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Friday, February 29, 2008

How politics gets sidetracked

Mudslinging and politics go hand in hand.

I've always thought the true professionals at it were candidates on the state and national levels. Local candidates always seemed to be more civil.

But this political season has gone topsy-turvy.

While Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (up until this week, at least) and Barack Obama have treated each other like the best of friends, local politics has seen its share of mean spiritedness.

We get our share of news "tips" on candidates for local offices. These tips allege to have uncovered some dirt, but under closer scrutiny their claims are either misinformed or flat out wrong.

The anonymous flyer or letter is a popular technique. Many county residents have received them in one form or another, and for the most part, the ones we've looked into don't hold up to the facts.

The same can be said for the comments on our Web site, theweekextra.com. Like every news organization, one of our missions is to provide a forum for public discourse. Our role isn't to dictate that discourse, so we put as few restrictions on those comments as possible.

Sadly, the online world seems to be the place where people can vent their most negative emotions.

The real trouble in this sort of mud slinging, is that it diverts voters' and candidates' attention from what's really important-a vision of what kind of community we want to live in.

In Lake Geneva, for example, how a candidate runs his or her business is probably less important to the future of the community than how that person may vote on the proposed Mirbeau-Hummel residential development on the city's south side.

Lake Geneva is at a fork in the road, and the course of its future will be determined to a large extent by which way its leaders go on that development.

It's an issue that should be decided simply on its merits, not by rumor or innuendo.

The same is true in county government.

The current debate is about taxes. The future, however, is about what services the county will or will not provide.

Many claim the county takes too much tax money. Some have even proposed a tax levy freeze.

It's an idea worth debating.

But after that, what kind of a Walworth County would that lead to? That's what candidates and voters should be thinking about.

Keep in mind, the owner of a $250,000 home chipped in about $975 to pay for county services last year.

A 10 percent cut or 10 percent increase in the county tax levy would amount to less than $100. That's a nice chunk of change, but it's also not a life-changing amount of money for a homeowner.

The effect on county services, however, would be dramatic.

Ultimately, that's the issue that should be considered and debated by both candidates and voters before the polls open on April 1.

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