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Music Cues: Wisconsin Weather
Scott Simon
January 13, 2001

Scott Simon commentary on Wisconsin weather 

A political storm has broken out in Dane County, Wisconsin. A local political disagreement there of any kind is newsworthy. Dane County, which notably includes Madison and the University of Wisconsin, is ordinarily the most civil, livable and unruffable of human communities. Madison voters will get all exercised about Ashcroft, Arafat, Iraq and the AOL Time Warner megamerger. But the Madisonian idea of a local predicament may be: Will Starbucks drive out Victor's, the local coffee chain?

Madison voters may be the most spectacularly well informed I've ever encountered. They ask reporters pointed questions about tax policies, trade issues and the Russian Duma that can leave you stammering. But maybe Madison's voters know more about Minsk, Nice and Pt. Moresby than Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.

The source of the storm is Richard Kiley. He's been a Dane County supervisor for 17 years, and is spending the winter at his family home in Cape Coral, Florida. He's just retired and wants to rest someplace warm. Mr. Kiley says he may return for board meetings if he can find a low-price airfare, but you wonder what kind of demand there is to fly from Florida to Wisconsin January through March. Mr. Kiley has been assailed by newspapers, a few fellow supervisors and his East Side Madison constituents. The word `abandon' gets thrown around.

The controversy may seem petty to an outsider. In some places, a public official who promises to stay out of town for three months would win broad popular support. A public official who has the choice of spending the winter in Wisconsin or Florida and chooses Wisconsin might even have his judgment questioned. I mean, Lake Mendota is frozen. A man can admire the stark beauty of frozen Midwestern lakes and prairies only so long, then he wants to frolic.