Thinking Twice

Thinking Twice

cott Walker wants you to know he drives a 1998 Saturn and packs his own lunch every day (two ham and cheese sandwiches on wheat). Walker is just doing what all candidates do: trying to connect with voters by reminding them he’s just a regular family guy with a budget. To be fair, Walker deserves credit for giving back $370,000 in salary to the county since his election in 2002. But despite that fact, all three men who want to be governor—Walker, fellow Republican Mark Neumann and Democrat Tom Barrett—make more money than most regular Scotts, Marks and Toms. Walker and Barrett earn more than $100,000 a year for leading Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee, respectively. Neumann is a successful businessman and former congressman who put $1 million of his own money into his campaign.

The median household income in Wisconsin is about $50,000. Being in a higher tax bracket doesn’t render any of the candidates incapable of caring about the problems of those who earn less, but they need to be careful their everyman efforts don’t start to feel gimmicky or insincere. For many voters, living on a fixed income, driving an old car and packing a lunch are necessities, not folksy campaign talking points.

In an effort to get a leg up on Scott Walker and Tom Barrett before the GOP primary, Mark Neumann at times seems to be campaigning against Milwaukee itself, lamenting the loss of jobs from the state’s largest metropolitan area and blaming both of his opponents. It’s certainly an economical approach: criticizing two candidates in one press release for the same thing.

You may not want to sit through epic city hall meetings about topics such as the Edgewater renovation (I know I don’t), but Cap Times reporter and “Laptop City Hall” blogger Kristin Czubkowski is always there, not only covering the proceedings gavel to gavel but previewing what’s on tap in city government in any given week so interested citizens can weigh in when the time is right and keep tabs on issues large and small. Is this flashy journalism? No. Is it absolutely critical? Yes, and Czubkowski deserves recognition—and recently got it with a nod from the Milwaukee Press Club—for her dedication and good humor in getting the job done.

Most poll results are pretty dry or run-of-the-mill, but this one made me stop short. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found sixteen percent of Americans believe in the “evil eye” or that some people have the ability to cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone. Here’s hoping the “yes” answers to that question are not based on firsthand knowledge. The same survey found almost one in five people say they have seen or been in the presence of ghosts. Call me a skeptic, but that number seems a little on the high side.

When I was a reporter in Arkansas in the late 1990s, whenever state-by-state rankings were released in categories such as education, poverty and the like, my native-born colleagues in Little Rock would joke, “Thank God for Mississippi!” In any ranking of the fifty states, Arkansas would often come in at No. 49, just above its neighbor to the south. A recent report on how much states spend per person on public health—including disease prevention, food safety and guarding against bioterrorism—ranked Wisconsin forty-ninth among the states and the District of Colombia. Mississippi ranked forty-eighth. That old joke doesn’t seem so funny anymore.

Growing up in a Norwegian American family, holiday meals had two staples: lefse and lutefisk. Now, I absolutely love lefse. I even know how to make it and will do battle with anyone who tops it with something other than brown sugar and butter. But when Restaurant Magnus, one of my favorites, switched its menu last year from South American to what’s known as “New Scandinavian” cuisine, the part of me that has attempted to choke down fish once soaked in lye was not overjoyed and admittedly a little confused. But now, chef Nicholas Johnson has been named a semi-finalist for a “Best Chef of the Midwest” award from the James Beard Foundation—the Oscars for food—for serving up dishes like cinnamon-smoked lamb chops and smoked Gouda flan. I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Now, if I can just get someone to spring for dinner…

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