What happened in Tuesday election in Pleasant Prairie? How in the world did a lie win the election for a couple of village trustee seats?
For a little history on the lie, here is what happened. Last August, Kenosha County Sheriff, David Beth, approached the Village board about a proposal to combine his sheriff’s department services with the Pleasant Prairie police department. I could go into the details of how many cars that the sheriff was offering to continue to patrol the streets of Pleasant Prairie and the plan that the sheriff had proposed to continue to employee the Pleasant Prairie police and the amount of money that the Pleasant Prairie taxpayers could have saved. I could even go into Act 40 that the governor signed in August giving cash strapped communities the ability to combine their police services with the sheriff departments services. But the whole proposal was moot. The trustees of the Village of Pleasant Prairie voted down the proposal decisively in October. The final vote was 3-1 against the sheriff’s proposal, with one trustee abstaining from the vote.
Enough said, right? The issue is dead, right?
Not quite, a little over 4 months later, the issue was resurrected. The two incumbents desperately needed an issue to run on. Incumbents Kumorkiewicz and Serpe were facing the same election challenges that last year’s ousted incumbents were facing. The most affluent community in Kenosha County is heavily in debt. Somewhere close to $100 million. Of course, the incumbents did not want to run on this and have to explain the debt to the voters, so they created their own issue.
The two incumbents, Kumorkiewicz and Serpe decided that this dead issue that had already been voted on, would be the issue that they would run on. And so, the mudslinging began. Magically a 527, called KOPS (Keep our police services) popped up to support the theory that if either of the challengers were elected, then Pleasant Prairie would lose their police services. Of course, neither of the challengers, Larry Matson or Frank Hauck, ever said they would vote to get rid of the police department, but it didn’t matter. The Sheriff came out and said that the issue was dead, but for some reason, this did not matter either.
The 527, known as KOPS was on the march, in support of getting the incumbents re-elected. As it turns out, most of this entire campaign came down to one thing- MONEY! KOPS and the incumbents had the money and the challengers did not. KOPS had plenty of money to run their campaign of deception. KOPS did mailings, made campaign buttons and the yard signs were just everywhere. According to the Kenosha News published on March 29, 2006, KOPS had raised $19,000 in support of the incumbency's misleading message. One donor in particular, gave $12,500 to the KOPS deceptive campaign.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that “yard signs do not win elections”. In my opinion, unfortunately, deceptive yard signs may have won this election. One fellow in particular, stated to the Kenosha News in April 5th edition after the election, that he read the KOPS yard sign that suggested the challengers would get rid of the police so he wanted to vote to keep the department.
In my opinion, there are two very distinct problems with today’s elections. The first problem is that we, as voters, let the candidates define the issues. Sorry, but issues that are important should always be defined by the voters and never by the candidates. Instead, the candidates Kumorkiewicz and Serpe defined the Village trustee’s races to be about “keeping our police services”, instead of being about leadership in the community. Kumorkiewicz and Serpe got a free pass on the explaining the massive debt that they have overseen.
The second problem with elections today is plainly- money. If you can raise enough money, you can cover up the real problems in a community and literally deceive your way into office. $19,000 can buy a lot of yard signs and completely cover up the real problems facing a community. The voters in Pleasant Prairie never got a chance to deal with the real issues facing their community because they were too busy trying to save their police department. That is too bad, the voters in Pleasant Prairie deserved an honest debate about real issues, and they did not get that debate.