Reading foreign newspapers brings new perspective

What is wrong with these people? Why do they value education so much?

What is wrong with these people? Why do they value education so much?

On the first weekend in June, we headed over to the border of the Sensible Republic of Minnesota,  spending the night near what is apparently the Breakaway Principality of Hudson, where we visited Willow River State Park and attended the 2015 Yellowstone Trail Heritage Days.

Because I got up at 6 a.m. and the rest of our group was still sleeping, I picked up a couple of newspapers to read while having coffee. It was enlightening to see what the rebellious people outside of Wisconsin cared about.

I say “outside Wisconsin” because Hudson seemed to be in the midst of some action of breaking away from the rest of the state. This was apparent in the concerns expressed in the Hudson Star-Observer.  There were exactly five stories on the front page — three of them focused on education, one on increased funding for a state park, and one on the Heritage Days:

In addition, there were promotional blurbs down the right-hand side of the front page for four more stories: one on a student engineering, design and development competition; one on a new elementary-school principal; one on local student performances at a regional track meet; and, finally, one about a retiring city employee.

(The story on the engineering contest apparently isn’t available online, but there are plenty of others focused on education, such as this one about the Hudson school district giving its teachers a 4.27 percent pay raise.)

It’s not that there wasn’t other news for the Star-Observer to report on. There were charges related to a cockfighting ring and a kidnapping, an update on a court battle over open records with local origins but statewide significance,  and a conviction related to a fatal boating accident.  Lots of other stuff, too.  But these folks seemed preoccupied with education and its impacts.  Clearly, they are not planning to remain a part of the future Untutored Rabblerate of Wisconsin.

The park story was noteworthy because the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee is removing all tax funding for its state parks. Willow River somehow asked for $3 million to repair its dam — and got $8 million.  Might have had something to do with two legislators who sit on the JFC being from River Falls and Hudson. Sneaky, sneaky!  Filch a little money from the register, then tell your partners there’s nothing left in there as you walk out the door to head over to your new place of business.

That just adds further reason to believe the good people of Hudson really are going to secede from the rest of Wisconsin. They haven’t announced it, but they’re bound to. Why on earth would they want to be affiliated with a state that otherwise continues to cut K-12 and university funding?

After everybody woke up, we talked about moving to Hudson, but later, when we found the median home value was $206,900 and the median income was $68,426 — about 24 and 30 percent higher than the same medians in the rest of Wisconsin — we realized we were out of our league.

Then I showed everybody one of the front-page stories in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, across what must be the international border formed by the St. Croix River, between Minnesota and us poor folks. The headline read “$17 billion education bill finalized, but still more to do.”  The story detailed a $400 million increase in education funding, which was between the $150 million one side wanted to grant and the $700 million increase the other sought.

We couldn’t understand some of the story, as it was written in a strange way, switching back and forth between English and what clearly is a foreign language. In case anybody can read whatever it is, here’s a brief excerpt: ” ‘One sign of a true compromise is that no one likes it. Compromise requires the negotiators to agree to things that they don’t agree with. They do so, only to avoid the catastrophic harm that failure to compromise would cause,’ Dayton said.”

We understood enough to realize Minnesota must be a wondrous land where people treat each other with respect and find enough shared values to be able to iron out their differences.  We talked about crossing the border to explore the place, but realized we would probably need some sort of tourist visa and decided against it.

Just as well.  We also realized that Minnesota could be a mere siren, calling to dash us and our hopes against the bluffs of its beautiful river.  We are Wisconsnites, modest and humble, and we cannot afford to be distracted by illusions of a better life. After a few hours at the festival, we drove back to our own home, mollified by the knowledge that all those smartypants in Hudson and Minnesota might have nice incomes and smart kids, but we’re going to have a new basketball arena.

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