One frustration (of many) I have with our representative government is that candidates tend more and more to come from a small subclass of citizens — the permanent governing elite. That’s why I encourage more people to step temporarily out of the private sector and venture into political space, the final frontier. Such people bring a fresh perspective to the increasingly inbred world of government. Today I highlight one of them.
For a quarter century, Rockford area TV watchers have known Steve Stadelman, who has been bringing us the news on WTVO TV for longer than anybody I can remember in local television, with the possible exception of the late Bruce Richardson, also of WTVO. (Fun fact: WTVO used to call itself “Rockford’s pioneer television station” because it was the first local station to go live, on May 3, 1953, beating WREX by five months. For 12 years, they were our only TV stations.)
Now, after more than 25 years on the news set, Stadelman will leave the station to run for state Senate in the 34th District. Although he’s voted in some Republican primaries in the past, Stadelman is running in 2012 for the Democratic nomination. His reasoning?
“These were local races, people who I thought were the best candidates who happened to be Republican. In local races, people look at the person and what you can do for the Rockford area, and that explains why I’ve voted in certain primaries,” he said.
He’s running as a Democrat because “I believe in Democratic values. I grew upon a small dairy farm in southern Wisconsin and my father went out of business, and things were very tight. We didn’t have a lot of money and for awhile he was on unemployment. He got a job in a factory and I went to college with the help of loans and grants, and you realize that government can give people a boost up.”
Stadelman, 51, said his big leap from journalism to politics comes as an outgrowth of covering the news for half his life and longing to be part of the solution to some of the problems.
“I’ve done my job as a journalist, and I’ve been objective. I’m doing this now because public service is something I’ve been interested in for a long time,” Stadelman told me Monday by phone from Springfield, where he’d just filed nearly 2,000 petition signatures at the state Board of Elections. Only 1,000 are required.
His ability to get that many signatures in a week and half “indicates that people are excited and want to see me on the ballot so they can have another choice. I bring a fresh perspective to the political process.”
I asked Stadelman his priorities.
“Jobs and education. We must find ways to get more people working. We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. I have four children in Rockford School District. Education is hugely important to bringing jobs here. I want to improve school districts of the area. In next days and weeks I’ll be releasing more detailed ideas.”
Stadelman said his knowledge of the political process and his contacts with politicians from both political parties will help him forge compromises needed to pass meaningful legislation in the Statehouse.
Stadelman was raised in southern Wisconsin, “I grew up watching Rockford television stations. My wife’s from Rockford.” His parents live in Brodhead, Wis.
“I’ve lived in Rockford longer than any other place,” Stadelman added.
Other Democratic candidates for the Democratic nomination in the 34th District are Jim Hughes, Marla Wilson, Glenn Patterson and Dan Lewandowski. In a five person race, Stadelman has as good a chance as anyone of winning.
In fact, he may have a better chance. He’s been in everyone’s living room every night for decades, and he has a reputation as a fair and balanced newsman. And better yet, until Monday he was not a politician.
Stadelman is not first former Rockford anchorman to run for political office. Rod Grams, who anchored the news on WIFR in the early 1980s, served in the U.S. House from 1993 to 1995 and in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2001, as a Republican from Minnesota.
Frank Gambino is the only Republican candidate in the 34th.
CORRECTION — In Tuesday’s column I got Winnebago County Forest Preserve Board member Cheryl Maggio’s first name wrong. I apologize.