Cross-country: Frugal Wisconsinites

Campaign 2010

Everyone knows that Wisconsinites like their beer and brats. They also like to brag that their state holds more lakes than their Minnesota "Land of 10,000 Lakes" neighbors. (Quick fact check: Wisconsin does have about 15,000 lakes).

People here are also quick to describe themselves as frugal.

"The only thing better than cheap here is free," explained John Jury, 63, of Stevens Point, Wisc.

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I met Jury at the Hilltop Pub & Grill in Stevens Point---a city located in almost the exact center of the state. Over beers from the town's own brewery, Jury, a long-time administrator at the University of Wisconsin's local branch, told me this frugality is a key reason why so many Wisconsin voters are angry with Washington.

"This spending has got to stop," he said.

In the aftermath of Washington's runaway spending, Wisconsin voters, who lean Democrat and fell hard for Obama in 2008, are suddenly making life hard for their veteran lawmakers. Russ Feingold, the state's three-term Democratic senator, now finds himself deadlocked in his race for a fourth term. The Washington-based Cook Political Report this week officially labeled the race a "toss up."

Feingold won in 2004 by 12 percentage points and seemed a lock to win again just a few months ago. In fact, Cook even labeled the race "solid Democrat" at the start of the year.

The "toss up" designation comes even before Wisconsin Republicans have selected a candidate. Two businessmen---Ron Johnson of Oshkosh and Dave Westlake of Watertown---face off in next month's GOP primary.

The anti-incumbency mood contributed to the May retirement announcement of Democrat Rep. David Obey, whose 7th Congressional District includes Stevens Point. Obey has been in Congress since 1969.

"He sensed it was going to be much more of a horse race then it has been in the past," Jury said of Obey's decision to not to run again.

Jury is the type of independent voter who can make an election for either party. Dissatisfied with President George W. Bush's foreign policy, Jury went for Obama in 2008, recalling how an Obama visit to the state during the campaign turned into a rock concert.

But when asked if he is now feeling voter's remorse, Jury is quick to reply: "Oh yeah."


"I have a trillion point four reasons," Jury replied, alluding to the federal budget deficit, which hit a record $1.4 trillion last year.

Follow Lee's reports as he travels from Washington, D.C., to Washington state.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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