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Engebretson announces congressional bid

Margaret Engebretson talks to the crowd after announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Congress at the Richard I. Bong WWII Center in Superior on Monday. Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

The results of the 2016 election were stunning across the board and an indication the nation Margaret Engebretson served for 24 years in the military was more off track than she understood at the time.

The Polk County attorney and retired military veteran started to dig in to find out why this could happen.  

“Everywhere I looked there were problems, some of them very systemic and worrisome,” Engebretson said during an interview Monday morning with the Telegram. That prompted her to get involved with the Democratic Party to use her skills and talents to help her get the country going in a better direction.  

As she pondered what she could do to help, everything from working as a volunteer to learning how to manage a campaign, Engebretson said it became clear that the next step she could take is to serve her country was a bid for election.  

Engebretson announced her candidacy Monday for the Wisconsin 7th Congressional District, the seat held since 2011 by Republican Sean Duffy.

“Unfortunately, we’re not living in a country that works for everyone right now … We need a voice to represent every single person and Margaret is that voice,” said Mayor Jim Paine, who introduced Engebretson to the crowd that nearly filled the theater at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.  

“I’m running because of my deep love, gratefulness and sense of obligation and duty to my country,” the 46-year-old Balsam Lake, Wis., resident said. “I am devastated, saddened and very concerned about our country’s future. I asked myself ‘How can I best help my country right now?’ That is why I am running for the seat.”

Engebretson retired from the military, serving three years in the U.S. Navy, 10 years in the Naval Reserve and 11 years in the Air National Guard. She retired from the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth as a master sergeant in 2015.

It was in the Navy where she said she learned about honor, courage and commitment — values she will take to Washington D.C.

Born in St. Paul, Engebretson joined the Navy right out of high school. After three years in the Navy, serving as an electrician, she returned to St. Paul where she joined the Naval Reserve. She worked as a union locomotive electrician and train dispatcher for Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway. When she decided to use her GI Bill to further her education, she said she made a plan to downsize her life in Fort Worth, Texas, and she applied to the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where she graduated in 2004 with a degree in history. She later attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and focuses much of her work now on guardian ad litem cases to protect children and people with disabilities in Balsam Lake.  

“I’ve always loved my country very deeply and that feeling after the election was like a call to duty,” Engebretson said. “I felt obligated to step forward and give what I had.”

Among her key issues — national security, health care and rural economic development — Engebretson said getting Congress functioning again and restoring public trust are vitally important.  

“Congress is malfunctioning,” Engebretson said. “Over the last several decades, you can see the public trust is just eroding. Especially since the wave elections of 2010 … it’s been getting gridlocked and that just deteriorates further.”

She said hyper-partisanship is making it difficult for Congress to perform even basic tasks.

“Congressman Sean Duffy is one of those who came in on that wave,” Engebretson said. “We need a new wave of folks that are focused on … trying to make it work better.”

She said Congress needs to not only do the work of the nation and their constituents; but it needs to rebuild the trust of the American people.  

“We have a situation where senators and congress-folks are becoming non-responsive to their constituents and responsive to their donors,” many of whom that live outside the district, Engebretson said. She said if elected, she wants her constituents to know their Congresswoman will be working on issues important to the district and the nation.

“We need people in their who are mindful to do the basic business,” Engebretson said. “And we need to make some long-term plans because things aren’t working right.”

But she recognizes that it took a long time to get to this point. From campaign finance and lobbying to a failure to check the power of executive branch, the system is broken right now, she said.  

“What’s happened is when you leave a vacuum, something is going to step in,” Engebretson said. She said now, with fewer congressional staff, lobbyists are filling a void once filled by public servants.

“We need to start work untangling these deep-rooted issues that’s gotten us to this place,” Engebretson said.  

Northwest Wisconsin needs and deserves investment and attention that it’s not getting right now, she said.  

“We need to find a way, methods for rural economies like ours to be able to thrive … to help us grow,” Engebretson said.