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Doug's Diggings: Last analysis of '08 election

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opinion River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
715-386-9891 customer support
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Last week's election left the door open for plenty of reflection.

The library referendums generated a lot of optimism and interest, yet six of the eight questions went down in defeat.

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What disappointed library supporters, of course, is that the public gave the estimated $10.5 million project strong support last April. In an advisory referendum, 70 percent of voters in the partner municipalities said they wanted to pursue the move.

When the rubber met the road about coming up with tax dollars, however, voters expressed different sentiments in the Nov. 4 election.

Hindsight is always wonderful, but the timing of the referendum could not have been worse.

First, there was the issue of the economy. The public was not in a mood to spend money when everyone is seeing their 401k's going down and most consumer prices going up.

Second, and maybe more important, was the difficulty of attempting to pass a referendum during a presidential election. Last week there were in the neighborhood of 14,500 votes cast on the library issue in the four municipalities of Hudson, North Hudson and the towns of Hudson and St. Joseph. During the advisory referendum last April there were about 4,500 votes cast in the same districts.

Now you could draw a conclusion that strong library supporters all came out and voted in April -- that leaves about 10,000 voters who may have had just a passing interest in the issue -- or no interest. In referendum voting, that presents a clear and present danger. There is a reason school referendums are often staged on Tuesdays in December -- or at best, during a spring election.

Another odd occurrence in the library vote was that voters in Hudson and North Hudson approved the purchase of the Nuclear Management Building, but nixed the planned costs associated with the operation of the proposed facility. As one of our staff members said, "It'd be like agreeing to buy a car, but deciding not to spend any money on gas."

Of course, it didn't matter because six of the eight questions failed in the four municipalities. The only way the plan was destined to fly was if it passed on all fronts.

I give the library supporters credit for all the excellent work they did in preparing and promoting the plan. In reality, it's probably the best plan library supporters could hope for -- half the money was coming from private donations, and taxpayers were looking at about a $5 million tab (plus operations). By all library accounts, it was as economical as it gets.

After saying all that about the library, however, the referendum to continue operating the nursing home flew in the face of my above logic.

County voters agreed to continue to operate a nursing home which will cost $1 million or more each year. On top of that, nursing home supporters will likely lobby for a new home to replace the antiquated facility in New Richmond -- many more millions; all this when private buyers were willing to take over the operation. Obviously the human factor of the nursing home touched the purse strings of voters more intensely than a new library.

Another referendum to reduce the size of the County Board of Supervisors from 31 members to 19 members easily passed, 31,209-9,292. That was a binding referendum, so county officials now must begin the process of restructuring the County Board, and the large committee structure. I suspect there will either have to be some combining of committees or reduction of committee members to make it all work with a 19-member board.

An uphill climb in a general election came in the write-in campaign of Geri Campbell. In the race for St. Croix County Register of Deeds, Democrat Beth Pabst easily defeated Campbell 29,282-2,880. Again, a write-in campaign just won't work during a presidential election. It'd be tough in a spring election -- possible, but tough.

One referendum that appeared on Hudson ballots, but not others in the area, was an advisory question requesting that all citizens have health care equal to coverage offered to legislative members.

The referendum was offered in only 17 communities and five counties. The referendum was on various ballots because an organization known as Citizen Action of Wisconsin gathered enough signatures in the 22 entities (13 of those were in northern and western Wisconsin) to get the question on the ballot. The organization offers no specific plan, and easily passed in Hudson by 4,851-1,769 margin, and passed in all 22 entities around the state.

I'm not sure of the point of the referendum, other than to send a message to someone that all residents need better health coverage. Wait until the voters see the price tag on that one if it ever comes to a future vote -- it'd make the cost of a new library pale by comparison!

All-in-all, the results of the election may or may not surprise you -- depending on whom you supported.

President-elect Barack Obama won the city of Hudson (3,707-3,234) and barely won the village of North Hudson (1,078-1,075); Sen. John McCain won the towns of Hudson (2,699-1,982), St. Joseph (1,261-1,045) and Troy (1,521-1,202). McCain also won St. Croix County (22,657-20,989).

Most people expected a tight race between incumbent Republican Rhoades and Democrat Sarah Bruch. As it turned out, Rhoades prevailed with a 19,442-16,010 win in Assembly District 30.

Likewise, I think many expected a tight race between incumbent 10th District Sen. Harsdorf and Democrat challenger Alison Page. Harsdorf won easily, 55,549-42,829.

I suspect there are some political junkies who are already thinking about the next election. For most of us, however, we need a break from the action!

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