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Got Power?

Lots of people are upset.  That fine, for now.  There’s time for that.  The story awakens passions,  lights fires, awakens giants.  And that’s healthy.

As long as you remember . . . there is no power in drama.

You can march and shout and bang drums.  You can make signs and slogans.  You can chant and vent and gather.  You can write letters and make phone calls.

You can “fight”.

It’s all good.  Still, it’s all drama.

The real questions remain: Can you sign your name? Can you vote?  Can you stay informed?  Think critically?  Can you sign your name and vote?

And, can you vote?

Can you vote?

You are powerful. Know that. Harness it.

–Lewis Carroll

“There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.   Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

My good neighbor, Representative Erik Severson

You know?  I think I’m starting to come around.

I recently received another semi-personal-mass mailing . . . okay–it was a form letter.  I’ll admit it.  Still, it was a letter, right?  I mean, sure.  Maybe it was a little vague, and it didn’t really address some of the real deep concerns many of us have/had.  And sure, it was filled with some talking points and stuff.  But still.  I’m corresponding with a living breathing human being!  Who is actually listening to me!!

Talk about warm fuzzies.  Boy howdy!!  I’m telling you.

So, like I said, I got another letter today from the honorable Erik Severson–my Assemblyman, from the 28th district.  And this time (get this), he called me his . . . “neighbor”.

I think that means he likes me!

Anyway, I know in the past, we’ve had our differences.  But after reading his latest explanations (which I have also shared below), I think I’m finally beginning to understand!  It’s hard.  I’m not the brightest bulb on the bush, but I really think I’m starting to get it.  We really do all need to sacrifice if we are going to make this a better world.  And this revelation was so exciting to me that I just had to write him back right away.

So here you go.  I know he won’t mind if I share this with you.  Erik Severson and I, you know  . . . we’re pretty tight now.  Overcoming differences, talking, and coming to a mutual understanding will do that.

Dear Neighbor Severson,

Thank you for your kind letter and excellent explanations about why you support this bill.  I applaud you for standing up for the people of Wisconsin and finally making those tough choices that we have been avoiding for so long.

I also would like to thank you for all your hard work.  As a doctor, you work hard and care about the people that see you in your practice.  You are a man of character, and it shows.  And as a representative, working on behalf of all of us, you also work hard.  I can tell because you have been so gracious to call and write so many people back.  It really shows that you care.

By the way, I know you called me a couple of times because you left (or an assistant of yours left) messages on my answering machine.  I’m sorry to have missed you, but I’m actually normally working (at my work) around 11:00-ish in the morning.  It’s alright.  I know I mentioned that I was a teacher in my letter.  Most people don’t really understand how much teachers work and stuff.  So that’s alright.

But back to the point of my letter:  It really is amazing how many people just don’t understand that times are tough and that everybody has to make sacrifices.

One thing that I think might help people to understand this better would be if you explained to them that it’s not just the teachers and other public workers that are sacrificing.  I think it would help them to understand how much you, yourself, and other hard working people in the private sector, are also sacrificing.  I know a lot of so-called rich people are also pitching in.

As a doctor you work hard for your salary.  I’m not sure how much that is exactly, but you earn and deserve every penny.  As a legislator, (I looked it up) you make about the same as  the average teacher–maybe just a tad more.

I think that, to show people how everybody has to sacrifice in these tough times, you should explain to your constituents just how much you, yourself are sacrificing.  I think that would put a real human face to this.  As you know, with these cuts, many public workers will lose anywhere between 7-10% of their take home pay.  I think it would be a great idea if you explained to them that it’s not only they who are sacrificing and will be affected by this budget bill.

It would be great to show them how hard working, honest people like yourself–people who are also making even a bit more than they–are also sacrificing.  We all have to roll up our sleeves.   Many of these public workers just don’t understand.  I think your message of shared sacrifice would go a long way in helping them to understand that we aren’t picking on them.  But that we are, in fact, all in this together.

Sincerely,

Chris Wondra
Resident (and good neighbor of everyone in) St. Croix Falls

And, as I said, to be fair, this is my good neighbor’s letter to me:

Dear Neighbor,

I would like to thank you for contacting me regarding the budget repair bill. I apologize for the delay in responding to you, but the volume of phone calls, emails and letters made it impossible to respond in a timely fashion. I hope you can forgive me for the delay; it is always my intent to respond as soon as possible to any constituent who contacts me.

I will get right to the subject of my letter and tell you that I did vote in favor of the budget repair bill and I would like to outline my reasoning, hopefully, answering your questions along the way. The most important reason I voted for this bill is that, without passage in a timely fashion, the state may be forced to lay off as many as 1,500 employees immediately and thousands in the next biennium. The state unemployment rate is high enough, especially in Polk and Burnett counties. Lay-offs would only be making the situation worse.

Additionally, failure to act now would put our state hundreds of millions of dollars in debt within just a few months. This, combined with the fact that we are already staring a $3.6 billion deficit square in the face for the next budget, made passing this bill that much more urgent. We need to give local municipalities and school districts the flexibility to manage their budgets within the confines of Governor Walker’s upcoming proposal.

While there were a wide variety of concerns about the budget repair bill, I will address the most common. Many people have expressed concern that an angry boss or parent on the school board would be able to fire employees without recourse. Not only would this not be tolerated by the community, but it is also against the law. The civil service laws prevent people from being fired without due process.

Others have asked what collective bargaining has to do with a budget bill. My answer is that the changes in contributions to retirement and health care would not remain in effect for long if unions could collectively bargain over these issues. I would also add that union members can still collectively bargain for their wages.

Another frequently asked question is whether or not this impacts legislators, their staff, or the Governor and the answer is yes, legislators, their staff, and the Governor will be making the same contributions as every other state employee.

There has also been some concern that pension benefits for retirees would be impacted by this bill. That is simply not that case; this does not reduce pension or healthcare benefits. It simply requires employees to contribute to these two things, with no impact on retired public employees.

I would like to thank everybody who contacted me for your willingness to discuss the issue with civility. I met with several groups of teachers from the district and we had a great discussion about the bill. Though we ultimately we had to agree to disagree, I did appreciate the opportunity to discuss the issue and hear people’s personal stories.

I will finish by saying this was not an easy decision, nor one I took lightly. I have worked with several teachers from Osceola as a football coach at the high school, and I have seen firsthand how they truly care about the lives of their students in and out of the classroom. Thank you to all the teachers and public employees who work tirelessly to serve others in the community and do so with what I believe is the best work ethic in the country.

As always, if you have a question I did not directly address and you would like to talk to me further, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Rep. Erik Severson

28th Assembly District