Walters: Elected officials move on in different ways

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Some elected officials get style points for how they announce their retirements, or plans to run for higher office. Others, not so much.
Consider, for example, the varying messages—and tones—in the retirement statements of two-term Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, 30-year veteran Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch of Poplar and 15-year veteran Democratic Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville.
Nominate Van Hollen for the Going Out on Top Award.
Van Hollen won 57.8 percent of the vote in 2010, getting more votes than Republican Gov. Scott Walker. But Van Hollen, weary of the nuts-and-bolts gritty of politics, stunned the Capitol by saying he would not seek a third term. Had he run again, the 47-year-old was expected to be re-elected.
Instead, Van Hollen announced that he had achieved the goals he announced when he first ran in 2006 and—unlike politicians-for-life—didn’t need to be defined by the job.
“I believe no person should be attorney general for life, or for too long,” Van Hollen said. “Our democracy requires a balance of experience and fresh views. For my family, for me, and this office, it’s time to give Wisconsin voters new choices.”
Nominate Jauch, 67, for the Legs Go First Award.
In his retirement announcement, Jauch sounded like the weary Indian tribal leader Chief Joseph, who surrendered by saying, “I will fight no more forever.”
Jauch, whose northwest Wisconsin district is bigger than many New England states, estimated that he had traveled 750,000 miles in a career that began with his 1982 election to the Assembly.
In his statement, Jauch correctly recalled that he had been “deeply involved in most of the Legislature’s most contentious issues”—ranging from ugly 1980s spear fishing protests on northern Wisconsin boat landings to the recent two-year fight over whether a huge open-pit iron mine should be built in Ashland and Iron counties in his district.
But others may nominate Jauch for the Weary Whiner Award because he added this:
“I simply do not have the energy to maintain that commitment in a political landscape where representative democracy is on life support. … Recent efforts to achieve common ground have been rejected by those who act as though compromise is a sin.
“Moderation, which has always been a mainstay in Wisconsin politics that has led to common-sense compromise—has been suffocated by those who seek to win at any cost.”
Nominate Cullen, 69, whose public service includes the Senate and head of state government’s health-care agency in the 1980s, for the Government Has Failed Award.
“I can make a bigger difference in my community as a private citizens than I can in the ugly political environment we see now in Wisconsin government,” he said.
“We cannot look to Washington or Madison to focus on the needs of the powerless. Washington and Madison care all too much about the moneyed and powerful.”
But Cullen has something that Jauch doesn’t have—personal wealth. So, Cullen can stake foundations and non-profit organizations that he believes change individual lives. For years, Cullen has funded a Capitol “intern” program for Janesville students.
It’s also interesting how other officials announce they are leaving, or plan to leave, to seek higher office.
Democratic Rep. Jon Richards, of Milwaukee thought that 14 years in the Assembly was enough. So he quickly jumped at a chance to replace Van Hollen as attorney general.
Here is how Richards highlighted what he says is a successful Assembly record:
“I have spent more than a decade as a lawmaker, working with prosecutors and law enforcement to create public policy solutions to address violent crime, drunk driving, domestic abuse and open government.
“I’m ready to tackle some of Wisconsin’s toughest issues. We need to address head-on the scourge of violence in our cities and schools, the alarming increase in the rate of heroin abuse, the problem of domestic violence, the needless apathy about drunk driving, and the delays in justice in our court system.”
Next, watch how two other Assembly Democrats—Reps. Janis Ringhand of Evansville and Andy Jorgensen of Fort Atkinson—announce their Assembly exits to face-off next year in a primary to replace Cullen.
One more up-or-out announcement is expected from Democratic Rep. Janet Bewley of Ashland, who is expected to run for Jauch’s Senate seat.
Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Email stevenscwalters@gmail.com.

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