Citizen Wausau

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My thoughts on Dave Obey Retiring

by on May 6th, 2010

I actually got five emails last night about this.  What I thought?  What will happen?  What does it mean?  I had spent the better part of the day with the story at work, and I simply was not ready or able to put finger to keyboard and do anything with the idea.  But, I slept okay, allergy season is only mediocre so far. So I thought I should sit down and write a little ditty (’bout Jack and Diane) that was based on David Obey and his retirement.

First thing first, I am totally going to avoid some hot button topics in this arena — namely politics.  The world can start discussing Sean Duffy, or Dan Mielke, but I have no interest in doing that.  Instead, I shall simply tell you my perspective on this.

I have a strange relationship with Congressman Dave Obey, and Dave Obey the guy.  My parents and his folks were friends, so somehow that connected us.  Dave is 30 years older than me, but so it goes.  I met Dave when I was a child, and he was a young man.  He knew my mom and dad, and we had a sort of easy common ground in that way.  But, I was like 11 years old at the time.

As I grew up I did not really pay all that much attention to it.  Politicians came and went out of my life, more importantly my families life.  When you are young, that is how it goes.  So, Tony Earl and Lee Dreyfus overshadowed Dave, who by this point was in D.C. doing what he did.  But, I used to run into his dad at the American Legion Golf Course in the summers when I was home from school, and his dad always remembered me, and always told great stories about Dave.  Invariably his father would ask what I was up to, and that information would get to Dave, and I would get a handwritten letter at college encouraging me to do my best.  It was great, and in all fairness it is what helped me find who I am politically.  The first one was signed with his first and last name, the rest with just Dave.  I thought that was so cool to get a letter from a guy like that, even with punk rock and as personally angry as I was then.

When I got out of school I bounced around a lot until I found my feet in community radio and FCC reform.  That led me to Washington D.C. Being in D.C. and not knowing any better, I just showed up at the ones guy’s office who I thought I knew, and would know me.  I thought it was a better plan than just walking around blindly, hoping to get meetings.  When I arrived in the mid-1990s, it was a different time (first off I was skinnier), and I had the great luck of getting to talk to Dave.  He remembered me specifically, made references to stuff that I had told his father about college, and he asked about it.  I was literally blown away.

We talked about what I was up to now, and he encouraged me in a big way.  He said that it made sense that I would end up where I was, and that it would be a lifetime of work to take on (oh how he was right!).  Then he sent me on my way with a message to say “hi” to my parents (he knew them by name), and to let him know when I was in town the next time. Looking back on this meeting as an adult, I am so thankful for the time he took.  I am also simply impressed with the idea that he has a memory like that.  What a cool experience for a young guy finding his way.

Over the years my work has changed, and as a journalist I had a chance to interview Dave on a few things.  One time I got to see the Obey snarl, and it was based off a mistake I made.  I had placed the legislation we were discussing incorrectly in the process, and he let me know in his way, that I was off-base and he was not going to let that slip.  It was a correction that can be officially called strong.  But, I was wrong, and I would have looked stupid.

So, what do I think about Congressman David Obey retiring from a lifetime of service?  I am good with it.  Politically, I am not that good with it.  But, personally, I am happy that a guy who I look up to is going to get out of the office, see the sunshine, play with the grandkids, and hopefully ride around on a pontoon boat with an adult beverage in his hand.  I want my friends, and the people I care for to have long healthy days of sunshine and good times.  I hope the man I look up to has 100 years left of driving in convertibles, slow dancing with his wife, and going to Brewer games.

It cannot be easy to dedicate your life to publicly-elected office.  You have to stand a level of scrutiny few take on.  You have to constantly seek approval (votes) of strangers, and you deal with a sort of oppositional system that must be overwhelming.  To choose that life, for so long, must be an act of true bravery and will.  To minimize it, to degrade it, as just an elected official is simply misguided.  I suppose if your daily life, and every word you say is a part of the public record, and you must constantly be aware of it, then maybe you can understand what an elected official goes through.  But, not a lot of us have that sort of job. Most of us have a public and a private life.  Elected officials give that up, and that must be hard.

So, I wish my Dave Obey happy trails.  I hope he catches big fish, or sleeps under the stars, or whatever comes next for him.  I assume a book, and I hope it is a good one.  For Congressman Obey, I say thank you.  Thank you for your service, thank you for your guidance, and thank you for standing for America for so long.  Thanks.

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