This week’s edition of your favorite weekly newspaper includes a lot (in print and in legal advertising) on Tuesday’s municipal and school board elections.
Think of the people you’re voting for Tuesday as the people who decide the lion’s share of your property tax bill, subject, of course, to federal and state mandates. Another way to look at Tuesday is that you’ll be voting for people who actually listen to their constituents. The higher up you go in the political food chain, the less likely that is.
Tuesday’s ballots (or the ballots you fill out by absentee ballot before Tuesday) include two statewide races, for Supreme Court justice and for superintendent of public instruction. The former race could best be described as the judicial equivalent of Carl von Clausewitz’s observation about war being the continuation of politics by other means. Regardless of what we learned in school about the judicial system’s purpose and separation of powers, that Supreme Court race is about what the Supremes will do about Act 10, the public employee collective bargaining law changes, when the appeals inevitably reach that side of the state Capitol. The advertising from both candidates and their supporters that claims otherwise is disingenuous.
The local race of most note is, of course, the race for the two Platteville Common Council races, which are about as clear a referendum about the two incumbents as I’ve seen.
You can watch the candidate forum put on by The Journal, the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street program at www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfXc9aUC70w. What you’ll see there is, with minor exceptions, what I heard from the five candidates when I interviewed them within the past two months. It is good that candidates aren’t saying one thing in the news media and then saying something else in public.
The Platteville incumbents, Alds. Mike Dalecki and Steve Becker, argue they should be reelected based on performance — holding the line on city spending and taxes, and economic growth, usually demonstrated by new buildings, within the city limits.
In today’s social environment, though, that’s not enough. One interesting thing I’ve learned from observing Wisconsin business is that business owners will not do business with other business owners they don’t personally like, or can’t at least tolerate. (Work for a Catholic college for a few years, and you get that lesson personally reinforced.)
That’s the case in local elections, too, for obvious reasons. Serving on a city council or village board or school board takes more time than those who don’t serve on or watch government bodies realize. But the people you’re voting for, or not, are the same people you run into at the grocery store, or see in church on Sunday, or stand and watch your and their kids’ activities.
The Common Council has been criticized for instances where decorum has been deemed to be lacking, both among aldermen and between the council and those petitioning for a redress of their grievances, as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution puts it.
I don’t intend to disrespect the views of those who complain about how they were treated by the council (specifically, Dalecki and Becker) on a particular issue. Since elected officials work for the voter and the taxpayer, the voter and the taxpayer deserves to have his or her issues respectfully addressed, either in public or personally. I’m not sure, however, that complaints about decorum during meetings are sufficient to warrant voting for or against a particular candidate. Performance in office, or lack thereof in the voter’s opinion, should be the criterion on which a voter decides his or her vote.
Incumbents have to prove to voters that they deserve your vote based on improvement in things during their expiring terms. Challengers have to prove why they deserve your vote not merely because they’re not the incumbent, but how and why things would be better if they defeated the incumbent in question. If there’s a particular policy that becomes a campaign issue — say, the reduction of city hourly employees’ work weeks from 40 to 37 — and the challenger intends to work to undo that policy, the challenger needs to explain how to do that without increasing spending, unless the candidate feels strongly enough that taxes should go up to undo that policy.
Seemingly every municipal and school board race is now about financial stewardship. That’s because funds from federal and state sources are becoming more scarce, and the source of those funds are becoming more particular about their use. (That was the case even before the late 2000s recession and the sputtering economy of today.) Federal and state mandates that apply to programs (two words: “school lunch”) have always been a burden for school boards, particularly the unfunded mandates. Things will only get worse in that regard because on the one hand Congress and the Legislature simultaneously want schools to do more while taxpayers complain about their high taxes.
The Iowa–Grant School District referendum demonstrates what school boards have to deal with these days. The school district is unable to use some rooms, including the high school auditorium, because they don’t meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Iowa–Grant also has higher-than-average costs because of a higher-than-average number of low-income students and special-education students.
When asked what happens if the referendum doesn’t pass, Superintendent Linda Erickson said, “The list of things to be eliminated was based on everything that is not required for graduation.” The problem with doing that was summarized by School Board president Steve Christianson, who said, “We have to remember that we are in an open enrollment situation and have to make our programs appealing.”
As always, vote informed Tuesday.