Heinen: Comparing notes

Heinen visited D.C. with Wisconsin broadcasters
Heinen: Comparing notes

After arriving in Washington, D.C., recently, I had enough time before my first meeting to pick up a birthday present for my wife Nancy at Kramerbooks near Dupont Circle. For as long as I can remember, Kramerbooks (& Afterwords Cafe, as the full name of the business reads) has been among the many attractions of a visit to our nation’s capital.

Both the bookstore and the city are among my favorite places. I was in D.C. with a group of broadcasters from Wisconsin for an annual visit to meet with members of our congressional delegation to talk about industry issues. Given my inability to do any kind of lobbying, I went along mostly to listen and renew acquaintances with our members of Congress and their staffs. It inevitably produces a pretty hefty clash of contrasting emotions.

I love D.C. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, walkable, with abundant open space and parks, some of the most spectacular and significant monuments and historic places in our nation, but also great neighborhoods, restaurants and shops. I don’t go as much as I used to, and like most of the rest of the Western World, D.C is not as innocently accessible as it was when I first started going there 40 years ago.

But it still feels comfortable and familiar, and I love just wandering around the city in between meetings. But what I’ve had to confront and accommodate more and more lately is the chasm between my appreciation for public service and government workers who devote their professional lives to a country that epitomizes democracy and freedom, and my greatly diminished respect for and trust in elected leaders who seem disconnected from their staff and citizens they supposedly represent.

Most of the time (and believe me, I know there are exceptions), to visit the office of one’s elected official is to be greeted warmly and treated professionally. I don’t pretend that’s easy to do. I’ve enjoyed the overwhelming majority of my experiences in House and Senate office buildings and typically left feeling good about the time spent there.

But today, in 2018, that façade seems harder to reconcile against a backdrop of daily dysfunction, incivility, mean-spiritedness and lack of concern for a broader, common good from the people in charge, the people we elect.

It’s enough to ruin a trip to D.C. I’m used to marveling at the U.S. Department of the Treasury building, looking with awe at the incredible architecture of the National Museum of the American Indian, swelling with pride walking down the National Mall to the Washington Monument and experiencing deep emotion in the solemnity of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It makes me sad that I don’t feel and think the same about our representative democracy, hijacked by politics of the most ugly and destructive kind.

But then I spend a day and half in the company of the best state delegation of broadcasters in the country, a group of smart men and women who care about their industry and their communities. The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association’s group visiting Capitol Hill is the biggest among the 50 states. And then I get to the airport for the direct Delta Air Lines flight back to Madison and I’m joined at the gate by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin; former congressman (and broadcaster) Scott Klug; Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers; WBA President and CEO Michelle Vetterkind; Heartland Credit Union executive Robin Marohn; and CUNA Mutual Group Media and Reputation Strategist Phil Tschudy among others, and we compare notes and tell a few stories. And I feel good again about what Washington, D.C., is and who goes there, and why they go there.

Though maybe that’s influenced just a little bit by the fact we’re all going home.

Side Notes: Read Up

Madison Magazine’s sister company WISC-TV is partnering for a third year with the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison Public Library, United Way of Dane County, Madison Reading Project and Madison School and Community Recreation to raise money to support the Read Up summer reading program. Funds collected are used to buy books and help pay for support staff to keep kids reading through the summer so they return to school in the fall without having lost any reading skills during the break.

No surprise: When kids read books they choose and enjoy over the summer, their scores go up in the fall. That’s a big deal. And while the Read Up project has some generous supporters (including Madison Gas and Electric and CUNA Mutual Group), it’s the hundreds of $20, $10 and $5 donations that add up to make sure all kids get the books and the ready help they need.

You can send a check to Read Up Madison Fund, c/o Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools, 101 Nob Hill Drive, Suite 300, Madison, WI. 73713. To donate online, visit here.