La Crosse County Candidates are Starting at the Start

Sometimes a cliche like “Start at the Start” makes the most solid basis for a successful strategy, especially in any venture dealing with people. In politics, a chess board that operates by the rules of human behavior, one that can seem very complex to the untrained eye, this beautifully simple heuristic is entirely true.

Conservatives need to start at the start now–the start being unsexy but important local elected offices like city council, school board, and county board–to pave the way for future successes. National right wing icons like Rush and Levin never talk about these races, but it’s crucial that conservatives get involved at the local level.

But while there are plenty of good examples of the right strategizing for the next play rather than the final two minutes, or gravitating toward spending in Washington as opposed to spending in their counties, the conservative grassroots is also learning about the need for concerted efforts to help find and elect candidates locally.

In La Crosse County, in the eyes of some a sort of “Madison West,” a conservative counter-revolution is welling up, battling back against decades of The Left jury rigging the supposedly non-partisan County Board. In the spring ’14 elections, clear battle lines have been drawn in these elections.

Like dominoes, each conservative candidate’s opponent falls in line on one issue that particularly exemplifies the dichotomous tax/spend vs. taxpayer stewardship sides of the battle: a new county administrative center. At a cost of tens of million of dollars, the county board has decided to move out of its current building, selling the structure for a mere $250,000, less than the value of many single family homes in Onalaska. Given the opportunity to show the public the process by which they made this decision, including competitive bids for removing asbestos in the current building, the majority of the county board voted no.

You only decline to show your competitive bids when you never bothered to actually collect any, or when that information will expose you. According to several incumbent supervisors I spoke with, most of the county board is completely detached from public opinion.

The battle lines have formed in nine districts in La Crosse County. With that number of challengers, the upswell in La Crosse against entrenched local liberal benchwarmers bests any effort to elect local conservative in the state.

  • Brian Barton: Barton is facing double-dipping supervisor/assemblyman Steve Doyle. Barton is an Army and Navy veteran, former JAG officer, and former deputy district attorney. He’s vigorously challenging Doyle, and a win here will have huge ramifications for Doyle’s fall Assembly race.
  • Brian Logue: Logue is an executive at the Diocese of La Crosse whose career has been in nonprofit agencies. He’s mounting such a powerful challenge to incumbent Don Meyer that Meyer’s supporters put out an ostentatiously wordy defense of the incumbent’s stand favoring the new building (21)
  • Hubert Hoffman: Hoffman, a well-known Second Amendment advocate and active member of various community boards, is campaigning hard enough that the county board chair invited him to meet to discuss issues facing the county board.
  • Rolan Covert: Covert is a lifelong businessman who has been active in the community for well over a decade. Though a bona fide fiscal conservative, he has ties to the Democratic Party, which could help him in his urban City of La Crosse district. Covert was egregiously overlooked when the seat previously came open in favor of a toadie of the current chair who declined to run for re-election.
  • Anicka Purath: Recently appointed by Gov. Walker to the UW Board of Regents, Purath is running to represent the district encompassing the UW-La Crosse campus. Her opponent didn’t even bother to respond the La Crosse Tribune’s questionnaire.
  • Christopher Zirzow: A political novice with a longstanding interest in conservative politics, Zirzow is facing another recent spoils system appointee, a professor named Patrick Barlow. Zirzow is a good example of common citizens stepping up to run for unsexy offices.
  • Laurence Berg: Dr. Berg, a surgeon and physician, is an incumbent elected in 2010. Berg has the habit of ignoring the consensus of supervisors, challenging decisions made in the smoky back room instead of rubber stamping. He’s facing UW-L instructor Sam Scinta.
  • Dan Ferries: Ferries was elected in 2010 after several years on the Onalaska city council. His opponent, Kim Cobb, is a political newbie who falls into line with the current leadership of the county board. Ferries, along with Dr. Berg, are excellent examples of lonely soldiers who need backup.
  • Dan Hesse: Hesse has a well-known pedigree of involvement in his rural village’s government. His decision to run against hardcore lefty Tammy Gamroth, who is wildly out of place representing the district she does, was greeted warmly by area conservatives.

Supervisors Richard Becker and Jim Berns, both who lean conservative to moderate, are leaving their seats and will almost certainly be replaced by liberal yes-men/women.

Though these seats will be lost, conservatives are still mounting serious and strong challenges to the seat warmers who have been nurtured and empowered by the liberals who run the county board. But the liberals have erred by taking one step too many.

In two appointments, liberal county board chair Tara Johnson used her position to empower other liberals who would and have shilled for the party line, including advocating that ridiculous and shadowy sale of the current administrative center. Her soldiers have all fallen into line, using many of the same justifications for more tax hikes and new spending projects kept away from the light of day.

Arrogance is the achilles’ heel of longstanding power blocs. It will similarly set the pendulum in motion away from what former chairman and current power broker Steve Doyle built over the past twenty-plus years.

Involvement in local elections and building strong benches is the strength and wisdom of local liberals like Doyle, whose efforts throughout much of his adult life paved the way for La Crosse Dems like himself, Jill Billings, and Jennifer Shilling, all liberals who now have offices in Madison.

Conservatives need to build their benches and encourage their activists to run for local office. Much less sexy than even the lowliest of statewide offices, county board, school board, and village boards are nonetheless the most important seats to fill because they’re the future candidates for those sexier offices.

These local, community-based campaigns are also the vehicle by which the message of conservatism gets out to all corners of each county and town. It’s a message of common sense, of empowering local government and leading by serving, of stewardship of taxpayer money rather than playing SimCity with it.

Conservatives need to start at the start, and the starting point of the kinds of political careers that end in Washington is often the County Administrative Centers, whether it’s an unpopular new building or a figurative line drawn in a promising career.

About the writer: Chris Rochester is editor in chief of Morning Martini. He’s an armchair politico, veteran of several campaigns, and communications specialist. He's the communications director for the MacIver Institute. Commentary here is strictly his own.