Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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In support of contrarians: we need them

by John Halverson

November 22, 2012

So what is it about contrary opinions that people have a problem with?

A few weeks ago we received a call from a reader asking why we would print a certain letter relating to the presidential election. It was a mild chastisement of one of the political parties.

"It made a lot of people feel bad," the caller said.

If you believe you're right, what difference should it make?

More recently, a member of the Reek School Board was chastised for suggesting to some people that they shouldn't support a referendum to spend $2.8 million renovating the school.

In fact, she supported repairs to the building. She was just against the expenditure proposed in the referendum.

Comments on the Regional News website suggested that if she didn't agree with the rest of the school board in backing the referendum, she should step down.

Why can't someone on a board disagree with the majority?

In fact, I think every board should have a contrarian. I think it keeps the majority on their toes.

And sometimes, just sometimes, the contrarian is right.

We're in a political age when dissension is not only frowned upon but condemned. That's sad and counterproductive.

In Lake Geneva there's a group of contrarians like Jim Strauss, who runs the Geneva Shore Report, and former alderman Terry O'Neill.

You don't have to agree with them. I often don't. But they serve a purpose.

Some of the stories in the Shore Report have prompted us to do stories. Even though we didn't cover the issues the same way or with the same dose of assertiveness, they were covered nonetheless. And readers had more information so they could make up their own minds about what they read and who they should believe.

I suspect that some of the comments O'Neil and the Shore Report have made have caused city hall to take positive action or at least make sure all their ducks are in order. Nothing wrong with that.

Granted, in a meeting setting like a city council, some rules of decorum must be accepted and enforced. But that doesn't mean that anything contrary to established opinion has to be stifled.

We went through a period in Lake Geneva when there was too much animosity, too much drama, not enough real work getting done. The current council is reasonable, sane and generally makes wise decisions. The mayor gets high grades and things are much smoother than they once were. So I don't want to go back to those earlier days, but I don't want provocateurs too easily dismissed either.

When I was editor of a paper in Shawano, we covered the Posse Comitatus. We were criticized for writing what they said. The Posse was far more rebellious than any of our local rebels and far more destructive. But the experience was instructive.

My feeling was that they deserved a fair shake like everyone else. What's more, all that publicity eventually led to their demise.

A lot of people supported them at first because they seemed like a relatively harmless group of ultra-Libertarians. In fact, they were racist, anti-Semitic anarchists.

We quoted what they said and they respected us because they thought we were playing fair. But eventually their own words hung them because people realized they were a lot more dangerous than they appeared on the surface. Had we sanitized their perspective that might never have happened.

So have your opinion.

Let others have their views.

Ask that those in government express their own beliefs instead of groupthink.

And hope right wins the day. It usually does.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News