Daily Bread for 8.25.22: Speech, Factions, and Persuasion Over the Referendums

Good morning.

Thursday in Whitewater will see morning rain and scattered afternoon thundershowers with a high of 79. Sunrise is 6:13 AM and sunset 7:40 PM for 13h 27m 17s of daytime.  The moon is a waning crescent with 3.2% of its visible disk illuminated.

 On this day in 1609, Galileo demonstrates his first telescope to Venetian lawmakers.

Whitewater, Wisconsin will hold a referendum this November on exceeding state-imposed revenue limits to fund a public fire and emergency services department. The Whitewater Unified School District will hold a referendum this November on exceeding state-imposed revenue limits to fund operational services. Two public institutions, two referendums, for two different purposes. 

I’ve written about the need, if one is to approach these referendums properly, to develop criteria by which they should be evaluated. See Brief Implications of Whitewater’s (Socio-Economic) Condition. That’s a topic for another day.

For today: about these topics, what can one expect from the community? There will be three approaches: some will speak on the topic without regard to any faction or party, some will speak to a particular faction only, and some will try to persuade the undecided.

Note well: The City of Whitewater is a politically and culturally diverse, but divided, city. This political division is yet greater in the Whitewater Unified School District.

(Not long ago, the district’s school board rebuked  some residents for “destructive communication [that] is creating disunity in our ‘Unified’ school district.” Oh, dearie me: the school district has been in a condition of community disunity, sometimes acrimonious, for many years. In any event, the first place to look for improvement in communication is with leaders, not residents.) 

Those who merely speak about these referendums will do so without an expectation of more than their own right of expression. Some residents will have something to say, supportive or critical, without being part of a group seeking to advance or defeat a referendum. 

In Whitewater, however, most people who speak to the issues will speak mostly to their confederates, those of a like mind. On both of these ballot questions, there will be a faction representing a soft majority and another representing a hard minority. The soft majority will speak to its members in the style that they’d like, and the hard minority will speak with the fire-and-brimstone style that they’d like.

(Which faction will be the soft majority and which will be the hard minority is the initial political question. Best guess, with emphasis as a guess: in the school district, the soft majority will favor the school operational referendum, with a hard minority opposed; in the city a soft majority will be undecided on a fire and emergency services referendum, with a hard minority opposed.)

Persuading is harder than speaking, and harder than speaking only to one’s fellows.

In the City of Whitewater, there’s a genuine opportunity to persuade, one way or the other, if it should be true that a soft majority is now undecided on referendum spending for fire and emergency services. The Whitewater Common Council has been steady and methodical in its approach since April, and that’s to the community’s benefit. This approach lowers the political temperature and allows residents to consider proposals matter-of-factly. 

In the district, it’s probable that a soft majority will try to hold together, a hard minority will find itself with a turn-out-the-base strategy. Neither group is likely to persuade the other, and there are probably few undecideds. A group may think that it’s persuasive, but as with the pandemic, these groups are mostly talking to their own kind. (One faction will think of itself: home run! Others will watch and think: nah, pop out.) 

The district has been through a notably rough patch of controversies, some more turbulent this year than even at the height of the pandemic. Honest to goodness, this Central Office seems as uncertain as Steinhaus’s administration was obtuse. (Never thought that could happen. Different situations, but each equally debilitating in its own way.) Administrators can’t tell one faction from another, evidently have received either no advice or bad advice on major political topics, conflate the personal and political, and find themselves like red flags to the occasional bull.

Perhaps this won’t affect the referendum result, but few public administrations have offered up so many hostages to fortune as this one. 

I’ve no personal like or dislike in any of this. It is with disappointment but candor that one writes that Whitewater, especially the district, has become a place of chronic contention between factions. Of personal contention, there need to be repeated, official attempts at reconciliation in public settings. Of political contention, however, a different approach is required. There’s firm and cold, but beyond that there’s nothing worth trying. See The Populists’ Dominance-and-Submission Ritual and Two Postures, Two Results.

For this district’s administration, there is now the ongoing burden of having to respond in one of these ways after determining which approach is appropriate. Hard to overstate how difficult that task is.

I’ve written many times that I represent no faction in this city, being, so to speak, only an emissary of one. In Whitewater, there could could be no better position than this. One makes one’s arguments, sincerely and freely, without troublesome associations. 

Thanks be. 

 Summer Drought Reveals Dinosaur Tracks in Texas River:

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