So here are two of my Dale Schultz stories.
It was the early 2000s, and what everyone was talking about in Shullsburg was the potential Lac du Flambeau off reservation casino that was being proposed. The story enveloped the community for two years. There might have been some opposition, but overall the proposal received overwhelming support.
One night, they held a public information meeting to discuss the issue. As part of that meeting, Sen. Dale Schultz, as well as Rep. Steve Freese attended that meeting to give their thoughts on the subject.
Now in a situation like this, with such overwhelming support, many politicians would show their full support on the issue, even if they did not agree. Or they would give some sort of answer like “I will look into this.”
I remember Dale told the crowd that he was not in favor of the expansion of gambling, as blunt as he could be.
Another story takes place about six months later, in January 2002. It was for the Lafayette County Historical Society, which had moved into the former Carnegie Library Building in Darlington. They were putting together a time capsule to mark the occasion. Dale was there, talking to everyone, and I went over to ask him a few questions. The line of questions turned to the state budget, which was starting on a successive roll of shortfalls. I had a friend working for then-Gov. Scott McCallum at the time, and he was telling me the shortfall was looking to be $600-$800 million, similar to the shortfall the previous year. I asked Dale what he thought the budget projections would be. Dale responded that he felt the number would be closer to $1.6 billion.
It turned out to be in the neighborhood of $1.8 billion.
I tell these two stories because I think they tell a lot about Dale Schultz and the way he conducted himself. Dale would tell you how he felt about a subject, and you knew this is what he truly felt, no glittering generalities or soundbites that were suppose to elicit emotion but mean nothing. No dodging of questions, he would tell you what he thought, and try to be as much in the know as possible.
He was also part of an old breed of politicians who handled as much with his constituents directly, either himself or with staff, as opposed to through a press release or junk mail flyer.
Schultz is part of an old breed of politicians who seem to be going away, a group of men and women who decided the best way to handle the wishes and desires of their constituents was by meeting them, on a regular basis to talk about what they want to talk about. I am not talking about making an appearance at the local parade or fair, I mean listening sessions, town hall meetings, whatever you want to call them, where they actually heard from the people that voted for them, but also the people who didn’t.
This way of politics used to be a regular practice around here. Russ Feingold made this part of his regular campaign pledge, that he would visit all 72 counties once a year to know what the people wanted. It may have seemed like a gimmick, but Feingold devoted almost all of the hour, hour and one half to the people who attended, listening to them, responding, maybe the way the person wanted, maybe not. He also had staff go right to them to get information if it was something he could directly deal with.
And he got to know those regulars. At one Lafayette County meeting, one man in attendance began to have a heart attack, and Feingold, along with everyone else, jumped to the man’s aid. He survived, and every meeting after that, Feingold would always make sure he would talk after the Lafayette County meeting to that man, and without any fanfare, came to his funeral because of the friendship he made from those listening sessions.
By comparison, I have never seen Feingold’s successor, Ron Johnson, ever in Grant County in the three years he has been in office.
But this way of talking to residents directly was common a decade ago, and it was bipartisan. It is something we saw with Dale, as he would be in town several times every year meeting with people. We see it with Ron Kind, who holds sessions quarterly.
From my coverage of him, Dale really seemed to pick up his public appearances after his colleague, Grant County native Steve Freese, left the Assembly. Steve was nicknamed ‘Plaque Man’ by many, including some of his detractors, because it seemed like every week he was handing out a plaque to someone or some group.
That just does not seem to be the case with the new generation of politicians.
The problem for Dale Schultz is he didn’t change while the atmosphere of party politics changed around him.
And here is the biggest, most egregious thing I see in how Schultz’s career comes to an end, that despite some of his votes, he was loyal to the end to his party, even when the party was not loyal back.
I give you how the past year has gone down. On the week that Dale began going around the 17th district to talk with his constituents, and the press, Rep. Howard Marklein announced he was going to run for the seat Dale had held for two decades, whether Schultz decided to run or not.
Now challenging an incumbent of your own party for their seat is considered bad etiquette, no matter what your party affiliation. Up until the Tea Party movement, the only time you saw this happen was when that incumbent was in trouble, either with the law or with their personal life, and sometimes not even then.
Marklein’s challenge could be seen as a poke in the eye to Schultz, who less than a decade ago was the majority leader for the Republicans in the State Senate. To add insult to this injury, it was apparent that Marklein was being backed by the state Republicans, who began filling his campaign coffers with cash, $94,236 in the first six months alone.
Publicly, Schultz was defiant, pointing to items he simply disagreed with Marklein most of all, like on the mining bill. Each time Schultz explained his differences with Marklein, he pointed to the contamination in the Mineral Point area, which is in Marklein’s district and came as a result of unregulated mining a century ago.
While he showed his real differences with Marklein publicly, Schultz actually took actions that made Marklein the frontrunner by default this fall.First of all, despite his strong words, and an appearance he was ready for a fight, Schultz’s campaign coffers began to empty, and he did no real fundraising, only collecting $684 during the same timeframe Marklein collected more than $94,000.
Some thought Dale might be playing rope-a-dope, looking down and out, only to raise money in the end. He already had a bunch of supplies, like yard signs, and his stance against Act 10 probably meant a bunch of new donors he could tap, ones who held him in disgust in the mid 90s when he was voting for the Qualified Economic Number.
And, by looking at the demographics, Schultz had a good chance of beating his challenger. First of all, Schultz had more name recognition in two-thirds of the district than Marklein, and more relationships with local officials only developed by covering them over such a period of time. Schultz’s strong spot was his home county of Richland, which may have been vulnerable as it was more conservative than the rest of the district. However, Marklein’s 51st Assembly District is the most liberal, and made his home turf the weakest for him to defend.
But, it turns out, that was not to be.
In making his announcement in January, Schultz set up Marklein to be the Republican nominee, and pretty much the favorite in November. As much as some might want to point to Schultz’s pointed words about Marklein in his retirement announcement, in actuality, Schultz basically grit his teeth and helped Marklein take his job. By staying in the running until January, Schultz kept any other interested candidate out of the race, especially the two other representatives of the district in the Assembly. Challenging one person in an open primary is one thing, taking on that person and the incumbent at the same time is suicide.
And not fundraising meant the field was open to Marklein to grab those donors. And staying in meant other candidates, like Ernie Wittwer, didn’t pick up any money from people who would support Dale but not Marklein.
This is why Marklein sits with $122,000 in the bank for his run, while Dale has under $5,000, less than the Democrat in the race, who has just over $9,000.
Now anything could happen this year, but do you think any viable challenger will pop up, seeing this big campaign finance lead Marklein has, not to mention the outside conservative interest groups who poured more than $300,000 into the last competitive race in the 49th Assembly District? No.