Every publication where I’ve been the editor has closed its year with a column called “That Was the Year That Was,” the title taken from a 1960s satirical news show developed by David Frost, “That Was the Week That Was.”
I was told when I took this job in May that there was a lot going on in this area. That turned out to be a gross understatement. And that was before some stories that didn’t exist in May — the Chicago’s Best fire and the Sept. 7 Argyle fatal house fire, to name two.
The first observation from reading a year of your favorite weekly newspaper in creating the Retrospect section is that there was a lot of politics this year. Way too much politics.
I have to think the happiest people Nov. 7 were county and municipal clerk’s office employees, who were finally done with elections after the spring and fall elections that sandwiched the first recall of a governor in state history for reasons that a majority of voters rejected, either because they supported Gov. Scott Walker or because, regardless of how they felt about Walker, they thought Walker’s recall based on policy was inappropriate.
It is interesting to note that, between the November 2010 elections and the Nov. 6 elections, very little changed, despite multiple rounds of recall elections. Republicans still control the state Assembly and Senate (the latter by the same 18–15 margin), and five of the eight U.S. House of Representatives seats. One Democrat replaced another in the U.S. Senate, and one Democrat replaced another in the Second Congressional District. Anyone talking about any political reform — election reform, campaign finance reform, redistricting reform, term limits or whatever else — should notice how the deck is stacked in favor of incumbents, and advocate accordingly.
There was also the year-long deluge of political ads, mostly on the airwaves, that made you want to throw your TV or radio out the window, perhaps not bothering to open the window first. (As a First Amendment absolutist, I do not support regulating political advertising, because the ads you endure now are as they are because they’re proven to work. When they stop working, political consultants will take a different approach.) I would say that the ads showed off our decreasing tolerance for opposing points of view, except that you may notice that as nasty as the fall campaigns were, life went on after the election, regardless of how you felt about the results. It appears that most people lived the words of Thomas Jefferson, that “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
The most amusing ads — in fact, the only amusing ads — belonged to Rep. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green), whose campaign did two based on the DirecTV switch-from-cable theme — one saying that Democrats’ raising taxes would put money in Chicago Bears fans’ pockets (and you can oppose that given that the Bears abandoned Platteville as part of the political deal that replaced Soldier Field with, well, whatever that is), the other saying that Democrats’ raising taxes would force your parents to leave the state, thus eliminating your children’s babysitters and thus your ability to go to deer camp.
Proving that some things never change, there’s the Grant County Board, a disagreeable group that made bad decisions when I was first here in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and 20 years later, a disagreeable group that makes bad decisions. The nadir of 2012 politics may well have been the two meetings in which the board (1) violated the state Open Meetings Law by holding an improper closed session on the subject of getting along with each other, and then (2) demonstrating their improper closed session was worthless anyway one week later.
The board’s failure to get along spiked any thought of combining City of Platteville and Grant County dispatch, an effort by some in the city to lessen city dispatch’s $300,000 annual cost. Yet I found no one who wanted to do more than study the idea, and few who wanted to go even that far. Unless dispatch was moved to Platteville as part of the consolidation, it looks like a waste of previously spent tax dollars (for the city dispatch center) with less service for Platteville’s residents.
Speaking of the city, the most common subject in this space in the past eight months has been downtown parking. (That is a subject that the city has dealt with for, I understand, decades. Somewhere there is an 1899 Platteville Journal that probably has a downtown parking story in it.) At least this time there is an identifiable specific problem, parking for residents and employees of downtown businesses. (Ninety-four of whom set a Journal record by signing the same letter.)
One gets the distinct impression that, other than Ald. Barb Daus, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority chair, the Common Council is not listening to those people. (Other than Daus, it’s arguable whether anyone on the council really represents downtown, which is a significant problem. No one on the council is a downtown business owner.) Renting parking spaces sounds like a good idea until you (1) ask how much demand there is for rented spots (and as someone pointed out Dec. 11 the demand is probably closer to seven spaces than 92), (2) consider that renting spots means that no one else can park there, which in essence cuts available parking in half, and (3) wonder if there is any business-killer worse than empty parking spaces that can’t be used.
The question of who should pay for downtown parking is answered by another question: How important is downtown to you? Owning a downtown business or living downtown brings disadvantages, one of them being cost. Downtown is competing against every other part of Platteville for business customers (and beyond Platteville) and for residents, who, in the case of college students, seem perfectly fine with living anywhere in Platteville. The council votes with Platteville’s money, but customers vote with their feet.
The year was so event-filled, we have to continue this next, uh, year.