Tauchen looks back
Legislator spent 16 years in Assembly
By Greg Seubert
Gary Tauchen is stepping down after 16 years in the state Legislature, but he’s not slowing down.
The Bonduel Republican has represented Assembly District 6 – which covers most of Shawano County and portions of Waupaca, Outagamie and Brown counties – since first running for the seat in 2006. He announced last year that his current term, which is up for re-election in November, will be his last.
In Waupaca County, District 6 includes the city of Clintonville; village of Embarrass; and towns of Matteson, Bear Creek and Lebanon.
Tauchen graduated from Bonduel High School in 1971, attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1971–72 and earned a bachlor’s degree in animal science in 1976 from UW-River Falls.
Tauchen, his father, Herb, and Herb’s late son, Al, started Tauchen’s Harmony Valley Farm near Bonduel in 1976. Gary still has a hand in the farm, along with his brothers, Steve and Greg.
“(Herb) was the first one from the family to go to school at UW-River Falls,” Tauchen said. “He was a soil conservationist in Menominee and Shawano counties. He retired there after 32 years and then he spent more than that farming.”
Years of involvement with agriculture-related organzations such as the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability and the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin led Tauchen to run for the 6th Assembly District seat after John Ainsworth announced he would not run for a ninth two-year term.
“Between the two of us, we have 32 years of service,” Tauchen said. “Cate Zeuske was in before us and she ended up being very, very influential in state politics. She was the state treasurer, the Department of Revenue secretary and the deputy secretary of the Department of Administration. We have had some really good legislators come out of our community that positively impacted the district and the state.”
Tauchen believed he could make a difference at the state level.
“I was involved on a lot of boards of directors with agricultural things,” he said. “I chaired quite a few organizations and I was appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture to advise him and world trade negotiataors under (presidents) Clinton and Bush. I spent a lot of time out in Washington, D.C. from 1999 to 2003. I had quite a bit of experience influencing things on the state, national and international level.
“Everybody has a different cup of tea,” he said. “Washington, D.C. was a good place for me to visit, but it wasn’t some place I was interested in working. I did love politics and influencing things so I ran for the Assembly in 2006 and was successful. I will have served 16 years by Jan. 3, 2023.”
Tauchen said his dairy farming background helped him in the Legislature.
“When you farm, you learn how to work and you learn responsibility and priorities, all those kinds of things,” he said. “I’m sure it impacted a lot of decisions I’ve made over time.”
Off to Madison
Tauchen currently chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Agriculture and is also a member of its Committee on Energy and Utilities; Committee on State Affairs; and Committee on Tourism.
“I’m chairing the agriculture committee and have been on that committee ever since I got here,” Tauchen said. “It’s a very influential committtee. Agriculture is a $105-billion business in the state and it’s one of the top three economic drivers, with manufacturing and tourism.”
Senate and Assembly bills he has worked on this year include Senate Bill 1054, relating to the measurement of carbon emissions and carbon emission offset transactions related to animal agriculture operators, renewable natural gas and energy produced at animal agriculture facilities and granting rule-making authority; Assembly Bill 1072, relating to the measurement of carbon emissions and carbon emission offset transactions related to animal agriculture operators, renewable natural gas and energy produced at animal agriculture facilities and granting rule-making authority; and Assembly Bill 948, relating to nonprobate transfers of farming implements at death.
“We work really well together in the Assembly,” Tauchen said. “We generally work as a group and discuss all the issues, decide which ought to be priorities and work together to make it happen. Whether you author or co-author something or vote on it, I think you have to convince people that whatever you do is going to be beneficial to the state of Wisconsin.
“There are quite a few pieces of legislation that I’ve been involved in,” he said. To me, there are six big issues for the state: the workforce, or employees; the environment; food safety and animal health; land use; global trade; and energy. Those are my top six. I’ve tried to impact all of those areas in some way or another because they’re all important. Those are not just important to agriculture, but to everybody.”
According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, seven candidates – six Republicans and one Democrat – have filed nomination papers to run for Tauchen’s seat: Republicans Matthew Abert of Appleton, Peter Schmidt of Bonduel, Dean Neubert of Hortonville, Nathan Michael of Tigerton, Craig Arrowood of Shawano and David Kohn of Bonduel; and Democrat William Switalla of Wittenberg.
The six Republican candidates are on the ballot in a primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 9, with the general election set for Tuesday, Nov. 8.
“I think 16 years is long enough,” Tauchen said. “I was 52 when I ran for office and I’ll be 69 when I retire. If you’re going to do a good job, you’ve got to put the time and effort in. It’s a lot easier for a younger person to get to the places they need to get.
“I suppose I could keep doing it, but it’s good to get new blood and new ideas in every once in awhile,” he added. “The odds of beating a sitting incumbent since 1940 are 8%. That essentially says unless you screw up, you’re going to be re-elected. If you don’t give people an opportunity, you never know what they can do.”
Although Tauchen is stepping down from the Assembly, he plans to remain active in agricultural-related matters.
“I have several special projects that I’m going to be working on down here in Madison, at least half a dozen,” he said. “The most important one is a digester project, the Wisconsin Agriculture-Carbon/Energy/Water Initiative. It’ll provide a new income source for the farm population with carbon, improve water quality and provide energy. We’ve been working on this project for 1 1/2 years and we still have about a year left before we’ll be ready to make reasonable recommendations to the Legislature.
“I knew it would be a long-term project and knew it would take longer than my term, but I thought it was important enough to move forward because it can make significant contributions for improving water quality for Wisconsin and help provide another income source for the farm population,” he said. “We don’t have any coal or other energy sources in the state. You can produce either electricity or biogas and biogas is a big thing right now. We still have a long way to go, but there’s enough of us working on the project that really have an interest. I’m expecting we’ll have some recommendations next session.”
Tauchen said he will always remember the colleagues he worked with in Madison.
“When you work on big projects and pieces of legislation together, you really develop a stong relationship,” he said. “The process can be a little overwhelming, but the system is what it is. If you work within it, you have the ability to make substantial changes.
“I always say it’s like a baseball game,” he said. “You can’t affect it unless you’re in it.”