The other day, there was a gang of crows in the backyard – (did you know that a flock of crowds is actually known as a “murder?”) – cawing away as they mobbed a lone hawk that they were trying to drive out of the neighborhood. Crows are fairly reliable troublemakers and they kind of remind me of the electronic lynch mobs that regularly turn up in the comment section after each story in our local newspaper with their cyber torches blazing.
There’s a great example in today’s edition. A story appears about Congressman Sean Duffy and his family moving to Weston from Ashland, a small city of around 8,700 on Lake Superior, in the far reaches of his district. It makes all the sense in the world because it cuts down on the stress of travel for him to be able to fly back and forth to Washington DC from nearby Central Wisconsin Airport and he considers the Wausau area to be the hub of the 7th Congressional District.
Without trying to sound like too much of a homer, I have to agree with him. The Duffy’s have six children, which is a lot to manage – so anything that minimizes the travel time is worth something to that family. It’s also a good thing for the Wausau area to have their representative in Congress be as familiar as possible with local concerns and conditions.
So it’s all good, right? Well, no.
There immediately ensued a heated exchange between Duffy detractors and supporters, who seem to use any excuse to engage on their various grievances and ideological differences, punctuated by the usual cheap shots. It was no different when Dave Obey was in office – and it’s a damn shame. Heaven only knows how many capable, visionary people of good character have been dissuaded from serving in any office from school board on up by the toxic personal attacks that people are forced to endure just to serve in government.
I’m all for spirited policy debates and holding people accountable. There are plenty of things that I disagree with Congressman Duffy about and State Senator Pam Galloway, too. But I think it’s important to respect the people who hold elective offices to the greatest possible extent. I’ve had a number of conversations with both Duffy and Galloway. These are interesting people with convictions, principles and intellect. There is more to them than simply politics, but even that is a general area of interest that we share.
Moreover, a lot of things that elected representatives and their staff members can facilitate are not all that partisan. Even though we may have fundamental disagreements about some very important issues, there will always be opportunities to agree on other things that have real value. When I served on the county highway committee, I had a number of discussions with Rep. Jerry Petrowski, who is a long-time member and chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee. But why should people like that put up with you between elections if you aren’t willing to put up with them long enough to have a civil conversation? Those who refuse to maintain anything but a confrontational relationship sacrifice important potential opportunities to have a positive impact or temper some outcomes.
People often complain that campaign season never seems to end, but it isn’t just the fault of politicians. If we want to have a political environment that goes beyond posturing for elections, there has to be something more to things than simply trying to tar people at every turn in an effort to set up the next one.
Jim Rosenberg is a former member of the Wausau City Council, Marathon County Board and served as Policy & Community Relations Director on the staff of Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton. Retired from the utility industry, he is now a member of the academic staff at the University of Wisconsin – Marathon County.