January 1970. Weeks after graduating from UW-Madison, you’re the cub reporter for the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald newspaper. Being a reporter pays you—$127.50 a week—for your insatiable curiosity. You typed your stories out, pasted the pages together and handed them to the city editor, who edited them with scissors and a black pencil.
January 1971. You’re commuting to cover sessions of the Iowa Legislature. Unmarried and unmortgaged, you love it.
November 1988. After covering Milwaukee’s City Hall, you’re assigned to Wisconsin’s Capitol.
Fast-forward to this Christmas. Being able to write a Christmas Day column allows you to recall some of the journalism memories— the “presents”—you’ve been given over almost five decades in Midwest journalism.
Specifically, thanks for:
The versatile Capitol. It’s used as a climb-the-stairs exercise gym, a wedding venue, a recital hall, a “meet you in the Rotunda” social hub, a site for protesters from all beliefs and, yes, the place where elected officials decide how to spend $76 billion by mid-2019.
The hulking sheriff’s deputy who, during the Act 10 protests, looked at your press credentials and asked, “Do you need to get into” the governor’s office for a news conference? When you said yes, she threw protesters out of your path like bowling pins, clearing a way for you to do your job.
Days earlier, with no deputy around, you had been unable to enter the governor’s office for another press conference. That had never happened before.
The chants from Act 10 protesters—“Do your job! Do your job!”—as Capitol reporters left those news conferences. Capitol police had you leave through the attorney general’s office, since the main hallway was blocked by shouting protesters.
Wisconsin’s Open Records Law, which allows Capitol reporters to—eventually—find out the real reasons for major policy changes, and the plans and cash donations that lead up to them.
The advice about the Capitol you got, and never forgot, in the 1990s from then-powerful Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch: “This building is about MONEY!”
A chance to witness the dozens of major policy changes passed during the Republican Revolution over the last seven years. Your list of those changes shows their broad sweep, but—no—you’re offering no opinion on them. Wisconsin voters must make that judgment.
The annual Harley rides of four-term Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. After you failed your motorcycle license exam—speeding!—you had to trail Thompson’s annual parades in a beat-up red VW Golf. Still, they took you to capitols in Springfield, Ill.; Columbus, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., for the bicentennial celebration of 1998. And there was that night in Thunder Bay, Canada, when Thompson did a stand-up comedy shtick.
In Columbus, Ohio, another Capitol reporter delayed the ride’s Sunday start while she waited for a liquor store to open so she could buy Bloody Mary ingredients.
The Dickeyville restaurant owner who, on a busy Friday night, temporarily disconnected his business phone so you could file a story on the tragic death of siblings who died in a home fire, as their parents milked the family’s cows.
You can still see a child’s rocking horse, standing in the yard outside the fire-ravaged home.
The two editors, Gerry Hinkley of the Milwaukee Sentinel and Martin Kaiser of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who asked you to consider joining the Washington bureau. But you never have regretted respectfully turning them down.
The WisconsinEye journalists who encouraged you in 2009 to try broadcast journalism, after it became obvious that the Journal Sentinel had to dramatically downsize its newsroom and you raised your hand to take a buyout.
The Iowa House speech you witnessed against the death penalty by fiery orator and liberal Democrat Norm Jesse, of Des Moines. As he spoke, the chamber’s grandfather clock chimed midnight, marking the end of a day as Jesse spoke against the state ending a life.
Rest in peace, Norm.
The wonderful wife who kept your home going, and three kids focused, on those hundreds of days you called home after 3 p.m. to say, “Something just happened. I’ve got to work late. No, I’m not really sure when I’ll be home.”
Thanks, Rebecca, for decades of affirmation that journalism is a career seeking “justice and righteousness.”
To Parker boys basketball: The Vikings endured a 44-game losing streak before snapping it last week with a 58-55 victory over Beloit Memorial. The team showed class through the depths of defeat, never doubting its ability to improve, according to Parker coach Keith Miller. “Some teams get set in their ways and settle for where they’re at. These kids
don’t because they know they can compete, and tonight they were rewarded for that,” he said. Achievement is a relative concept, as Parker students demonstrated by rushing the basketball court at the game’s conclusion. Last week’s victory hopefully marks a turning point for Parker, but defeat isn’t the horrible outcome typically portrayed in the sports world. While victory is a joyride, defeat yields that priceless trait known as perseverance. How one reacts to setback says a lot about a person’s and a team’s character.
To Jakubowski’s court performance. Give the man some credit: He’s stays in character. Most defendants who steal a bunch of guns would heap contrition onto the court if they thought it could shave a few years off their prison sentence. Not Joseph Jakubowski—he’s living and breathing that manifesto he mailed to President
Trump before ransacking a gun store in Janesville this year. To heck with the consequences is his modus operandi, but Jakubowski’s performance at his sentencing hearing last week, a profanity-laced tirade aimed at federal judge William Conley, was pathetic. Jakubowski made some valid points about social justice, but his presentation betrayed him. Even Conley felt sorry for the guy. “He is broken, .... physically, financially, emotionally, mentally, even in spirit,” Conley said of Jakubowski. Jakubowski claims to want to right the world’s wrongs, but his shtick amounts to little more than an elaborate (and expensive) cry for help.
To three-year contract with humane society: The city’s months-long reluctance to sign a contract with the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin for animal control services baffled many observers. But maybe the city was simply trying to drive a hard bargain. It got a good deal in the end, locking in three years of services for the same price the city’s been paying since 2014,
$125,000 annually. As one letter writer noted last week, “My water bill was around $50 12 years ago yet is about $170 now. I wish I could have contracted with the city for the same price for six years or more.” It’s hard to imagine the humane society’s costs will remain flat for six years, which means it will have to make up the difference through fundraising and/or higher adoption fees. As a thank you, residents might consider giving a monetary gift to the humane society this holiday season.
To animal rights vigilantes: Some of Sunday’s Sound Off responses to a Beloit man accused of mistreating a dog highlight the hypocrisy and cruelty of some so-called animal lovers. “Just give him to a few of us animal lovers, and we’ll hold him under that scalding shower
and see how he likes it until his skin starts to peel off,” one caller said. Another said a judge should sentence the man to “sitting in a bathtub for 15 minutes with scalding hot water.” Indeed, they seem to relish the idea of torturing a fellow human being. The accused man was washing the dog in a shower and said he didn’t realize how hot the faucet water had become before he left the dog to attend to a child in another room. Has it occurred to these vigilantes this tragedy was perhaps an accident—not a malicious act? Meanwhile, the man faces a felony charge, while many others who commit crimes against human beings get off with far less.
The election of Doug Jones in Alabama delivered much joy to Democrats, and they rightly heralded the huge African-American turnout, without which Jones would not have won. But Democrats should have stopped there. Some of their prominent voices went further with the theme that black voters did them a favor.
Have they considered the strong possibility that Alabama’s African-American voters did it for themselves? They had a choice between a man who had convicted Klansmen of murdering black girls at a church and someone who spoke nostalgically of slavery. Let alone that Roy Moore would have tried to take away their health care and Jones will defend it.
Identity politics have long been a vote killer for the Democratic Party. Treating any racial group of voters as a big unthinking lump comes back to bite you. For one thing, it irritates those who don’t feel “thanked.” For another, it empowers self-appointed spokesmen prone to attacking other groups based on race.
During the Women’s March on Washington, “consultant” Angela Peoples carried an insulting sign that read, “Don’t forget: White women voted for Trump.” It was sort of true, in that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump. But that means 47 percent of white women did not. And on this subject, why wave that sign in front of a huge mass of white women marching in protest of Trump—other than to get attention?
Someone could have carried an equally obnoxious and unfair sign reading, “Black women who didn’t vote helped elect Trump.” Former Democratic National Chairwoman Donna Brazile writes in her book “Hacks” that “in 2008 and 2012 black women were the highest performing voters for us in the whole country, but in (2016) our numbers fell from 70 percent to 64.”
In a column titled “How Democrats can reward black women right now for their votes in Alabama and Virginia,” Jonathan Capehart lists several African-American lawmakers as potential replacements for the Senate Judiciary Committee seat vacated by Al Franken.
Of course they’re potential replacements. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California would be on anyone’s A-list of top candidates. Why diminish them by turning their possible appointment into some kind of race-based reward?
For identity activists, identity is the only issue. During the 2014 midterm elections, some Latino “spokesmen” put their greatest energies into denouncing President Obama over his policy of deporting many who had entered the country illegally.
A news report at the time quoted young Latino voters in Colorado as saying, “Why should I bother to vote?” Basically asking, “What has Obama done for us?”
For one thing, Obama ran himself ragged to get the Affordable Care Act passed. The health reform benefited Latinos more than any other ethnic/racial group. An added irony is that their low participation helped elect a Congress with many leaders opposed to even the baby steps of immigration reform—normalizing the status of those brought here illegally as children.
Brazile says that one thing she learned from her students at Georgetown University is that younger voters especially dislike identity politics. They felt, she writes, “that Hillary spent too much time trying to appeal to people based on their race, or their gender, or their sexual orientation.”
This is not to downplay issues of civil rights and voter suppression that especially concern minority groups. They must be addressed for the sake of the democracy. But to do that, their voters have to show up for every election.
Jones was put over the top by African-Americans and white suburban women. It couldn’t have happened without both—but others also voted for decency. If you’re going to thank anyone, thank everyone.