Small business group owners will quiz U.S. Senate hopefuls in series of forums

By: - June 21, 2022 6:30 am

Shawn Phetteplace, right, and Amanda Dixon, left, of Main Street Alliance, speak at a Wisconsin Assembly hearing in January 2021. (Screen grab | Wisconsin Eye)

An organization that represents small business owners across the state will sponsor three roundtable sessions with prospective candidates in this fall’s U.S. Senate race, starting with one in Madison on Wednesday. 

The events are not debates, says Shawn Phetteplace, midwest regional manager for Main Street Alliance, which is organizing the sessions. They are structured to give the organization’s small business owners an opportunity to question Senate hopefuls about policies important to them.

The nonpartisan Main Street Alliance has championed economic relief to small businesses through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) enacted in March 2021. 

“There’s members of ours that would have been out of business if it weren’t for the American Rescue Plan,” says Phetteplace. 

Formed in 2008 and with members in all 50 states, Main Street Alliance has been active for more than two years in Wisconsin, where its membership has grown to 500 businesses. It has become visible in its advocacy for positions that some other business groups have ignored or even rejected. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, “the last couple of years have been really tough for small businesses,” Phetteplace says. “It’s exposed long-term challenges in providing health care, child care and paid leave [for employees] and in capital access.” 

Alliance members are “high-road employers” who support better wages and benefits for their employees, he says. The Alliance has supported expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin under the Affordable Care Act, which the Republican majority in the state Legislature has so far blocked, for example. 

“Good business requires us to look beyond short-term profits and exploitative business practices and instead focus on investing in our employees and communities,” the Alliance states on its website. “Methods that create an equitable, just, and sustainable environment yield prosperous economies and small businesses.”

On a national level, the Alliance has advocated for stronger anti-monopoly measures and for tax fairness, including “equitable taxation that no longer advantages large corporations, and also to ensure we have the revenue needed for robust public investments,” the organization states.

The candidate roundtable sessions are being held in collaboration with the Wisconsin Farmers Union. The events are:

  • Wednesday, June 22: Madison, The Coopers Tavern, 20 W. Mifflin St. 
  • Friday, June 24: Milwaukee, Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave. 
  • Wednesday, July 6: Appleton, Long Cheng Marketplace, 1804 S. Lawe St.

All three events will run from 11 a.m. to 12 noon.

“Part of the reason we picked the venues is to highlight policy” that has helped small business owners in the COVID-19 pandemic, he says, while also presenting the case that “there is more to do” — such as replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.  

Seven Democratic primary candidates vying to challenge Republican Sen. Ron Johnson  will take part in the roundtables ahead of the August 9 primary, according to the Alliance: Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes, Alex Lasry, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Steven Olikara, Peter Peckarsky, and Kou Lee.

Johnson had originally confirmed he would attend, but subsequently canceled citing a conflict with his official duties in Washington, according to the Main Street Alliance. The organization says it has offered other dates for Johnson to meet with its small business members “to discuss the same questions being posted to other candidates.”


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.