Fade to Black
May 14, 2010 2:24 PM
When I was a young aide in the state legislature, I took a job with Rep. Spencer Black. I remember distinctly his words when I submitted my first piece of writing. "This is bad," he said. "Do it again." Only he didn't use the word "bad." But the truth is it was bad. And I did do it again. And it was better the second time.
I learned a lot working for Spence over three years. He was always asking my opinion and the opinions of others, but he wanted clear thinking. He set a very high standard and if you met it, you were rewarded by being listened to and by having your ideas taken into account by one of the most effective public policy makers in Wisconsin. I was lucky to be around when Spencer was fighting for the most ambitious recycling program in the nation and the expansion of the Stewardship Fund. I played a small role in the efforts that he led on those issues.
He accomplished a lot more before and after I worked for him. The truth is that I got a lot more out of working for him than he got out of me. I learned that being in public office isn't about just taking up space and having a nice office. It's about the serious business of writing laws in the public interest. I learned that good bosses insist on high standards, but hold themselves to even higher standards. I learned a lot about how to communicate an idea in politics. Simple, straightforward, honest language was what was always expected (that first piece I wrote for him was bad because it was filled with vague, puffed up rhetoric). And I learned that politics can be fun. We were always batting around different ideas for legislation or how to raise the profile of an issue. We laughed a lot.
So, I was a little sad the other day when Spencer announced that he would not run for another term this summer. Rep. Mark Pocan was right when he said that no one in state government had done more for our natural environment than Spencer, save Gaylord Nelson (most people don't realize that Spence lives in the same neighborhood represented by Gaylord Nelson when he was in the State Senate). But Spencer is still a young guy with a lot more to contribute and so he's looking to do that. And if he wants to spend some more time in the great Wisconsin outdoors that he helped save, who can blame him.