U.S. Senate candidate and Outagamie County executive Tom Nelson hosted a roundtable discussion about student issues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on Wednesday.
A half-dozen students joined Nelson at Memorial Union for a relaxed conversation about pressing issues such as climate change, student debt, labor rights and gun violence in schools.
Students were most anxious about rising college costs, which they felt were crippling their financial futures. Despite a recent downward trend in undergraduate student loan debt, the average student still leaves UW-Madison with a daunting $27,107 in student loans.
Nelson said he would support forgiving up to $50,000 in student debt if elected. He further called for shifting state funding priorities from private capital investment projects to supporting the University of Wisconsin System if costs were to meaningfully decline.
“Keep in mind that with the Fiserv Forum, state subsidy was given to them – about a quarter of a billion dollars – in the same budget where they reduced funding for the UW by a quarter of a billion dollars,” Nelson said.
Students also took issue with lacking government plans to address the climate crisis. Nelson strongly favored addressing environmental issues with a Green New Deal, which he called a “nexus” between climate and labor issues.
“If we’re successful [in] implementing a Green New Deal, [sic] we’ll be creating good-paying jobs because, in order to accomplish the objectives of the Green New Deal, we have to retool the economy,” Nelson said.
Nelson still trails other candidates in the Democratic Senate Primary. In an April poll from the Marquette Law School, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Bucks executive Alex Lasry registered 16 and 13 percent support, respectively, compared to Nelson’s five percent.
With 48 percent of voters undecided, though, Nelson believes his campaign is in an “excellent position” to advance to the general election.
“I’m the only one from a red part of the state who’s won re-election six times over the course of 17 years as a legislator and as a county executive,” he added.
Sam Kaufmann, a Waunakee Village Board Trustee and rising sophomore at UW-Madison, said he endorsed Nelson because of his past success and commitment to youth issues.
“I think he just has that progressive Wisconsin appeal, getting along with everyone, building coalitions,” Kaufmann said. “He’s very reminiscent of people like Russ Feingold, Bob La Follette, Herb Kohl – people our state has elected successfully and have represented us so well.”
Wisconsin’s Senate Primary is scheduled for Aug. 9. The winner will secure the Democratic nomination and challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson in November’s general election.
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.