Duffy brings it home with a good move

Newly minted Congressman Sean Duffy did something different yesterday, which was to hold a ceremonial swearing-in at the UW-Marathon County in Wausau. Members of Congress were actually took their oaths of office January 3 in Washington D.C. When the brief announcement of the Wausau re-enactment appeared in the newspaper a couple of days prior, some anonymous online boo-birds took the opportunity to criticize the January 22 ceremony as a useless stunt. I disagree.

First, very few people around these parts ever have the opportunity to be a part of something like that. The oaths taken at the start of each term take place in the Nation’s Capitol and that’s that. It’s reason enough to try do something different. More importantly, in putting together a short program to commemorate the beginning of his new term back home to his district, Duffy was able to underline his election win in a non-campaign environment. That’s important, because everything that happened prior to November 3 was about Duffy as a candidate – not a congressman.

For somebody in Wausau, Sean Duffy is only the third person to take office as a freshman U.S. congressional representative in nearly six decades and for anyone under 42 years old, Dave Obey was the only 7th District congressman they’ve ever had. Melvin Laird of Marshfield served from 1953 until becoming Secretary of Defense in the Nixon Administration in 1969. Congressman Dave Obey served from 1969 until a few weeks ago. Duffy not only recognized the historic nature of the event, but he did something good with it.

It was fairly partisan crowd as anyone might expect. But Democratic Wisconsin 85th Assembly District Representative Donna Seidel was given a seat on the stage with other state legislators from the area and I give her credit for being there, just as she was for an appearance by GOP Governor Scott Walker earlier in the week at PDM Bridge. To be effective as citizens and as leaders, people have to be ready and willing to work with the people who are there. This event was about government – not the Republican government (as I told somebody who half-jokingly asked me what the heck I was doing there.)

While portions of the program and some of the speakers made no bones about core beliefs that you wouldn’t hear if it had been a gathering of mostly Democrats, it didn’t come off like a campaign rally. The whole thing took less than half an hour, from the VFW posting the colors in a procession with a bagpiper to six kids squirming through mercifully brief remarks from several speakers. Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Gableman set the tone by saying “I feel a little like the body at a traditional Irish wake: my presence may be necessary for the party, but nobody expects me to say too much.” An informal reception followed.

The closest thing I’ve seen to the whole thing was when Herb Kohl held a Packer party at the Whiting Inn following his election to the U.S. Senate in 1988. I had worked to elect Tony Earl in the primary, but felt plenty welcome there, too. Coalescing around a partisan candidate when the party takes the seat may not seem like much of a feat, but plenty of elections have been lost by the inability of partisans within a party to do that between September and November. There is plenty to be lost by failing to break away from the daily rancor of the campaign mode once leaders are selected and people need to be open to the possibility of some new ideas. Elected officials are often charged with being hyperpartisan and deservedly so, but people also need to examine if that isn’t more of a reflection of an electorate’s own narrow-minded, doctrinaire paralysis.

There’s a huge difference between campaigning and governing. I don’t have another 42 years to wait for things to break my way and I need some things to work between now and the time that they do, whenever that may be. Having an event to mark the transition that doesn’t force people to contribute to the former while acknowledging the latter — and which emphasizes a desire to represent the entire constituency, in spite of the inevitable disagreements that will occur along the way — was a smart and welcome move.

JR

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