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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

home : opinions : op ed columnist March 26, 2017

7/1/2011 8:15:00 AM
In an extraordinary age, Holperin becomes The Invisible Man

Gregg Walker
Publisher


By any measure, Wisconsin is ticking through an extraordinarily important year.

The decisions we have made through our elected officials - the decisions we continue to make as spring has melted into summer - will affect not only the rest of our lives but those of our children and grandchildren as well.

Indeed, no matter which side you are on - a question famously asked in an old union hymn - one thing is readily apparent on both sides: Now is the time to stand and be counted. Now is the time to fight for what you believe is right.

Each side knows that the triumph of the other has fundamental implications. For unions and Democrats and liberals, it is about maintaining the status quo. For Republicans and libertarians and conservatives, it is about change and fundamental reform.

It is about big government versus individual liberty. It is about welfare dependence versus personal independence. It is about economic prosperity versus special-interest prosperity.

Leaders have emerged to argue the benefits of both sides.

So the question to be asked, especially if you live in the Northwoods and in the 12th state Senate district, where is the leadership of Sen. Jim Holperin?

In an age when true leaders should be out front for their constituents on the day's critical issues, Mr. Holperin has gone AWOL from the battle. He has been missing in action.

In so very many different ways, in 2011, Jim Holperin has become Wisconsin's Invisible Man.

Of course, Sen. Holperin most famously made himself invisible to his constituents earlier this year when he ran to Illinois to avoid doing his job.

While he was on the lam, a Tea Party activist caught up with the senator in a parking lot and asked him why he was in Illinois holding up a vote on the collective bargaining bill. Sen Holperin replied that people back home had not had enough time to digest the contents of the legislation.

They had, of course. What was in that bill was everywhere in all the media all the time. Tens of thousands chanted in the streets about it. People knew what was in that bill, all right.

But what strikes me as odd is this: As he was using this red herring, Sen. Holperin was making no effort to tell the people back home what was in the bill. If his constituents were so uninformed, shouldn't he have been home, going from meeting to meeting to tell them?

And to listen to them? Sen. Holperin was also making no attempt to digest what his own constituents thought of the bill.

On the contrary, he was holed up in a hotel digesting only what his union handlers were telling him to say rather than courageously going home and meeting with his constituents. That's also something he could have been doing for weeks before he ran.

Had Sen. Holperin performed his constitutional duty, had he upheld his oath of office instead of violating it, there would be no recall election now. Instead, he would have listened to the voters in his district and then voted the way he felt was right. He would have then been appropriately held accountable by the voters in next year's general election, not in a summer recall.

But Sen. Holperin took the coward's path - he's no hero, he's no leader, our young people especially should know that - and for that the voters are keeping him running still, and appropriately so.

Of course, Sen. Holperin's speedpass to Illinois is not the first occasion of his invisible and paranoid political style. Long before collective bargaining was an issue, way back when the Democrats still controlled the Legislature, Jim Holperin began to withdraw from the public, to hide from the media, to cloak himself in his shallow arrogance, and to take cover in the shadowy veils of legal loopholes.

It all apparently became too much for him. One day, after being exposed for actually being candid in an email, the senator could contain himself no longer and, to hide himself even more, began to do what no other lawmaker in 50 years had dared to do - he began to destroy public records.

Yes, Jim Holperin jumped in the ultimate loophole. The Invisible Man disappeared right down the Holperin Hole.

While for a half century other lawmakers declared their allegiance to openness, Sen. Holperin found an invisible senator's dream - statutory language that essentially says a lawmaker's records are public until he or she throws them away, and then they are not.

And so Sen. Holperin began to routinely delete emails, some of which we know contained substantive policy discussions with state officials. For Mr. Holperin, when it comes to voiding the open records law or keeping his politics secret, invisibility trumps transparency every day, and defines the difference between the terms.

It also defines the difference between being a leader and being an Invisible Man. In one fell swoop, long before the collective bargaining controversy over the open meetings law, Sen. Holperin destroyed the open records law's application to the Legislature.

And if the open records law doesn't apply to legislators, the open meetings law surely doesn't, either. Of course, the liberal downstate press and so-called open government advocates who yelled so much about the Legislature's purported open meetings violation never raised a voice or said a word about Sen. Holperin's contempt for the open records law.

Perhaps had they done so, as this newspaper repeatedly asked them to do, the importance of applying both the open records and open meetings laws to the Legislature might have been raised on a calmer stage, and the open meetings controversy could have been avoided.

But they did not question Sen. Holperin; they let the Invisible Man destroy public records within their midst, and in such fashion the senator paved the way to the end of transparency.

There's more. The senator must want not only his correspondence kept private forever but his voting record, too. And he must believe he has the power to wave his wand and make his votes magically disappear.

There's simply no other way to explain his bizarre behavior on the Senate floor. For example, he voted for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's last budget, an atrocious economic throttler that raised spending by 6.2 percent and increased taxes by more than $2 billion.

Talk about a Capitol chokehold - somebody call Dane County sheriff Mahoney!

Of course, Sen. Holperin was well aware of the contents of that budget and even acknowledged as much in an email in which he proclaimed that "the governor's got enough tax and fee increases in that budget of his to sink a good-sized battleship."

But that didn't stop the senator from voting for the budget anyway. It didn't stop him from deepening the already deepest downturn since the Great Depression. It didn't stop him from increasing unemployment and underemployment and adding to the misery of his constituents.

Nope, he walked right onto the Senate floor and knowingly voted for a boatload of tax increases. You don't do that unless you think you are invisible.

Then, when he came back from Illinois, and with collective bargaining provisions removed from Gov. Walker's budget repair bill, he voted for that, too.

Of course, the only reason Mr. Walker had to introduce a budget repair bill was to repair the damage caused by Doyle's previous budget. That's why they call it budget repair. So Sen. Holperin voted to repair the very damage he had helped to cause in the first place.

Like John Kerry before him, Sen. Holperin was for damaging the economy before he was against it. But he must have thought the public could not see all that. It's the only way it makes any sense.

To be sure, Sen. Holperin votes like an invisible man who walks around a room banging the right wall and then the left wall and then the floor and now the left wall again - it's hard to know where he is, until he actually votes for something.

Indeed, and most implausibly of all, after voting with the governor to repair the Doyle budget, Sen. Holperin then voted against the governor's 2011-13 budget that actually does what the state constitution demands that it do, and without accounting tricks and tax increases - it balances the budget and eliminates the state's structural deficit.

It lowers taxes for businesses and helps create an atmosphere for job creation. It freezes property taxes. It seeks to make sure the state's businesses are not unreasonably burdened by administrative rules such as shoreland zoning.

Sen. Holperin, though, could not bring himself to vote for those improvements. Instead he voted to damage the economy after voting to repair the economy after voting to damage the economy.

He must think he is invisible.

Why else would he not stand up against a shoreland rule that will further destroy the job market and erode the tax base in February 2012 if it stands, because nobody will be able to pound a nail in unincorporated towns like Minocqua, Three Lakes and Woodruff?

Why else would Sen. Holperin not support a better business atmosphere and lower business taxes? Perhaps he would have, if he had chosen to drive through the streets of his district, in the downtowns of Antigo and Merrill and Rhinelander, rather than through the streets of Illinois.

Had he taken that drive, he would see the trouble his district is in. He would have seen the vacant buildings and the tangible reality of job loss and economic pain.

Instead, the senator voted to raise our taxes while making sure his union allies didn't lose a dime in one of the worst recessions in our history.

That's not leadership. A leader would have bucked his party two years ago and stood up to Gov. Doyle. A leader would have resisted the union special interests that support his campaigns and voted against a budget loaded with such tax increases. A leader would not have run to Illinois at the behest of union thugs. A leader would have stood up for a balanced budget and lower taxes this year.

No, Sen. Holperin is not a leader but an invisible backbencher. His is the signature of a little boy carrying water for the big bosses who actually play the game. Perhaps one day he will get credit for it all, his name in the fine print of a union singalong book.

One could go on about all the ways Sen. Holperin tries to be invisible. It's worth pointing out that he was especially invisible after returning from Illinois - I suppose we might all have been, given the very public exposition of his milksop character - at a time when he could actually have been useful in tempering emotions while the hordes were yelling fire in the theater.

While the unions and their bullies and thugs were terrorizing the public - and his own colleagues with death threats - Mr. Holperin could have emerged as a leader. But instead of a forceful voice for calm, we got silence. More invisibility, no leadership.

Remember the day when Sen. Holperin stepped upon the stage before the special-interest protesters in Madison to accept their cheers?

A strong leader would have stepped to the stage not to accept the accolades of demonstrators who were seeking only to preserve their power and privilege; a strong leader would have implored them to conduct themselves with honor and dignity, and with respect for our democratic process.

A strong leader would have reminded them that peaceful protest is what this country is all about, not boycotts or death threats or bullying.

Instead, Sen. Holperin stood mute and without criticism, a small man on a stage in need of a large leader. Sen. Holperin stood there soaking up the cheers, never realizing they were cheering for themselves, not him.

That's because they couldn't really see him. It's not surprising. With his flight from the state, with his deleted records, with his unnoticed, almost imperceptible votes for higher taxes, with his silence about union thuggery, no one can really see him.

That's unfortunate because what northern Wisconsin needs these days is a leader, not a union water boy.

It's hard, though, to be out front when you are an Invisible Man.

Related Stories:
• Big labor pours money into recalls, support for Holperin
• National union hails Holperin, Senate Democrats as 'heroes'



Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, July 11, 2011
Article comment by: Bob Nussbaum

The sad thing is, all these years, Jim Holperin has been, and is, the perfect example of a Northerner. His family was selling hardware on Wall Street before most of you were born. Bitterly opposed by so many of you, he is the perfection of the dichotomy that is the Northwoods man. He serves, but is despised by so many, who are exactly as he is. He tries to represent those who cannot undderstand who they are. He is what you all are, and you say he is not.
When this sick, sad, unneccessary election cycle is over, whoever serves you, will no doubt wonder exactly who you are. If you ever figure that part out, maybe you can get the servitude you deserve. Until then, Jim Holperin is the best friend in Madison you have ever had, and you are largely unable to realize it. Have a nice summer, everybody.


Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2011
Article comment by: Todd Naze

If this is the mindset from folks from northern WI, I'm glad I live in the southern part of the state. At least this paper is useful for disposing of fish guts.

Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Article comment by: Jack Naught

You know, Paul Revere rode through the countryside warning his fellow countrymen that "the British were coming". Likewise, the Dem 14 risked their jobs, to WARN Wisconsin citizens that there were non-budget policy items buried in the fiscal budget. The Dems were given this 713 page budget document just hours before a vote was expected, so our Republican governor was trying to slide bitter policy changes past middle-class families with little or no debate.

These brave Democrat senators took an unusual but scompletely legal and savvy approach to bring media attention to the POLICY items buried in a budget bill. Even Gov Walker, under blistering questioning in Washington, DC, ADMITTED that the policy items he placed in the bill had NO impact on Wisconsin's budget (in effect, Walker LIED). So I respectfully disagree with Tea Party & GOP radicals. As a business owner, I expect my employees to point out deceit when they see it. The Dem 14 made certain that there was transparency in our government -- something that is lacking in the Walker administration. In my book, Holperin is a HERO.


Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Article comment by: John Kriewaldt

I am wondering - how was Senator Holperin received at those 4th of July parades or activities, that he chose to attend?? And, how was his probable opponent, Ms Simac received?? Did the cheering throngs "honor" him for being fleet of feet, when the responsible legislators stayed in Madison and did the state's business? Just curious.................

Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Article comment by: Lisa MaKarrall

P.S. Shirley.
Since you've helped out with the Northwoods Patriots, maybe you could help Kim with her "horse camp" for a few hours so she can get to the next debate.


Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Article comment by: Lisa MaKarrall

Shirley, the only thug behavior or violence that has occured at the protests or otherwise is a bagger from Minnesota who punched a person singing in the mouth breaking his teeth. Then we have "choke a vote" Prosser. Scott Walker just sat around talking about putting "trouble makers" into the crowd. But, I guess he would get high praise from you for not actually doing it?

Posted: Friday, July 1, 2011
Article comment by: SHIRLEY KUFELDT

I attended one of Senator Holperin’s town hall meetings in 2010. The one thing that really struck me then was his comment about $200 million of stimulus money from the federal government was used “to balance the budget” while Jim Doyle was still governor. I thought that was irresponsible then and it still is irresponsible. Because now all of America must pay for Wisconsin’s debt, but looking back, I now realize that he just didn’t get it.

As for ‘thanking’ all of the protesters for all of their support (really mob activity), take a look at the First Amendment—the Right to Free Speech. But there is no companion right to be heard. The out-of-state protesters gambled that no one would catch on and turn them out of the Capitol by trying to avoid a riot. However, these actions were noted around the country and around the world. And it’s a shame that Mr. Holperin, my elected representative, is one of the parties responsible for the verbal assault of ordinary citizens who disagreed with thugs.

I will work hard to ensure the election of Kim Simac to replace Mr. Holperin. I’ve helped out with the Northwoods Patriots and have been very impressed with Kim Simac’s instinct and forward thinking behaviors. Her actions inspire others to continue to work very hard to save our state and save our country from elected representatives like Senator Holperin who somehow think they represent only certain constituents in their district, but not all of them.


Posted: Friday, July 1, 2011
Article comment by: Dorothy Kegley

A strong leader would have reminded them that peaceful protest is what this country is all about, not boycotts or death threats or bullying.

I was there that day in the crowd over well over 100,000 and Mr. Holperin did not have to remind us to protest peacefully ..there were no Union boycotts, and only one person sent a death threat, and if I remember correctly it was a woman that had other issues, and I didn't see anyone getting bullied...What I did see was signs and lots of people that were fighting for what they felt was right, by walking around the square ..We supported the local restaurants (No we did not all eat free pizza) There were no broken windows or ruined walls...YOU COULD LITERALLY FEEL THE FROZEN GROUND TREMBLE AS THE SENATORS MARCHED IN WITH THEIR HEADS HELD HI AND I WAS NEVER PROUDER TO BE AN AMERICAN AS I WAS THAT COLD MARCH DAY IN MADISON...




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