That Was the Year That Was 2014 is a tradition of the last column of a year in your favorite weekly newspaper.
This year would have been a full year with half the news that took place in this corner of the planet. Instead, a 79-year-old man was beaten to death three days before the first tornado(es) to hit Platteville in 44 years.
The weather figured prominently in news, and not just because of the June 16 tornadoes. Recall the high Jan. 4, 32, followed by the low Jan. 6, 21 below zero. Schools closed for four days in January due to bitter cold, and closed early one other day, just before a multiple-car pileup near Dickeyville and a jackknifed tractor–trailer near Mineral Point that stopped traffic for 7½ hours. There was also the blizzard Jan. 26 that, after all the roads into Platteville were closed, turned Platteville into Hotel California in reverse — you could check in any time you like, but you couldn’t get in.
Five months later, after a generally ugly spring (but what’s new about that?), it seemed as though the second half of June was spent in continuous storm watches and/or warnings. There was a tornado watch June 16, but no warnings, because no one saw either of the tornadoes until they had already gone through the dark of Platteville. And those were the first, but not last, tornadoes of the month in Grant, Lafayette and Iowa counties.
Platteville’s tornadoes are probably the story of the year because of how much damage, and yet how few injuries, they caused. I’m not sure how to explain how Carrie Gates could survive being blown out of her house (the photo on the top of page 7 of the Retrospect section doesn’t show the part of the house where the Gateses used to live, because it got blown away that night), except to observe that if you don’t believe that miracles happen, you aren’t paying attention.
As I wrote before, being out that night was spooky. No lights, except those from passing vehicles, emergency vehicles, and, yes, Boondocks (as stated in the Facebook meme, another professional first). The lightning in the sky added another foreboding touch. And then I got to the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, and it was full of fire trucks and ambulances, none of which were from Platteville. And then starting the morning after the tornado, people helped their damaged neighbors, and volunteers showed up from inside and outside Platteville to help. If you ever needed a reason to live in Platteville, there it is.
It was a strange political year. There was only one race on the Grant and Lafayette county boards, but in each case, the incumbent lost. There were two sheriff’s races, both in the Republican primary. The Grant County race featured two Sheriff’s Office employees, one of whom was named instead of the other as sheriff two years ago, both of whom presumably will be working with each other throughout Sheriff Nate Dreckman’s full term. The Lafayette County race featured one of the most graceful concessions you’ll ever see, from Darlington police chief Jason King.
The 17th Senate District race was as bizarre as possible for an election that wasn’t really close. First, Rep. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green) announced last year he was running, whether or not Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) ran for reelection. Schultz decided not to run, announcing on a Madison TV station instead of first to media in his Senate district. Ernie Wittwer announced he was running, which impressed state Democratic Party leadership so little that they convinced Pat Bomhack, who was going to run again for Marklein’s Assembly seat, to run instead for the Senate, going so far as endorsing Bomhack for little good reason over Wittwer.
So then Wittwer beat Bomhack in the Democratic primary, by two whole votes. No, wait, seven votes. No, wait, Bomhack won the recount after 110 ballots in Monroe disappeared. (That’s the sort of thing that happens in Illinois, not Wisconsin.) Schultz reenters by appearing to endorse Bomhack, not Marklein, even though the E word wasn’t used, with Schultz saying people should “do their own research and draw their own conclusions.”
So did Schultz endorse Bomhack or not? Turns out it didn’t matter, because Schultz’s don’t-call-it-an-endorsement-of-a-Democrat didn’t help Bomhack win. I’m not sure what Schultz was trying to accomplish by having his name on a Democratic mailer, but whatever it was, Marklein is replacing Schultz, not Bomhack. I’m not sure what Schultz’s trying to give a big middle finger to people who voted for him though they were more conservative than Schultz was accomplished either. (Meanwhile, Marklein’s Assembly replacement is another Republican, Dodgeville Mayor Todd Novak, by a whole 65 votes.)
More on all this next week.