(Photo courtesy of Tricia Zunker)
(Photo courtesy of Tricia Zunker)

Tricia Zunker seeks 7th Congressional District seat vacated by Sean Duffy

[Editor’s Note: This is a continuing series of candidate profiles. Earlier, we featured candidates running in the 1st Congressional District this fall. Today, we begin to look at the 7th Congressional District where a special election will be held May 12.]

It all started with a shake of the head.

Tricia Zunker was listening to former Republican U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy at a January 2018 town hall when she asked him what can be done at a federal level for impoverished children who might not know where their next meal comes from. Duffy responded with a “that’s-so-sad kind of nod” while offering no solution, Zunker said.

“I was so upset about that, because our children deserve better,” Zunker said.

Zunker, a 39-year-old associate justice with the Ho-Chunk Supreme Court and president of the Wausau School Board, decided that day she would run against Duffy — maybe in 2022. But when he resigned last August, she decided now was the time. She will face state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua in a special election on May 12.

“It was earlier than I thought,” Zunker said of her candidacy. “But the bottom line is I believe in public service.”

U.S. Dept. of Interior Graphic of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District

Zunker, a Wausau Democrat, will likely face an uphill battle to win Wisconsin’s largest district, which encompasses 20 counties and about 710,000 residents in the northern end of the state. In the 2016 presidential election, voters picked Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 21-point margin

Duffy’s resignation at first caused a slight degree of uncertainty, and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its designation of the district from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.” But it has moved back into “solid Republican” territory, with an 8-point Republican lean.

“There’s nothing easy about it,” Zunker said. “I’m the far better candidate and I’m working 20 times harder than my opponent for a number of reasons, but that doesn’t make it easier.”

Zunker said she plans to target Tiffany’s voting record, especially his stances on environmental issues, which helped label him as a lightning rod in his first Senate term. Tiffany’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.

If elected, Zunker would become the state’s first female Native American representative, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. The 7th district has never had a woman representative, either. She wears her Ho-Chunk heritage on her sleeve, noting that “this is a historic race if I were to win,” but she does not want her heritage or gender to define her candidacy.

“I’m not asking anybody to vote for me because I’m a woman,” she said. “I am asking them to vote for me because I am a qualified, hardworking woman who is going to get the job done.”

Zunker, who said she is refusing corporate political action committee money,  said she is well-positioned to help push bipartisan reforms on campaign finance law, health care, prescription drug prices, and climate change.

“The person I work best with on the school board actually is on the other side of the aisle,” Zunker said.