SENATE DISTRICT 14: Olsen re-elected, but Smith prevails in Columbia County

November 10, 2016 GMT

If Columbia County were the only county in the 14th Senate District, Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith would have unseated longtime incumbent Luther Olsen.

However, when all the votes were counted from all the counties in District 14 -- Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Green Lake, Fond du Lac and Marquette -- Olsen, R-Ripon, easily cruised to another four-year term in the seat that he’s held for 12 years.

The unofficial statewide results show Olsen defeating Democratic candidate Smith, 47,403 to 35,459.

In Columbia County, however, Smith garnered 9,939 votes to Olsen’s 9,795.

Smith prevailed, usually by a narrow margin, in the towns of Arlington, Columbus, Dekorra, Fountain Prairie, Lodi and Wyocena; the villages of Doylestown, Fall River and Poynette and the cities of Lodi and Wisconsin Dells (where wards 1 through 3 and 6 are in the 14th District).

Olsen dominated in the towns of Columbus, Courtland, Fort Winnebago, Hampden, Leeds, Lowville, Marcellon, Otsego, Pacific, Randolph, Scott and Springvale and the villages of Cambria, Friesland, Pardeeville, Randolph, Rio and Wyocena.

Smith could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Olsen is looking ahead to a budget battle in which he expects transportation and K-12 and university education funding to be a key bone of contention.

He has been vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance, which in the past has held hearings statewide on an assortment of budget-related matters.

And, he has been chairman of the Senate Education Committee -- where, in recent years, there have been struggles over expansion of vouchers for private schools.

Olsen has said in the past that the state cannot afford to fund both public and private schools -- but the issue is more complicated than that, he said Wednesday.

If the state’s private schools are forced to close -- as many in District 14 have -- then about 100,000 pupils would be added to the rolls of the state’s public schools, thus increasing their financial burden, especially for pupils whose household income qualifies them for free or reduced-price school lunches.

“Is it better to help keep private schools open by giving vouchers to poor kids?” Olsen asked. “Parents want the money to follow their kids.”

On transportation, Olsen said the Republicans who dominate both the Assembly and the Senate are likely to be persuaded that catching up on road maintenance now is less costly than waiting a few more years.

“The question is, how do you pay for roads in the next two years?” Olsen asked.