Wisconsin battles inspire nurse to run for office

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The fight in Wisconsin over collective bargaining ignited the passion of many AFT members, energizing and inspiring them to make a difference in some way. Kim Peterson, a registered nurse, is one of them: She is running for a seat in the Wisconsin State Assembly.

Kim Peterson

Peterson is president of the Racine County Federation of Nurses, a Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals local, which represents 25 nurses working at the Ridgewood Care Center, a nursing home in Racine County.

"Our local is small, but powerful," says Peterson.

Last year, when Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union law passed stripping state public employees of their right to collectively bargain, Peterson's local was one of the first to feel its effect. The nurses had their contract snatched out from under them, and the county drastically cut back their healthcare benefits. "The county essentially said: 'Here's what we are offering you. Take it or leave it,' " says Peterson. This callousness on the part of the county strengthened Peterson's resolve to push back.

"I just said 'enough is enough,' " notes Peterson, who has been an RN for eight years.

Peterson, who had often thought of running for office, wasn't sure if she could do it; however, as a local leader she found herself speaking out against the attacks on her members, and that had transformed her thinking. "I was inspired to step up to the plate."

The AFT member also was helped by her participation in Emerge America, an organization with programs in 12 states, including Wisconsin, that encourages women to run for office. She spent months learning the ins and outs of campaigning, from financing an election bid to public speaking, to technology and new media.

"Taking part in Emerge America gave me the confidence to take the next step," she says. This past summer, Peterson launched her campaign for the Wisconsin State Assembly. Her opponent, Tyler August, a freshman incumbent and a Tea Party conservative, has been in lockstep with Gov. Walker. Peterson says simply, "I know I can do better."

If she wins, Peterson will make state history by becoming the first Democrat elected from her district. Her goal is not just to make history, however, but to alter it as well. "I want to get things back to where they were before, and then help us get stronger," says Peterson, who is "excited, energized and ready to prevail in November." [Adrienne Coles]

October 25, 2012