Sen. Jim Holperin: a class act who will be missed in the state senate
I was not overly surprised by Friday’s news that 12th District State Sen. Jim Holperin had decided not to run for re-election this fall. Holperin is a class act who has taken on more than his share of challenges in two decades of government service as a legislative staffer, Assembly representative, cabinet secretary and senator. Frankly, I was more surprised four years ago when he was talked into running for the 12th Senate District to protect the seat vacated by Roger Breske when Breske left the seat to become railroad commissioner. That he now leaves under his own terms is a measure of justice for someone who has not always been able to count on that from others.
I’ve had a number of interactions with Holperin over the years and as Edie McClurg said in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I think he’s a righteous dude. He was a straight shooter and not much for cheap posturing, but also not one to be in people’s faces or looking for fights when there was a disagreement. My last back-and-forth was actually about a piece of legislation upon which we have different views, but it was a good exchange. I would have happily supported him for re-election and the people of the 12th would have been lucky to have him stay on, as would the people of Wisconsin.
Coming from a relatively conservative district, a Democrat like Holperin inherently spends a lot of his time on the electoral bubble. He was forced into a recall election in 1990 over the Chippewa treaty spearfishing issue. Last year, some overreaching right-wingers felt that he could be knocked off over the impasse that Holperin and 13 other Democratic senators staged when they denied Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald a quorum to ram through part of Walker’s extremist, anti-union agenda. In both cases, Holperin’s detractors were able to gather the signatures, but when push came to shove, more of his constituents valued his ethical, even-handed leadership than the alternative being offered by the GOP.
It leaves Holperin as the only Wisconsin legislator ever to face two recalls and he survived them both. The funny thing is that if you know Holperin personally, it would be easy to believe that he wouldn’t have any enemies at all and certainly not enough to make the kind of history that he did. After enduring the unprecedented level of ingratitude to persevere and serve, I don’t blame the senator one bit for calling it a career. Campaigning can be a drag and that is especially true in the sprawling 12th District. Holperin got stuck doing it last summer for the recall and the prospect of doing it all over again would not be attractive to anyone who enjoys having a life outside of that activity. The Club for Growth was already running negative advertising over the controversial mining legislation that failed, calling Holperin the deciding vote – something that I suppose they could have said about a lot of people and probably did.
But if the doctrinaire right-wing extremists at the Club for Growth would like to lay the blame where it actually belongs, perhaps they should look at a process in which the mining company was allowed to craft the legislation. Maybe the fact that pro-mine lawmakers had to be dragged kicking and screaming into even having a public hearing in the part of the state that would be most impacted played into the outcome. Or maybe the Republicans ought to just look in the mirror. It was resistance to their agenda that left them with only 17-16 margin in the Wisconsin Senate this year. They were up 19-14 at the beginning of the session and then lost two members of their caucus to recalls in 2011. They could easily lose two more by June and just yesterday, they had to toss two GOP senators off the Joint Finance Committee, since Pam Galloway’s resignation left them in a 16-16 deadlock in the upper house.
The working conditions involved with serving in that particular office aren’t entirely attractive, either – even in good times. I’ve spent enough windshield time between Wausau and Madison to know that it wears on a person, but I haven’t spent near as much time as Jim Holperin — and when I turn into my driveway, he still has a couple of hours left to go. Add in having a piece of turf to cover that is larger than many congressional districts around the nation and you’ve got the makings of a very demanding set of circumstances. That’s particularly true for a fellow in his sixties who has more than earned his retirement, regardless of whether that is what he actually decides to do with the freedom he will finally find himself able to enjoy or use to pursue other interests. But I’ll miss Jim Holperin in the legislature and a lot of other people will, too.