The Wisconsin 24: Meet Brad Pfaff and Donna Rozar



By Jessica VanEgeren

December 22, 2020

Rozar brings her experience as seasoned cardiac nurse and county supervisor, while Pfaff is elected to the Senate one year after it fired him as DATCP secretary.

Editor’s note: The Wisconsin 24 is a new series at UpNorthNews to introduce readers to the newly elected members of the Wisconsin Legislature. All told, there are 10 new Democratic members and six new Republican members to the Assembly. The Senate is welcoming three Democratic and five Republican members. To see all of the profiles in the Wisconsin 24 series, click HERE.]

Representative-elect Donna Rozar (R-Marshfield) is the incoming lawmaker for the 69th Assembly District, which includes a portion of central Wisconsin just west of Wausau that was previously represented by Republican Bob Kulp.

“It’s very humbling and a tremendous opportunity,” said Rozar, who defeated Democrat Brian Giles in the November election after Kulp announced he would not seek re-election. “With privilege comes responsibility. I am not underestimating the responsibility that I have to serve the people of my district.”

Rozar has worked for 18 years on the cardiac medical-surgical floor at the Marshfield Medical Center. Her family moved to Marshfield when her husband (who is now deceased) was offered a job as the hospital’s cardiothoracic surgeon. When he passed away, she had five children under the age of 10. 

Raised in West Virginia, she decided to stay in Wisconsin. She finished a master’s degree in nursing with an emphasis on education from Viterbo University and got involved in Wood County government, serving as a county supervisor and chairing its health and human services committee. 

In May, she retired from her 12-year-long career as a nursing instructor for the UW-Eau Claire satellite campus in Marshfield and for Marion College in Fond du Lac.  

“I went right from resigning as a nurse educator into running a campaign,” Rozar said. “It was a really good transition for me”

She says her unique work-life experiences will bode well for her at the Capitol. Her to-do list of issues to address includes: shared revenue, juvenile justice, mental health, child protective services, better roads and bridges for rural communities, broadband expansion in rural areas, and workforce development.

Rozar says incentives programs are needed to attract certified nursing assistants, registered nurses, plumbers, and electricians to rural areas. She said the state needs to be creative in solving this issue.

“A good discussion needs to be had about what an incentive program would be,” Rozar said. “Maybe paying for educational expenses with the caveat that you either pay that back or come back to the community and work for three to five years.” 

A first-generation college graduate, Rozar knows how important educational opportunities are for individuals who want to improve their socioeconomic status by earning a degree. She cites the Marshfield campus as an example of a satellite campus that is now able to offer bachelor’s degrees and has added a master’s program. 

At the end of the month, she will retire from her 18-year-long career at the Marshfield Medical Center, a bittersweet moment that ends another chapter in her life as she focuses on her job at the Capitol. 

“Central Wisconsin has been very good to me,” Rozar said. “Even though I’m not a Wisconsinite by birth, I have been blessed to bloom where I’ve been planted.”

Meet Brad Pfaff

When he was secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, Brad Pfaff traveled the state to talk with farmers, cheesemakers, and rural business owners. The message he brought back to the Capitol was one many did not want to hear. It cost him his job.

“To me, it didn’t matter if they were Republicans or Democrats. They were Wisconsinites and they had some concerns,” said Pfaff, who worked for eight years during the Obama administration in a senior-level position at the US Department of Agriculture. “I shared the fact that sadly, there were some people that had real anxiety, personal anxiety.” 

Pfaff isn’t wrong. The rate of suicide among farmers is on the rise as commodity prices drop, their debt rises, and they see no other option than to sell their family farms. Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in farm bankruptcies.

A public dispute broke out when Pfaff called out Wisconsn’s Republican senators for the removal of funding for mental health services for farmers in Gov. Tony Evers’ budget. The money was later added back in. But in November of 2019,  he was essentially fired when the Senate voted along party lines not to confirm his nomination as DATCP secretary. 

“I would imagine that when people are hurting that is not exactly the report that some folks want to hear,” Pfaff said.  “That’s unfortunate because there are a lot of folks struggling.”

In November, voters in Senate District 32 elected Pfaff over Republican Dan Kapanke by just under 600 votes. Pfaff is replacing Democrat Jennifer Shilling, who abruptly announced her retirement in May after serving the district for roughly 20 years. 

The senate district is a mix of rural and urban areas, including La Crosse and the state’s Driftless Area that is known for its rolling hills and organic farms. Pfaff’s priorities include: expanding broadband to rural areas, improving rural roads and bridges, economic development, creating fair maps, expanding Medicare, and bridging the rural-urban divide. 

“It is very important that we have a transportation system that recognizes the importance of maintaining rural roads and bridges and what that means in order to get products to market,” Pfaff said.

Raised on a farm in northern La Crosse County where his family first settled in the 1800’s, Pfaff said politics didn’t matter as much as they seem to today, when Wisconsin and the nation have become extremely divided along political lines. Previous, he said, people looked out for one another because they were neighbors and part of the same community. 

During a recent conversation with UpNorthNews, he repeatedly stressed the need “to transcend politics” for the good of the state, and the farmers who he tried to help during his short tenure with DATCP. 

“When people got sick we cared for them. When somebody had a baby, we had a baby shower. It didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat, or what cable TV news channel you watched,” said Pfaff of his childhood in rural Wisconsin. “We all need to take care of one another. That’s what I learned from meeting with farmers” 

Editor’s Note: The above profiles are the last of The Wisconsin 24 series. Incoming lawmakers who did not respond to requests for interviews include: Sen.-elect Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay); Sen.-elect Julian Bradley (R-Franklin); Sen.-elect Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond); Sen.-elect Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan); Sen.-elect Mary Czaja-Felzkowski (R- Irma); Rep.-elect Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk); Rep.-elect Alex Dallman (R-Green Lake); and Rep.-elect David Armstrong (R-Rice Lake). 




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