A Sad Day In Local Politics

Eds Note:  Just in time for another election day, Dr. Rent sends this post about the state of modern politics.

John H. FischerBy Dr. Rent

Before I explain the title, I think it’s important to explain a little bit about myself for those that don’t know.

I have political aspirations.  No, I don’t want to be president.  My dream is to serve on a lower level, where you still have a feel for your voters and can actually accomplish something.  My dream would be to some day serve in the state assembly or state senate.  I start this dream with a large disadvantage.  Specifically, I am not affiliated with any of the big political parties.  I see myself as an independent and would run as such, no small feat.

What scares me about this eventual run for public office is the way a campaign needs to be run these days to win.  It’s no longer about you, it’s about how bad the other person is.  I’m sorry, that is not me.  So in addition to being an independent, I don’t have plans to drag my opponents into the sewer.  I now have two big disadvantages.

The race for supreme court has gone a long way to make me lose all faith in our political system.  This is supposed to be a non-partisan race, for JUDGE!  For a position that should hold ethics in the highest standards.  Not even these guys can run a clean campaign!  The only hope left for politics is for local races.

That hope got destroyed by a mailing I received on Friday.  My business is located in Schofield.  Schofield’s mayor Jim Krause passed away last fall and therefore there is no incumbent.  The two candidates for mayor are both aldermen on the city council.

The mailing I received was from candidate Kevin Fabel.  He has been on the council a couple of years now.  It was a full page, front and back, of pure hate versus his opponent, Al Bremer.  The Wausau Daily Herald has even picked up on this.

Kevin said that he is better than Al because, among other things, he is single (Al has a family), he has a degree in engineering (Al doesn’t), Al is self-employed.  I could go on, but it hurts just thinking about it.

I used to be very active in Schofield politics.  I had served on Schofield’s Long-Term Planning Committee at the request of Mayor Krause representing Schofield business-owner interests.  I will openly admit that I have had MAJOR disagreements with both Kevin and Al.  However, with Kevin, the disagreements were based on his lack of experience (on the council and in life in general).  I have no doubt that Kevin took these disagreements personally and probably doesn’t like me very much.  With Al, we just had a different vision for the city.  However, the Al that I would go head to head with in council chambers was not the same Al before or after the meeting, where we would share friendly small talk about the day or week.

If there is fairness in the world, this mailing will back-fire.  In my drives this weekend, I did notice a few houses that had Fabel signs up don’t any more.  On the Daily Herald’s blog, two people are changing their vote.

In his mailing, he says that having a degree in engineering makes him a problem solver.  During my time active with Schofield’s government, he was more of a problem causer.

My last hope for politics is that an apology comes out before the election.  That is unlikely.  In the paper, Kevin saw nothing wrong with his comments.  Is this something I really want to subject myself to?  We all wonder why there are never any really good choices on the ballot.  This is why.  What good, hard-working person who all they want to do is serve want to run for public office if it requires going through stuff like this?

It is truly a sad day for local politics.

Dr. Rent

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14 responses to “A Sad Day In Local Politics

  1. You’re right on in your comments and it’s a huge problem from top to bottom in campaigns for public office. I wish I could tell you that “it’s not that bad”, but I can’t.

  2. Dr. Rent,

    This is a fascinating post. You initially bemoan the fact that attack politics have become so prominent in all sectors of modern politics. (While, as a student of political history, I don’t agree with your sense that this is a new phenomenon, I’m definitely with you on the overall sentiment.)

    Then, however, you ultimately get to this about Fabel: “In his mailing, he says that having a degree in engineering makes him a problem solver. During my time active with Schofield’s government, he was more of a problem causer.”

    And this: “In the paper, Kevin saw nothing wrong with his comments.”

    Aren’t these two comments, especially the first one, the very kind of “negative campaigning” you’re complaining about?

  3. If I were compaigning… the first one would fall into that catagory and is not a statement I would use in a campaign.

    This post is really not saying that we should vote for Al, this post is just me ranting and raving about how one small town candidate decided to go against the other small town candidate; and in my ranting and raving… pointing out a “pot and kettle” situation.

    Although I like Al, the problem with both Al and Kevin is I think both of them focus too much on purely what the voters want for schofield. That is normally a noble cause, but less than 50% of Schofield’s tax base is residential. Commerical and industrial properties seldom are voters, yet their concerns need to be very important.

  4. Come on, Dr. Rent, you’re smarter than that…if you post a *substantive* *negative* statement about a mayoral candidate on a public forum, on Election Day no less, you’re negatively campaigning…whether you like it or not.

    By the way, I find it interesting (though absolutely unsurprising) that you once again found your way back to talking about your personal interests. You actually wrote this: “the problem with both Al and Kevin is I think both of them focus too much on purely what the voters want for schofield.” This is both an absurd and dangerous idea. Let me get this straight: voters shouldn’t decide elections? How about landlords? Would that make you happy?

  5. It would be nice if taxpayers had a vote. What about Greenheck and Merrill Iron and Steel.. those are monster manufaturers and probably the biggest tax payers in schofield.. shouldn’t they get a say?

  6. No, that’s not the way it works. I’m betting the if and when you try to realize your political ambitions you’ll have to explain why candidates are wrong for caring what the voters want and not kowtowing to the business interests. You vote where you live, that’s it. I own stock in companies all over the US, and I’m sure many others do as well. Should I be allowed to vote everywhere these companies are represented? Or should just the rich guys get to decide? You seem to have revealed that you are an undemocratic wolf in sheeps clothing.

  7. One example from the item that got me involved with the City for the first time about 10 years ago. Schofield’s new sign ordinance.

    The original proposal made the voters very very happy (and would have practically eliminated signage on Grand Ave). However, Grand Ave has a huge tax base. Business owners and representatives had to unite and go in force to be heard.

    The ordinance that finally passed was better. But, the council could have chosen to ONLY listen to the voters in that case…. and that would have not have been in the long term best interest in the City. Making Grand Ave non-business friendly would have led to descreased property values on the Ave, lowering the city’s tax base.

  8. frd,

    I said it would be nice.. but I understand thats not how the system works.. and I understand WHY that’s not how the system works. But your point is a good one, it shows that non-resident issues are not only landlord problems. I didn’t even think about stockholders in large corporations.

    I think a public representative is the hardest job there is, because the person who has the power to hire and fire you (the voters) is not who you actually serve.

    In the case of an alderman, you serve the voters, the taxpayers, even visitors and private business customers. Not only of your ward, but of the entire city. You serve the entire city, although as a representative of your ward. Often, there are times when decisions must be made that are in the best interest of the City, but a decision your voters may not agree with.

    Do you do what your voters want, who can fire you.. or do you do whats best for the city, which is what they hired you to do (though many may not know that is what they hired you to do)

    so.. to want to subject myself to this……… I am still 10-15 years out .. but its not an easy job and I have alot of respect for those that take it on.. even the ones I don’t agree with.

  9. Business interests have the absolute right to advocate and lobby for their own interests…just as labor unions do. I’m not quarreling with that idea. However, you suggested that the two candidates running for mayor in Schofield were – and I quote – focusing “too purely on what the voters want for Schofield.” That’s a vastly different, and much more objectionable, concept.

    Another thing: did you ever consider that the VOTERS themselves (even those who aren’t landlords) consider the ramifications on the business community that their electoral decisions will have? Seems to me that economic/tax-base issues remain central to almost every campaign I see waged, from the local to the national level, and plenty of “pro-business” candidates get elected in every cycle. To suggest otherwise, and to extend that idea (as you have) into implying that the concerns of “voters” shouldn’t be paramount in a democratic republic like the U.S., is not only nonsensical. It’s flat wrong.

    Although I’ve often disagreed with you, Dr. Rent, I’ve always respected your engagement and passion for your beliefs. This is different. If you end up running for office, I will have little hesitation in making your comments here as public as I can make them. As FRD points out, I’d like to see you stand in front of those same “voters” you’ve here insulted, explaining why they’re not the ones whose desires, fears and ideas should be most respected.

  10. there is a fundamental difference between voters concerns being “paramount” as you describe them (which I can agree with)… and in the case of schofield, being the “pure” focus. Again, Schofield’s position is unique based on its small percentage of residential property on the tax role when compared to other communities.

    The average voter (i.e. resident) wants good public services, safe streets, affordable taxes, good quality of life, etc. The job then of the elected official is to try to provide all of those things.

    The ramifications that economic development decisions have on tax base and quality of life issues are complex and often are only educated guesses by those with extensive education in such.

    The whole Stewart Avenue thing, businesses said the name change would make things better… the members of the church (voters) said it would disrespect Mr. Stewart. There is no way to know the economic impact of the name change.. and that is why I think the council decided the way they did.

  11. Well I read through these comments here, until I got to the last one by Dr. Rent. I just skipped over that one because you are using a style of arguement in which you are arguing against(i just read it). I just do not quite understand your point here. I am sure that Fabel has some liberal or evenly mildly liberal views, and this is why you are trying to use a smear campaign against him by arguing against smear campaigns.

    “However, with Kevin, the disagreements were based on his lack of experience (on the council and in life in general). I have no doubt that Kevin took these disagreements personally and probably doesn’t like me very much.”

    “In his mailing, he says that having a degree in engineering makes him a problem solver. During my time active with Schofield’s government, he was more of a problem causer.”

    This just proved a bit too much and pretty much discredited your arguement from that point on. Agreeing with what fdr said in his comment, this rant is indeed very undemocatic. Needless to say I hope you choose to abstain from running for state politics, you will not have my vote.

    Although you may not be associated with any specific party, the neo-conservitave would surely reach out to you. You can see a problem there, no? One quick suggestion, call yourself a Libertarian, it looks better than neo-conservative these days. Just a joke!!

    And my last comment comes after looking at your last comment finally. You say “The average voter (i.e. resident) wants good public services, safe streets, affordable taxes, good quality of life, etc.”
    How do you think elected officials do provide these services? By collecting and paying for them with taxes. Some societies even choose to pay up to 50% tax in Belgium and Austria. Even up to 60% in Denmark. So affordable taxes are not as important as others may deem the importance of public services and overall quality of life.

  12. So… what do you do when two of the desires of the electorate are mutually exclusive?

    Example in Schofield: A majority of Schofield residents in wanting safer streets would like to see the volume of traffic on Grand Ave reduced significantly. However, the higher volume of traffic makes the land along the Avenue more valuable, thereby increasing tax base making funds for other quality of life issues.

    As an elected official, do you worry about the tax base to pay for quality of life issues, or do you work to reduce traffic count on Grand?

  13. You explain it. You lead. You make a decision. And you communicate why.

  14. The men the American public admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.
    – H.L. Mencken

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