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Zerban Hoping to Unseat Ryan

Kenosha entrepreneur and county supervisor a star at this weekend's Democratic Party of Wisconsin annual state convention.

It can be argued that Rob Zerban, entrepreneur and current Kenosha County Supervisor, held a good amount of the spotlight throughout much of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s annual state convention, which was held this past Friday and Saturday at the Hyatt in downtown Milwaukee.

Zerban is running against U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) in the 2012 election. Ryan, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1999, represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, which covers a large swath of the southeastern portion of the state, including the complete counties of Racine and Kenosha, as well as the majority of Walworth County and portions of Waukesha, Milwaukee, and Rock counties.

In what may otherwise largely be considered an uncompetitive race in this Republican stronghold, the tide appears to be turning, fueled in large part by what many in the party see as Ryan’s overreach in exercising his role as House Budget Committee Chairman, specifically in what appears to be a call for an end to Medicare and replacing it with a government voucher for private insurance. Ryan assumed the powerful chairmanship this past January after Republicans regained control of the House in the November elections.

Also helping Zerban’s cause and firing up the party base is what many see as a strong rebuke Ryan and Congressional Republicans recently received when Democrat Kathy Hochul was elected to serve New York’s 26th Congressional District in a special election held May 24. Her district, too, is considered a Republican stronghold. Hochul made preserving Medicare a centerpiece of her campaign, and her name came up multiple times during the convention by various speakers, including Zerban himself.   

These dynamics have earned Zerban has the full blessing and backing of the state Democratic Party in what has been a Republican safe haven for many years now. Usually an uncompetitive district, the state party has typically shied away from allocating significant resources to the Democratic candidate of the 1st Congressional District.  However, in introducing Zerban to convention attendees on Saturday morning before Zerban addressed the convention, state party chairman Mike Tate expressed his confidence in Zerban, saying “He is more than capable of defeating Paul Ryan…and Rob has actual experience in the private sector - unlike Paul Ryan.”

In an exclusive interview with Patch on Friday evening, Zerban expressed great optimism, saying he is receiving “a very positive reception throughout the district.” Asked how he would respond to the Republican-fueled stereotype that Democrats don’t know a thing about business, Zerban said, “I think my record speaks for itself. I ran two successful businesses in which I balanced the bottom line, made tough decisions, and managed dozens of employees. And I was able to do all of this while providing them with great benefits.”

Those benefits are something Zerban is particularly proud of. Speaking on the health coverage he provided his employees with during his speech Saturday morning, he told the crowd, “I made it affordable because it was the right thing to do.”

He also recalled in his speech how he grew up on free milk in school and government cheese at home because his mother didn’t earn a lot. He would often be the one to cook dinner for his siblings because she would be gone at work.

This early experience in cooking instilled in him a great appreciation for food, and he would go on to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, a school Zerban joked in his speech was referred to as “the CIA.” He was proud to admit that, “I couldn’t have done it without the help of Stafford Loans and Pell Grants,” in reference to two forms of popular federal college financial aid.

After completing his studies, Zerban went on to work at restaurants and hotels around the country before coming home to start his first food service business in 2000 with a dozen employees. Eventually, he would add one more business and 33 more employees to the mix. He sold his last company in 2008.

It was in 2008, Zerban noted, that his public service really began to take footing. It was during this time that the Great Lakes Compact was being discussed and debated, and he started doing volunteer work with the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters. Soon after, he found himself serving on its board of directors.

During the interview, Zerban said he thought about getting in on the 2010 race, but got out early, never officially entering it. State party chairman Mike Tate approached Zerban about the 2012 race in February.

Kee Tian Liau June 05, 2011 at 11:12 PM
regardless, we still need to pay for these 2 massive 10 year wars started by bush. . obama will do the kenyan slam dunk on the rich and bring down the deficit. i doubt you're the rich so don't worry.
Lib Hater June 06, 2011 at 11:35 AM
Paul Ryan is the FIRST politician since President Reagan to be straight forward and honest with the country. His plan does NOT effect anyone over 55 years old. People are onto the Democrats tactics of lies, deceit and scare. If you have any brain cells left in your head, you'd realize that Cong Paul Ryan is a Blessing to our state and nation.
Marilyn Husting June 06, 2011 at 03:00 PM
Congressman, Paul Ryan is the" best thing next to Apple Pie" for the State of Wiscoonsin. We love his "straight-forwardness" and "honesty" in dealing with the State-'s problems, which includes the nation, too. We have been blessed by his representation!
Gregory Kluck June 06, 2011 at 09:46 PM
@ Lee Tian Liau: I was just wondering, do you own your own home or a business? If you do, I guess you could make your opinion known and also share in any tax increases. If not, you are pretty arrogant in saying things like "slam dunk the rich". I don't own property or a business that is making a huge profit. I own a small DJ company, sell my art, and have a day job. I do however have many friends who are business owners and know first hand on how they provide jobs. One owner hasn't even taken a salary the past two years because of the slow down in the economy. Yet you would want to raise his taxes so he has to make even more cuts?. When an owner forgoes his salary so the workers can stay working and the insurance plan is still provided, we don't need to add higher taxes to a company because maybe the physical assets or profit is still there. Please think a bit about this. This is not about wars or past POTUS, this is about the economy now! Also saying things like "don't worry, I doubt you're rich" is the epitome of arrogance. That's like saying in 1930s Germany; I'm not Jewish, so I don't have to worry. Until Hitler went after the disabled, the Romany (Gypsies) and the Catholic clergy. Take the assets from the rich...that was the hue and cry of Socialist communism...until they discovered that the rich are rich because they produce, not take. We all know what happened to the USSR.
Kay Collins June 15, 2011 at 06:00 AM
In order to pay off a bill or debt you need an income. The only income a country has is taxes. Your other choice would be nationalizing certain industries....any of you conservatives want to pursue that avenue?

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