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Column: Dismiss the people at your own peril

By Dan Kontos

I am not usually one to say I told you so, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. Back in May of last year, I first warned that the people were becoming upset with the local political landscape. Of course, right on cue, I was poo-pooed by the keyboard warriors and useful idiots alike.

Now as the first election of 2022 is approaching, our neighbors are signaling that they want change. The status quo seems to be an untenable place for many of our local officials. Their complaint is that the people have been ignored, disrespected, and dismissed for too long, and now they want to shake things up. Well, I told you so.

If you have been paying attention, you know that the citizens of Portage County are stepping up. Fourteen of 25 county supervisor positions are up for grabs, along with a three-way race for county executive. In the City of Stevens Point, five of the six alderperson seats on the upcoming ballot are contested. On the school board, six challengers join the three incumbents in a race for those seats. Even for the soon-to-be-vacant seat in Portage County Circuit Court Branch II, a pair of contenders have thrown their hats into the preverbal ring.

I cannot remember such a time where we have had so much interest in local offices, especially during a non-partisan election. Take the County Board as just one example. In 2018 and 2020, only one seat was contested each election. While 2016 saw a high-water mark of eight contests, 2014 saw six, 2012 saw five, and 2010 had only two. Now we have 14, and this is only one illustration.

To all of those who are daring enough to run, I say bravo to you all and thank you for wanting to serve. That goes for challengers and current officeholders alike. I did it once, didn’t care for it, but learned a lot.

You see, I’m not necessarily anti-incumbent. I don’t subscribe to the throw all the bums out philosophy. I like to examine each candidate before I cast my vote to hire them for the next term. I think you should too. Then, once you spot the actual bums, you can toss them out.

The crux for this movement— and make no mistake, it is a movement—the voters want change.

Some citizens feel disenfranchised by many of their local electeds. They are tired of the apparent dismissiveness, marginalization, and tone-deafness. While we all can, and should, debate policy in a civil and logical fashion, it is the arrogance and refusal to be transparent that sticks in the throat of these folks.

For others, it is the perceptible lack of direction, vision, and leadership they expect from their local officeholders. If you missed the excellent column by Mike Somers on this topic, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Short-sighted and counter-productive decision making, as well as complete inaction on actual important topics, are the one-two punch that hits many other voters.

Make no mistake, they are not mutually exclusive.

All of this is magnified and exacerbated by the happenings around us at the state and national levels. The sheer unbridled arrogance and utter buffoonery and incompetence on display nearly every day only adds emotional fuel to the fire. People are starting to have enough of it.

Let us not forget the recent recall petition drive and direct legislation effort. Successful or not, they are more signs of a turbulent electorate.

In case you missed it, I told you so.

There are many very good people holding local public office. However, as the dam breaks, they are forced to swim harder to prove themselves and differentiate their performance from the unqualified trolls who have been eroding away the moorings of public trust that kept the dam in place. The headwaters of change are now free to sweep away anyone in its path.

This is not a settled matter. Oh, to the contrary. Now it is incumbent on the actual power holders, the sovereigns who cast their lawful ballot during the February 15 primary, and the April 5 spring election, to make their selections. You must now execute your civic duty to learn, then vote.

Study the candidates, know the issues, watch how they respond to the media, and remember their past records. You are not voting in a popularity contest; you are hiring a public servant. Vote like your very community counts on it—because it does.

So, with that, let’s meet in the opinion section to talk about all of it, boldly, unafraid, and with a healthy respect for each other. Until then, God bless.

Dan Kontos is a paid columnist for the Metro Wire. He chooses his own topics and his opinions do not necessarily represent the staff of the Metro Wire. He lives with his family in Whiting. 

We are seeking a liberal columnist. Anyone with interest should email [email protected].