By Danielle Kaeding
Each day is different. However, Julie Lassa said most days cover a lot of ground, whether one is speaking figuratively about the issues or literally traveling from town to town.
"Being able to talk with voters and individuals about what their concerns are and what they hope to see from their federal government," Lassa said, adding that she solicits solutions they may have for problems facing the country. "It doesn't matter where I go in the district -- they're talking about jobs and how to bring down federal spending."
Lassa is running as a Democrat for retiring Congressman Dave Obey's seat in the 7th Congressional District. She faces Republicans Sean Duffy and Dan Mielke, as well as Independent candidate Gary Kauther.
She considers herself a part of the working class as she grew up on a small dairy farm in northern Portage County. Lassa attended public schools in Stevens Point where she also attended college. She has since married and is mother to two little girls.
"It's just like every other family. You always do the balancing," Lassa said. "What's wonderful is that the girls and my husband come with me to different events -- the parades -- so we can also make a family event out of it as well."
She said they enjoy getting out and meeting new people and throwing candy during the parades. But, there is still time for private family events, including a party for her eldest daughter to celebrate her 6th birthday.
"It will probably be a princess cake. It has been for the last few years. She goes through the different Disney princesses," Lassa said, and smiled.
When she's meeting new people out in the district, Lassa is often reminded of her parents, who ran a dairy operation but also worked off the farm.
"(My father) worked swing shifts for 38 years. He was a member of the Teamsters union," Lassa said. "There were times during the winter where the factory work slowed down, and he was one of the people that was laid off. I just know from my own family experience of how things were when my dad was laid off."
However, Lassa said they were fortunate to have heat, food and shelter -- unlike some.
"But, I understand what so many workers and their families are going through right now who have been laid off or lost a job because I saw how it impacted my own family," Lassa said. "That's one of the reasons why I'm running and why I focus so much both in my career in the private sector and the public sector on job creation issues."
She doesn't want to see other families have to struggle like her own. Lassa is the oldest of three siblings. She has one sister and a brother who served in the U.S. Navy.
"My sister lives maybe 10 miles from me and my parents maybe 15," Lassa said, adding that her brother lives in Freedom. "We see each other and talk quite often. I think it's important to have those family ties and to keep them."
Lassa relies on them quite a bit and values having them near. However, she notes it can be difficult for them to watch her on the campaign trail.
"Up until now, there have been more than a half million dollars poured into negative attack ads against me throughout the district. That can be difficult on your family," Lassa said. "Somebody told my mom, "By the end of the campaign, you're not even going to recognize your own daughter,' because of what these attack ads are trying to get people to believe."
Yet, Lassa said both her parents are very strong people who set a good example for her growing up.
"That work ethic of growing up on the farm, honesty and integrity -- I think that's very important. Those are the work ethics and values that my husband and I are instilling in our two daughters," Lassa said.
Public service seems to run in the family as her husband is the city clerk for Stevens Point. Lassa said she got her start when she was appointed to the Dewey Town Board as its first woman supervisor.
"That's really how I got my start in understanding so many of the local issues -- the importance of good roads in townships, being able to do some of the day-to-day work that is so important for town residents," Lassa said.
She also worked for a state lawmaker before she was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1998. Five years later, she became a state senator.
"I've always been interested in public service and how I can make my community a better place," Lassa said, adding that she also has a sense of shared sacrifice.
"I'm voluntarily giving back 3 percent of my salary in order to help balance the budget," Lassa said. "I do know that other workers and their families have had to take pay cuts in order to just keep their jobs. I felt that it was something that was very important to show that type of leadership -- to say I understand and I'm willing to give back."
Yet, Lassa said she didn't have her sights set on a higher office before Congressman Dave Obey announced his retirement.
"I was actually getting ready, looking at what other other things we could do in terms of job creation and economic development policies going into the next legislative session," Lassa said. "It wasn't really something I had anticipated at all. It was really a surprise."
After Obey announced his retirement, Lassa said she received a flood of phone calls and e-mails encouraging her to run.
"I talked to my husband and family and friends about it," Lassa said, pausing. "There are so many issues that we need to deal with at the federal level that need common-sense solutions in that we really do need someone from this district who's going to be strong and an independent voice for the people here."
Lassa said her goal is to become a voice for the middle class in Washington D.C. Whether or not she is elected, Lassa would like to see more stringent enforcement of trade agreements to keep and create jobs locally in the years ahead.
"I think we definitely need to get tough on China because they have for years had policies to manipulate their currency, which puts us and our workers at a significant disadvantage," she said, adding there need to be incentives for businesses to invest in American and Wisconsin workers.
"And that we're really investing in cutting-edge technology through research and development so that our manufacturers are able to compete in a global economy," Lassa said.
When she thinks about what's at stake in this election, Lassa said the difficulties of the campaign trail seem insignificant.
"Our country is at a crossroads, and we need to make sure that we have public officials who understand the gravity of the situation and who will have the strength and independence to make the tough decisions even when that means standing up to your own party to be able to get things done," she said. "It doesn't matter to me if the person is a Republican or a Democrat. All that matters is that it's common sense, good public policy and it moves us in the direction of where we need to go and that's forward."