"Courage" the keyword in Walker's story of Kapanke

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Dan [Kapanke] had more than his senate seat at risk. He and his family own the La Crosse Loggers, a semipro summer baseball team that brings together top college players from across the country and gives them a taste of life in the pros…

The Loggers are Dan’s family’s business and livelihood. He mortgaged his home and everything he owned to start the team, and put his heart and soul into making it a success. When he wasn’t in Madison during the summer, Dan was at home running the stadium and even selling popcorn and Cracker Jack in the stands.

Opponents of Act 10 had threatened to boycott businesses that supported us. Dan realized that his vote could affect not just his political career but also his business, his retirement, and his ability to support his family as well.

-Gov. Scott Walker in his new book, “Unintimidated”

Gov. Walker dedicates just about three pages of his new book to sharing the courage of former State Senator Dan Kapanke, one of the senators whose careers ended as a result of their vote for and the union outrage over Act 10.

The fallout went beyond just mere personal finances or even a career. Walker conveys a story I’ve heard before – but never directly from Kapanke:

Dan’s wife, Ruth, is a nurse who often comes home late after a long shift in the hospital. One night she pulled up to their home and found that someone had carefully placed roofing nails, pointy-side up, all over the driveway. It happened to them both several times.

There are several stories like this, another of which involves a snowfall, plow trucks, and the Kapankes’ driveway. Vociferous gatherings next to their home were part of the sideshow. Walker also tells of a death threat made against a slate of GOP Senators, with Dan’s name at the top, that began, “Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your familes [sic]…”

Then came the recall in August 2011. Walker says he believed Dan had no chance of winning, and in such proximity to the emotion of Act 10, he was probably right. But Walker goes on to say:

Still, I believe if Dan’s race had come a year later, after the results of Act 10 were in, he might have survived…

At one point, as I was preparing to do an event for Dan, one of my advisers asked me why I was spending time and energy on Dan’s race, when there were other tough fights where I could make a difference. My answer was simple: because Dan had done something courageous. I owed it to him as a matter of personal loyalty. And I wanted others to know that when they stuck their necks out on tough votes, they could count on me to be in the trenches fighting beside them.

Kapanke and his family certainly paid a high price – from losing his senate seat to personal threats – and worst of all, a panicked period of wrecked peace of mind and constant besiegement – but the Kapankes have come out strong. The Loggers are strong, both financially and on the field. During the season Dan is still proudly walking the stands selling concessions, shaking hands, and enjoying time with his thousands of friends.

The Loggers are today an even more taut lifeline for La Crosse’s north side, an area ridden by growing crime and poverty that’s partially alleviated by the family friendly presence of the Loggers.

What’s in Kapanke’s future is unknown, but one thing is certain: he risked it all and sacrificed most of it to achieve what’s now so well-known about Wisconsin: that we fixed our biggest fiscal problem.

And if he decides to run for office, he’ll have the hindsight of years following Act 10 and, if Walker’s book is to be believed, the support of a grateful governor.

Quote of the Day

“I was doing my job. People elected me to make tough decisions.”

-Dan Kapanke, as quoted in “Unintimidated”

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About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s a communication specialist with experience in the private sector and on various campaigns. He's the communications director for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy. Commentary here is strictly his own.