When I first heard Assembly District 37 candidate Laura Cotting (D) speak at the July OconoDems meeting, I was intrigued by her uncommon combination of qualities. She’s an environmental conservationist with a rural upbringing who is a strong supporter of union rights, yet she has many Republican allies and calls herself a “moderate Democrat.” She wears Birkenstock-style sandals and no make-up and has a background in business. I spoke in detail with Laura Cotting on Friday afternoon and concluded that she’s the candidate who just might be able to deliver real bipartisan leadership to the newly-redistricted Assembly District 37.
Laura Cotting was raised by lefties with an upbringing “steeped in activism and First Amendment rights.” Her father was an outspoken professor and her mother was a librarian. She watched her father go through the unionization process to get paid a wage comparable to that of his peers (he was previously underpaid) and her mother was involved in WEAC. The right to collectively bargain, she said, “is practically in my cells.”
Education was also “very highly valued” by her family and considered “a tool to improve your socio-economic status if you wanted to.”
Cotting’s family also had great respect for the environment, and it’s one of the reasons she became a conservationist. (See her work on the Garman Preserve, a great example, she has said, “of a successful public-private partnership involving citizens and businesses.” )
But it’s not just her family influence that has shaped her values. “I’m very pragmatic and very logical,” she explained; she has a background in research and is a business analyst by trade. That she is able to address issues from an economic standpoint is part of what has earned her credibility with the right-leaning individuals with whom she has served on the Waterloo Common Council.
“What it boils down to is figuring out how we can communicate with one another…right now, in a very divisive and toxic atmosphere, that’s truly challenging…”
Cotting said her five years of experience as a city council member “during periods of controversy,” have provided her with “an inside knowledge that people really respond to.”
For example, during the high-speed rail debates, Alder Cotting was the chair of Waterloo’s Public Safety and Health Committee. Because safety was her top concern, she would not support the Waterloo high-speed rail plan as presented because residents had expressed to the council major concern over issues like permanent road closures that would put local small businesses at risk, and the possibility of eminent domain. So Cotting worked with a coalition on an updated plan that addressed these issues and others.
When the Doyle administration refused to approve the Waterloo high-speed rail plan presented by the coalition, Cotting voted against the train. As a Democrat, it seemed that she was expected to automatically vote for the train, but she couldn’t do it without that updated plan.
This independent thinking earned her respect from Waterloo residents of all political stripes. She will not just do whatever the party wants, and she won’t vote straight party-line because, “That doesn’t work in rural areas,” she explained. “I want to make it clear that I think for myself.”
If elected, Cotting seeks to represent all of her constituents.
In the newly-redistricted 37th Assembly District, “What we have in common is that we’re all small towns…and all of us in this new district have the same bottom-line issues that small townships and rural areas in South-Central Wisconsin face,” Cotting said.
“Bipartisanship is accepting the fact that we are different, but we do have a common goal…we may have different routes to get there,” but “what matters to me is that we work for the common good of Wisconsin.”