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CIVIL DISCOURSE - An Occasional Attempt To Restore Civility To Civic Discourse


The response to a recent incident of anti-Semitism in Algoma has been appropriately strong and swift.  Several anti-Semitic signs were placed throughout the City of Algoma, including one in the yard of Mary Ludlow, who is Jewish.  To Mary Ludlow and all other members of the Jewish faith, I join others is condemning these incidents of hate and bigotry.  To our friends and neighbors in the Jewish community, I ask that you please not judge all residents of northeast Wisconsin by the actions of  the person or persons responsible for these reprehensible signs.

Those who do not condemn anti-semitism, by their silence, condone it.

Algoma mayor Wayne Schmidt and police chief Terry Magno were quick in condemning the incidents.  The FBI is investigating with the potential for the perpetrators to be charged with hate crimes.  The Anti-Defamation League has also offered a $l,500 reward.

A severe sentence will hopefully serve as a signal that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated.  In addition to the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in jail, I would encourage a judge to use some creativity in sentencing.  Prisons are institutions of higher education for criminal conduct, not the place where a heart in need of healing will likely be opened.  If I were a judge sentencing someone convicted of an anti-Semitic hate crime I would creatively craft a sentence that might actually change the misguided attitude of someone so hateful and ignorant.  A hate-filled bigot might actually be rehabilitated by  visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and sharing the experience.  And an assigned reading list to pass hours in prison would include a book by Appleton Holocaust survivor Henry Golde titled "Ragdolls."  Even a hardened, hate-filled bigot will be moved by the story of forgiveness and spiritual development as Golde recounts his survival of the death camps as an eleven-year-old boy in Poland.  Golde's story is compelling...and well-worth reading.


One of the foundations of a healthy democracy is that voters select their elected officials rather than elected officials selecting their voters.  In Wisconsin, elected officials are now picking who votes for them instead of voters picking their elected officials.  It's all about crafting legislative district boundaries.  Every ten years district boundaries are re-drafted.  In Iowa it's done by a non-partisan commission at little cost to the taxpayers.  Elections are competitive and no partisan advantage is created.  In Wisconsin, the lines are drawn by legislators themselves.  Whichever party is in power gives themselves the advantage.  That means legislators pick their voters instead of voters picking their legislators.

Common Cause Wisconsin, the citizen lobby group that advocates for clean government (and allows me the privilege of serving on its board of directors) has joined with the League of Women Voters encouraging Wisconsin to adopt a system of drafting district boundaries similar to that in Iowa.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism recently reported why reform is essential.  The last time districts lines were re-drafted, it was done in secret with a cost to taxpayers of more than $2 million.  The results show the power of the party in power.  Republicans, and Democrats would have done the same had they been the majority party, drew lines that resulted in their winning five of eight congressional seats, six of the eleven contested state senate seats and 56 of 76 contested assembly seats.  Yet voters cast more votes for Democrats in all categories.  Neither party has clean hands when drafting district boundaries.  And that's precisely why moving the responsibility to a non-partisan agency like the respected Legislative Reference Bureau is so important.

Who can disagree that voters should select their elected officials instead of elected officials selecting their voters? 

Legislation to sanitize the process of drafting district boundaries has been introduced with bi-partisan support.  Senate Bill 163 and Assembly Bill 185 will clean up and sanitize a process that has been polluted by politics and partisanship. 

Unfortunately, even though such a common-sense solution to such an obvious assault on fair elections has been introduced with Republican and Democratic support, the bills may never see the light of day.  Both bills are wallowing in committee where chairs state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) will not hold public hearings. 

If committee chairs will not allow the public to express opinion on this simple reform legislation perhaps the League of Women Voters, Common Cause Wisconsin and other groups supporting open, clean government will do it for them.  My bet is that public hearings on this legislation will show significant public support.  And if those hearings need to be held by proponents of the bill in the home towns of Sen. Lazich and Rep. August it just might get them on board.  That is if people really want to select their elected officials instead of tolerating a system that allows their elected officials to select their voters.


Competition makes us better.  That's just one reason I encourage people to subscribe to a newspaper.  It's also why I recommend advertising on our friends-down-the-dial at WDOR.  Good government is based on an informed electorate.  Without newspapers, it is difficult to know enough about politics and government to make informed choices.  I commend newspapers like Gannett for taking on the open meetings, open records and WIAA-abuse cases that most small-market newspapers and radio stations could never afford to do.  I applaud the investigative journalism that newspapers can afford to invest in like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's series on mental illness and Great Lakes water levels.  There's room for newspapers and radio to cooperate and collaborate in our mutual responsibility to make our audiences not only better consumers but citizens as well.

WDOR is a noble competitor with long history of commitment to local news and sports coverage.  For sixty years the Allen family has been a significant supporter of all things Door County.  They are the kind of high-road competitor that makes us better. 


The recent award and then withdrawal of a $500,000 Department of Natural Resources grant to encourage hunting and fishing in Wisconsin provides an opportunity to save $499,970.  For just $30 DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp could take Sturgeon Bay fishing guide Gary Nault out for lunch and learn a lot more than she will giving the money away to United Sportsmen of Wisconsin.  The biggest challenge might be finding a place in Sturgeon Bay where lunch-for-two adds up to $30.

Gary and his wife, Cheryl, are responsible for teaching thousands of young kids how to fish.  Years ago the Naults started "Take a Kid Fishing Day."  Mothers have shared with me how their sons and daughters learned a life-time appreciation for fishing because of Gary and Cheryl.

Gary is the dean of Door County guides and an articulate proponent of the economic contribution of fishing.  We've heard suggestions that because of Gary's leadership in an important segment of the Door County economy, naming Sturgeon Bay's Little Lake in his honor would be appropriate.  I agree.  And I also believe it's people like Gary and Cheryl Nault that can be part of turning around the decline in the number of Wisconsin kids hunting and fishing....without a $500,000 grant to a group that is not playing by the rules.


The City of Appleton recently became the third in Wisconsin to pass an ordinance banning housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Governor Lee Dreyfus, in 1982, was the first in the nation to sign into law legislation prohibiting employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.  Today housing discrimination needs to be added to the list of prohibited practices.  Northeast Wisconsin cities and counties can stand against discrimination by following the lead of Milwaukee, Madison and Appleton. 


The missing ingredient in far too much civic discourse today is civility. Let’s exchange ideas, disagree without being disagreeable, find common ground and, together, restore CIVIL DISCOURSE.

That’s my opinion. I’d like to hear yours. Email your thoughts to


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