MADISON, Wis. - A few weeks ago, Wisconsin's credit union industry had its fingers crossed that two strong credit union activists would be sworn into the state Assembly come January - Rabbi Sidney Vineburg of De Pere and Racine's John Dickert. A close Democratic primary eliminated Dickert, however, leaving Vineburg to carry the torch for the industry. Vineburg, 41, escaped the perils of a primary; he was the only Democrat on the primary ballot. As such, he's known for awhile that he will square off against 4th District incumbent Phil Montgomery (R-Ashwaubenon) in the general election come fall. But he conceded victory won't come easily. "Being the challenger, I don't have the power of incumbency," Vineburg said, noting Montgomery had socked away $20,000 in his war chest before Vineburg even decided to run. To date Montgomery has raised about $26,000, while Vineburg has raised more than $7,000. "I don't know that I will be able to make up the [monetary] difference," he said, "but there are such distinct differences between us, this election will hinge on the issues and not on who raises more money." Vineburg's CU platform Vineburg has experience in both the political arena and credit union industry. In his political life, he worked on several Congressional campaigns over the years, and is currently chairman of the Brown County Democratic Party, a post he's held for the past 18 months. His credit union involvement began about seven or eight years ago, when he was looking for a loan to finance an addition on his home. He visited $55-million Harbor Credit Union in Green Bay and was told at one point that he shouldn't worry about getting the loan; the officer knew he was trustworthy. "That really meant something to me," said Vineburg. "You don't find that in other financial institutions." Warming to the credit union philosophy of helping people, Vineburg ran for Harbor's board and was soon elected a director. He held the post about four years before stepping down last January when he decided to run for the state Legislature. Vineburg plans to pursue several credit union issues if elected. He'd like to revisit the issue of allowing credit unions to get into the small business loan market, and help expand membership opportunities. And he'd like to remove as many of the business restrictions placed on credit unions as he can. He also plans to fiercely guard their current freedoms. "There are tremendous pressures on the credit union movement today," Vineburg said. "We still hear all the time that credit unions shouldn't have non-profit status, and that they should be limited in their membership." Dickert's loss tough to swallow Those in Wisconsin's credit union industry are still mourning Dickert's loss to incumbent Robert Turner (D-Racine) in the 61st Assembly District's Democratic primary. There was no Republican candidate on the ballot, so the primary winner was assured the seat. Treasurer of Catholic Community Credit Union in Racine, Dickert, 39, was something of a golden boy to the industry. He had deep roots in both politics and credit unions, having interned with a Wisconsin Congressman in Washington, D.C., worked in the Wisconsin State Legislature and served as director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Credit Union League. In 1999, he was awarded the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperative's first Wisconsin Cooperative Groundbreaker Award for work on credit union issues. That same year he was elected to the board of directors at Racine's $3 million Catholic Community Credit Union; the board later elected him treasurer, a position he holds today. While Dickert's major impetus for seeking elected office was to help combat serious problems facing his community - mainly high unemployment and crime - he also saw his candidacy as a way to get some serious credit union folks into the Legislature. "We used to have some real leaders in the state Assembly and Senate when it came to credit union issues," he said, "but now we don't. We've got great supporters in the Legislature, but no one who really knows the ins and outs of the industry. We need people who know the industry, and who can educate and support and drive credit union legislation." Despite Turner's incumbency, Dickert was fairly confident of his chances. After all, he had $22,500 on hand at the campaign finance reporting period that ended June 30, compared to Turner's $4,200. "I've out-raised my opponent so far by six-to-one," said an excited Dickert back in August. "I was the fifth-highest Assembly candidate in terms of funds raised in the last reporting period, and 99.5 percent of my money is from individuals." Unfortunately, the power of incumbency proved even stronger than money, and Turner managed to edge out Dickert on primary day, snagging 3,194 votes, or 52.2%, to Dickert's 2,919 votes, or 47.8%. Despite the disappointment in Dickert's loss, credit union insiders are philosophic. "Any time we can get [even one] candidate who knows about credit unions, we'll embrace them with open arms," said Georgia Maxwell, director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Credit Union League. "We're hoping to move credit unions into today's world, and looking forward to Sidney winning and helping us attain that goal." With a strong credit union backer vying for a seat in the Legislature, it seems the Wisconsin Credit Union League would have an easy time figuring out who to support in at least one race. Yet the League has a longstanding policy of supporting incumbents, which would mean it would be supporting Montgomery, and not Vineburg, this fall. "We don't necessarily endorse all incumbents, but we don't endorse against them," said Maxwell. "Any survey will show incumbents are the strong ones, and since we have to work with them, we back them. This is not unique to the League. It's a very common practice with little organizations." Vineburg is crossing his fingers for League support anyway. "I'd hope the League eventually backs the people they know are truly going to advocate for them in the Legislature," he said. But whether or not the endorsement comes, Vineburg is committed to credit unions. "I hope the League backs me," he said, "but even if they don't, I'll work hard for them." -email@example.com
Credit unions have one activist left in Wisconsin's state Assembly race
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