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Bias? (12/02/2013)
By Frances Edstrom

Recently, charges of bias and conflict of interest have been leveled liberally at Winona County elected officials. I find this puzzling. It seems to me that bias and politics go together like thunder and lightning.

Think about how you vote. You find a candidate who most closely represents the way you think — socially, economically, politically — and that’s who gets the X on your ballot. You fully expect that when that person gets into office, and is charged with making policy and voting on policy, your candidate will represent your interests.

If, say, you voted for Barack Obama, expecting that he would espouse the same liberal ideology that you do, but when he became president, he began to push the Tea Party agenda, you would be upset. Wouldn’t you?

As much as we moan that politicians in Washington have become so “partisan,” and wail, “Why can’t they just get along with each other?” is that what we want? Do we know what “partisan” means? It means a person who is devoted to a party, cause, or idea.

Politicians don’t exist in a vacuum. They seek political office by appealing to the public. They broadcast their political persuasion to the voting public, and hope there are enough voters who agree with them to elect them.

A divided or partisan governing body reflects a divided and partisan population as a whole. Sometimes, the divide is so great that there is no compromise available. There are issues — abortion, for instance — about which people feel so strongly for or against that there can be no agreement.

Is it fair, or even logical, then, to charge a politician with bias? Do we fault President Obama for effecting Obamacare, when he campaigned on the idea of single-payer universal health care? Of course not. That’s what the majority voted for, whether they meant to or not. They can’t deny him now. Can we blame the Republicans for fighting him? No, that’s why we put them in office.

What about conflict of interest? If we charge a politician with that, what does it mean? When a public official’s personal interests are at odds with duty to the public, or when elected officials use the office for personal financial gain that would not be available to a majority of their constituents, we can charge conflict of interest.

However, there are very few issues that do not affect our elected officials personally one way or the other. Abortion, for instance. Would we charge a female with conflict of interest on her vote in favor of abortion rights simply because at some time or another she could opt to undergo an abortion?

Democracy depends on majority rule. Sometimes we are in the majority, and sometimes we are not. If we are to accept the premise of democracy, we have to accept the fact that many times government action will not be to our liking.

Many of us are uncomfortable with argument and confrontation, and vilify them. Nonetheless, we seem to have become a more polarized country politically. That will happen when more of us hold strong opinions, for whatever reason. It may be as simple as the onslaught of 24-hour news. Or it could be that more of us have learned how to assert ourselves politically. If politics seems to have become less civil and more partisan, it is because we, as a nation, have become so.

Whatever the case, we can’t blame the politician for voting as the majority of his constituents want him to. That isn’t bias or conflict of interest. It’s performing the job the people elected him to do.

How to fund a Latsch fountain at Levee Park

Did you see the story on page one today about plans to put a beautiful bronze statue by Lynette Power at a newly designed Levee Park? It’s a wonderful idea, but it appears that to date, there is no concrete funding for a Levee Park redesign in hand, much less $200,000 to $500,000 for a statue or fountain.

If I may offer an idea. You may remember the “discovery” that the city owns Winnebago Island, which is downstream of Lock and Dam 5A. Apparently, the island was a gift to the city from John A. Latsch. Winnebago Island has been occupied by several river cottages since the 1930s, perhaps longer. Their owners paid rent to the city until some time in the ‘70s. Then the Latsch Memorial Board, which is charged with overseeing Latsch gifts, moved the Winnebago Island account, and records of rentals ceased. When the city suddenly uncovered the long-forgotten island, back in 2010, officials quickly moved to contact the owners of those cottages.

The city informed the cottage owners that they were squatting on city land, and would have to vacate the island, which they had worked so many years to preserve. There was a public outcry, and the owners have been given a brief reprieve.

What will happen to the cottages when their owners are forced out is unknown. They could be razed, they could deteriorate and float away, or the city could perhaps use them.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the city to sell the land to the owners of those cabins? Or if that’s against the Latsch Board rules, lease it again for regular payments. They could take the proceeds from the sale or lease to fund a lasting memorial, cast in bronze, to John A. Latsch, the man who used to visit friends in their cottages on Winnebago Island, and whose generosity has turned the land along the Mississippi River in this area into a place for people, not just commerce.



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