Steve Freese, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association, first met Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the early '90s when they were serving together in the Wisconsin State Assembly as representatives of different political parties.
Freese, a Republican who served as speaker pro tempore, says Baldwin, a Democrat, was “always the kind of person you could work with." Now that Baldwin is in her second term in the U.S. Senate and serves on the Democratic leadership team, she is still someone who strives to find bipartisan solutions, Freese says.
“From my time in the state legislature to today, she has not changed her stripes," he says. “She has always been welcoming, open and willing to work with us.
“She's a hard worker and very smart—she knows the subjects she's talking about inside and out. She will work to find common ground when it makes sense to do that. She's not a flamethrower, unlike other members of both caucuses. When you meet with her, she lets you know where she stands. There's no ambiguity. I have a great deal of respect for her."
When it comes to supporting legislation and policies that benefit electric co-ops and their members, Baldwin “has never been on the wrong side of issues that are important to us," Freese says.
He credits the senator with playing a key role in the 2019 passage of the SECURE Act, which saved co-ops tens of billions of dollars in pension insurance premiums paid to the federal government. Baldwin also supported direct-pay incentives for co-ops to deploy new energy technologies as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.
The senator serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, including the subcommittee that sets spending for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and rural development programs. In that role, Freese says, Baldwin supports strong funding for the Rural Utilities Service, which provides grants and loans to electric co-ops to modernize their infrastructure.
Baldwin also advocates for increased funding for Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant programs, which provide funds to co-ops to pass through to local businesses that create and retain jobs in rural communities.
In addition to her support for legislation crucial to co-ops, Baldwin has helped Wisconsin co-ops on federal regulatory issues, Freese says.
She has worked with La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative to try to help them find a safe storage site to relocate waste from a nuclear power plant the co-op closed back in 1987. And she helped reach out to federal agencies and congressional leaders for help when Washington Island Electric Cooperative needed assistance after an ice shove—a pileup of ice along the shoreline—damaged the underwater cable that brings electricity to its members.
“Senator Baldwin makes sure to sit down and talk with us about our issues," Freese says. “Not everybody's senator is like that. Some of them pawn you off on staff. But she takes the time to hear about our problems and help us."
Baldwin says every family and business in Wisconsin “deserves access to dependable electricity at a price they can afford."
“And our rural electric co-ops deliver just that," she says. “They provide affordable, reliable energy to hard-to-reach areas in the state so families can access highspeed internet, schools can keep lights on, and businesses can stay running. I am committed to continuing to support our electric co-ops so they can continue providing these essential services."