill in their own way, Wisconsin will see little change. He does acknowledge that the federal government does not need control of the states in all categories, though, including education. “What might make sense for Connecticut or California might not make sense for Wisconsin.”

One should look past his former Democratic Party affiliation and check out Nelson’s record and statements to see what kind of man he is. Although he supports the idea of stimulus, insisting it has created or saved tens of thousands of Wisconsin jobs, he has not been a “rubber stamp” by any means. He points out that he “voted to override (Governor Doyle) four or five times. Show me a Republican in the 1990s who voted to override Tommy Thompson.”

Nelson is a man who listens, does the legwork and gets the job done. What should we expect when he takes his seat in Appleton? “Outagamie County is a relatively well-run county,” he told the Post-Crescent earlier this year. “We have a triple-A bond rating. We’re under the levy limit. And we have one of the lowest per capita spending rates in the state. So the challenge is to accomplish stability.” He also hopes to keep Outagamie receiving its fair share of state funds — taxes Outagamie residents paid in and deserve back.

This is a steep challenge, but keep your eyes on Nelson. He is not a man who makes promises lightly, and his word is his bond.

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