If I’ve learned anything covering municipal government on the local level, its that partisan politics just doesn’t fly. In fact, any time I’ve seen political ideology play a part in local decision-making, it has, for the most part, ended in disaster. That’s why it was so refreshing to talk with a local politician this week who clearly understood that idea.
Joe Salzer has served as the alderman of District #5 on the Rhinelander City Council since 2008. On April 17, he was elected by his council peers as council president. I admit that my relationship with Joe has not been very close over the years. Every reporter has “sources” that they come back to time and time again to get the inside scoop on what’s happening. While I’ve always been friendly with Joe, he’s never been a particularly close source. From what I did see of him, though, he has always conducted himself professionally at meetings. He comes across as thoughtful and articulate, always asking the right questions for each circumstance. He hasn’t been too proud to admit when he doesn’t understand a topic on the table, or needs more information before determining his stance. He’s been an effective, communicative alderman.
I learned that Joe is more than that, though. During a long conversation I had with him last week, I learned that Joe is truly in this for the right reasons. He has a 12-year-old son who he wants to see have opportunities in this city in the future. He has family here who are affected by the decisions he makes as a member of the council. He doesn’t take his responsibility for granted. Case in point–there were “Vote For Salzer” yard signs up all over District #5 in February and March, and Joe could often be seen going door-to-door in his district, campaigning to be re-elected in the April 3 election. The funny thing is…Joe wasn’t running against anyone. His was the only name on the ballot.
When I asked him about why he was putting so much effort into a race he really couldn’t lose, Joe looked puzzled. “Regardless of if I had an opponent or not, it’s still my job to go out and show the voters I’m the best candidate,” he said. “You can’t take anything in politics for granted.” How about that! A politician that doesn’t take his role for granted. That’s my kind of guy!
Rhinelander Mayor Dick Johns is very similar in his thinking. I’ve known Dick for almost 8 years now, and I still have no idea what his political ideology is. He’s always been comfortable talking to anyone, whether they be a Tea Party Conservative or Green Party Liberal. He listens, takes all viewpoints into account, and decides based on what he feels is best for the City of Rhinelander and the Northwoods. Sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t happen that way.
Personally, I’ve seen partisan politics rear their ugly heads at local meetings. Just recently, at the first meeting of the new Oneida County Board, several members began arguing based on political ideology. Really, the only thing those arguments created was a divide between board members with a conservative slant, and those who lean liberal. Now, unfortunately, it will be very easy for decisions at the county level to turn into partisan bickering matches. In that case, the only real losers are the taxpayers that are charging these “leaders” to make decisions in the best interest of the community and county.
Right now this state is divided by political ideology more than ever. We’ve seen how that idea has hindered any true progress in Wisconsin. I’m asking…no, I’m begging other local politicians to use people like Mayor Johns and Council President Salzer as an example of how to conduct themselves in local office. Have an open mind, and don’t get in your own way…and maybe we can make some progress.
Then maybe Madison could take note.