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Matt Pommer Column – Noble Calling – 8-24-2016

By Matt Pommer

Are political amateurs better than veteran elected officials?

Donald Trump’s candidacy puts that question in the spotlight. A lot of regular Republican voters probably would argue that a political veteran would be less embarrassing and do better in the presidential race.

The words “career politician” — used in radio and television ads – don’t seem so bad this year.

 The late Clifford “Tiny” Krueger, R-Merrill, put the issue in perspective when he retired from the State Senate in 1984 after participating in Wisconsin politics for 34 years.

In his retirement speech Krueger urged his State Senate colleagues to “be proud of what you are. Elected office is a noble calling,” he said.

“There is nothing lazy, immoral or selfish about being a career politician. The giants of our Republic were political animals. They spent their lives at politics because being good at it demands a great deal.

“The career politicians, the Adams, the Jeffersons, the Clays, the Websters the Lincolns and the La Follettes of our system have kept us together in times of crisis. They put party interests aside when the going got tough,” said Krueger.

Politicians have two very important obligations, he said. One is vigorous leadership in solving problems. “But there is an equal obligation, one often overlooked, to be sensitive and compassionate toward those who lack the power, or the means, to compete in the society you govern,” added Krueger.

Both major parties in Wisconsin have officials and ex-office holders who might correctly carry the label of “career politician.” Democrat Jim Doyle served as a district attorney and then as attorney general before being twice elected as governor.

Republican Tommy Thompson served in the Assembly for two decades before being elected governor four times. Gov. Scott Walker was elected to the Assembly and as Milwaukee County executive before winning three elections as governor.

Republican ads now denounce former three-term U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold as a “career politician.” Democrats surely will hang the same tag on Walker in 2018 as he seeks another victory.

State Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, currently holds the national record for continuous elected state legislative service. The 89-year-old Risser, who has served in the Legislature for 60 years, is standing for re-election.

Sometimes the outsider candidate can excite and energize voters.

In 1978 Lee Dreyfus, who had been chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, won the Republican primary for governor, upsetting the GOP’s establishment candidate in a later summer primary and subsequently defeating the Democratic incumbent in November.

Young musicians, dubbed the “Rag Tag Band” traveling in an old refurbished school bus, accompanied the red-vested Dreyfus at many stops.

It was a joyous, populous campaign seldom seen in Wisconsin politics. There were no insults or personal attacks against others on the ballot like this year.

Dreyfus obviously provides a different answer than Trump to the question about political newcomers.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this column does not reflect the views or opinions of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association or its member newspapers.