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Thursday, October 23, 2014  |   Madison, WI: 39.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: Dianne moves on from a Capitol that can be kind
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Dianne believes in a legislative culture where you didn't have to hate the other guy.
Credit:Greg Anderson

Yesterday was the last official day of work for my wife Dianne. Like me, she grew up a middle class kid who has had a job since she was sixteen.

She finished her career working for the last decade-and-a-half for state Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison), who, as the longest serving current state legislator in the nation, has retired generations of staff and potential successors. At 85, Fred shows no signs of slowing down.

Neither does Dianne.

She's retiring young -- most people think she's several years younger than I am, but for the record, she's not! People keep asking me what she'll do, but I'm not concerned that she'll get bored. She has lots of interests. She's an avid reader on all kinds of subjects, a bit of a traveler (she especially loves Italy), a world-class baker and a fearless chef who reads cookbooks cover to cover just for fun, a serious walker, a lover of our dog Calvin who will have found dog heaven now that she will be at his side 24/7, a gardener, and a baseball fan.

For the last several years, she has been Sen. Risser's chief of staff, where her office colleagues referred to her affectionately as "The Hammer." This may seem an odd description for a Norwegian, but I guess that Viking gene was not entirely scrubbed out of Dianne's DNA. And the truth is the hammer was more often used up the food chain on Sen. Risser and the powers that be much more than on her coworkers. Dianne tends to hammer for the less powerful.

The best way to describe what she did in the Capitol is to remember a constituent she worked with. Let's call him Bob (not his real name). Bob was a curmudgeon and a frequent flyer in the Risser office. He would call to complain almost daily about something the senator had done, or something someone someplace else had done that he didn't like.

After awhile, Dianne got comfortable enough with Bob that she almost began to look forward to their conversations just to learn what he'd find to complain about next. One day, she asked him, "Bob, why are you so unhappy?"

Bob was dumbfounded, but he seemed to appreciate the fact that someone would care about that question. Eventually Bob had to go to the hospital for some surgery and Dianne sent him flowers on behalf of the Risser office. (Don't worry. She paid for them herself; no taxpayer dollars were involved in this act of kindness.) Bob appreciated the gesture, and his view of life started to brighten. It's not too much to say that Bob and the Risser office had become friends.

My wife did that kind of thing for three decades working in the Wisconsin Capitol. But that place isn't what it used to be. It's more partisan and less collegial than ever. That's one reason she decided to leave her job, and coworkers and a boss she loved, now rather than later.

The other day at her party, Republican and Democratic staffers, custodians and senators showed up to wish her well. Dianne believes in a legislative culture where you didn't have to hate the other guy. She even chastised me for being unfairly harsh when I went after Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) a couple of weeks ago for his attack on Kwanzaa. It wasn't that she thought Grothman's Kwanzaa thing made any sense; it's just that she had seen the senator do kind things in other circumstances, and thought I had painted with too broad a brush.

So, Dianne will do just fine in her post-Capitol life. And people like Dianne still go to work there every day. Let's hope that building becomes more like her.

Good job, dear. Welcome home.

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