Profile: Tom Nelson (D), 8th Congressional District candidate

Tom Nelson and Mike Gallagher

Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District race is considered one of the most watched in the country. Democrat Tom Nelson, the Outagamie County Executive, and Republican Mike Gallagher, a former Marine from Green Bay, are vying for the seat of Republican Reid Ribble, who endorsed Gallagher after deciding not to seek re-election.

Both candidates went to Princeton University but are very different in their assessment of what needs to happen in Washington on behalf of people in the 8th Congressional District.

Nelson has been a public servant for more than a decade, serving in a number of different capacities. Currently, Nelson is the Outagamie County Executive.

He’s a graduate from Little Chute High School, son of a Lutheran pastor, raised near a paper mill from Kimberly, and now a family man.

“I’m both a husband and a father to Maria Nelson and a father to George and Mary. When I’m not fulfilling my role as a county executive and working on the campaign, I try to squeeze every waking minute with my family because it’s absolutely the most important thing to me.”

Nelson has been serving as the Outagamie County Executive for about five-and-a-half years, leading a county of more than 180,000 people.

“Proud to have presided over five balanced budgets on time, maintaining a AAA rating, a stable tax rate, and providing essential services for the community that relies on it and all the while being able to pass budgets with overwhelming margins.”

But before serving in his current role, Nelson was elected as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly. First elected in 2004, re-elected for a second and third term, he served through 2010.

But in that year, rather than running for the Assembly again, he ran for lieutenant governor on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s ticket but lost.

In 2011, he was elected the Outagamie County Executive.

Nelson admits at first he wasn’t planning to run for Congress with a growing young family and a baby on the way, but that’s exactly what changed his mind.

“The reason why I decided to run is election has come down to one word: future. And what better embodiment of the word future than our children and the birth of George as well as his sister Mary really put into focus how this race is so important.”

Nelson’s campaign platform is focused on a few key issues he says he wants to take to Washington.

First, he wants to fight for a higher minimum wage in northeast Wisconsin. “I think it would be a huge boost, because it would raise not just for those who are earning the minimum wage but people who are earning more than the minimum wage because it’s going to cause upward pressure on wages.”

He says many people are not able to keep up with cost-of-living and other expenses.

“So that is a really simple and direct way that will go a long way in raising wages for all working families. That’s an easy thing to do.”

He continues, “We need to have someone in Congress who understands the issues and the concerns of middle class families first and foremost and that will go out to Washington and will fight tooth and nail against these trade deals that will hurt Wisconsin families.”

Nelson also believes trade deals that ship jobs overseas are having a negative impact on manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin.

He’s also against tax breaks for big corporations.

“All of the backroom wheeling and dealing in Washington, DC, they seem to put corporations’ special interest ahead of everyone else and often at the expense of middle class families and workers, especially workers in this part of the country where we are so dependent on manufacturing jobs — and manufacturing jobs are so important because it’s who we are and they pay a good family-supporting wage and benefits.”

At the end of the day, Nelson says he’ll support the middle class right here in Wisconsin.

“We need someone who can hit the ground running. I have shown that in my five-and-a-half years as county executive, I believe my experience and my skill set is exactly what the Congress is missing.”