While the rest of the country is anxiously watching America get sucked into violence in the perpetually-violent Middle East, or watching anxiously as a conman inches closer to the Republican presidential nomination while our justice system kicks the can of accountability down the road, there’s an entirely different type of anxiety coming out of Minocqua, Wisconsin.
We've got very little snow up here, and our winter tourism economy is based entirely on snow!
As the Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC waits for our lawsuit to remove Trump from Wisconsin’s ballot to work its way through court; waits for our lawyers to hammer out a revised complaint to rid Wisconsin of our parasitic private-school voucher program; and negotiates with sign companies around Wisconsin to buy more locations for billboards that you’ve helped fund that remind Wisconsinites that Trump’s attempted presidential heist involved many of our own state’s Republican politicians; I wanted to focus this week on how Minocqua’s local leaders have reacted to changes in our tourism economy caused by global warming over the last decade.
In short, they haven’t.
Fed a steady diet of anti-climate change rhetoric from our right-wing local newspaper and led by an “Old Boys Network” that keeps themselves comfortable by glad-handing instead of solving problems, Minocqua has taken the same approach to economic planning that they always have-- “hoping and praying” for lots of snow.
Those prayers have worked almost as well as they do every time there’s a mass shooting in America.
Last week, the executive director of our local tourism board, Krystal Westfahl, made statewide news by leading a delegation of 15 Northern Wisconsin economic development and tourism associations to ask for state and federal assistance to bale out our snow-less and decimated Northwoods economy.
Sounds about right.
The only people that make decent money in Wisconsin’s Northwoods are business owners in the tourism industry, and “socialism” for the well-off has always been the only palatable type of “socialism” for these folks. When it came to helping single mothers afford childcare while they bartended at snowmobile bars that used to bank money when there was snow, for example, that was going a bit too far. “These women made their beds, and now they have to lie in them.”
What if you made your bed out of climate change denial? Shouldn’t you have to lie in that as well?
In 2019, shortly after my wife passed away but before Covid hit, I invited a group of forward-thinking business owners to the upstairs lounge of our old building to brainstorm events we could hold in the off-season that would attract tourists but wouldn’t have to rely on snow, because it was no secret to anyone that our winters were getting increasingly shorter and warmer. We came up with a LOT great ideas:
- Fat bike/cycle-cross competitions.
- Fishing competitions in the fall/spring that would attract people from around the country.
- Music festivals similar to Appleton’s “Mile of Music.”
- More indoor beer/culinary fests like the popular “Ice Cold Beer Fest” that was started by the Minocqua Brewing Company’s previous owners.
Many of us left that meeting feeling excited about all these new events that would make life a lot more fun AND LUCRATIVE in the offseason.
Unfortunately, Covid struck a few months later and all of that momentum came to a screeching halt. Most of us who met that day to combat a future with less snow had to pivot to save our own businesses from bankruptcy.
But you know who still got paid whether Covid wrecked our economy or not? Our local and state politicians, along with the folks who run our regional economic development orgs and tourism boards.
If they had picked up the baton we started running with 5 years ago and led the charge to pivot away from snow-based tourism BEFORE the inevitable winter heatwave arrived, a few more businesses may have been saved this winter.
What, instead of coming up with creative ways to stimulate our winter economy, have they been doing these last 5 years?
Many of them have been trying to put the Minocqua Brewing Company--one of the first businesses you’ll find when Googling the word “Minocqua,” and one that arguably attracts more tourists to the area each summer than most others—out of business.
After collecting what must be over 70K of Minocqua’s taxpayer dollars defending Town Chairman Mark Hartzheim and others board members against our federal lawsuit accusing them of political harassment, the Town’s lawyer finally sent us a “clean” revoke-able license agreement. The first iteration of this agreement sent to us by Hartzheim two years ago was the opposite of “clean,” because it was filled with bogus regulations that would have been impossible for us to meet. If we had signed it years ago, we would have given the town a legal way to shut us down for practically any reason.
We thought that by sending us this “clean” agreement, the Town had finally seen the light, realized that harassing us was going to cost their taxpayers dearly, and decided to simply play by the rules.
It looks like I gave them too much credit.
After I signed and notarized the document, the Town’s lawyer got back to us and said that the only way the town would add their signatures to this agreement would be if we dismissed our lawsuit against them.
In other words, the Town of Minocqua, whose vendetta against us has resulted in close to a million dollars in lost revenue over the last two summers, is now threatening to withhold a highway easement that they would rubber stamp for any other business, as ransom to stop us from holding them accountable for trying to illegally shut us down.
This is like a cat burglar who you caught stealing your TV offering you a contract to NOT steal your jewelry as long as you didn't call the cops on him for breaking into your house in the first place!
Instead of thinking outside of the box and trying to keep our local economy afloat in the face of climate change, too many of our town's leaders spend their energy thinking up ways to hurt a business that HAS figured out how to thrive without snow in order to score a few political points while the rest of their economic ship is sinking.
Krystal Westfahl pictured with Republican Assemblyman Rob Swearingen, a politician who loves collecting a $50K salary, walking in parades, and doing whatever Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tells him to do.
But surely Krystal Westphal, knowing how many tourists we bring to the area and being the person “in charge” of local tourism, would support our business and tell the town board to back off…right?
Westfahl, whose position supporting our tourism economy should be completely non-partisan, agreed to do an interview with one of America's most recognized conservative magazines, the National Review, and called my fight to be treated fairly in my own community “A bunch of bullshit” in that journal's hit piece against my efforts to rid Wisconsin of our parasitic private school voucher program.
It all comes down to leadership, and we’re sorely lacking leaders in deep red Northern Wisconsin. So many of those that participate in local and state politics “Up North” are people who cynically benefit from getting a first look at where their next building contract might be, or those who lazily look for an easy way to ink an extra $50K annual legislative salary by simply rubber-stamping every gerrymandered Republican bill that comes their way.
But when an actual crisis hits, all these folks who wouldn't take a meeting with climate scientists because they were too busy repeating talking points that lambasted trans kids who played sports in rural areas where there weren't any trans kids playing sports, or too busy attacking "illegals" at the border when Wisconsin doesn't share a border with another country, starts pointing fingers and asks for a bailout using the statewide government surplus provided to us by a Federal Democratic President and Congress in 2021.
On the contrary, those with a hint of idealism and mettle to tackle big problems, or those who want to build a better community for themselves and their kids, too often move away to areas that have a better track record for good government and economic growth—like liberal Madison, Wisconsin, which continues to be one of the only places in the state that keeps growing.
But what our home-grown talent wistfully leaves behind, in my opinion, is the most beautiful part of our state. They leave an area covered by beautiful lakes and forests to make money elsewhere, only to spend that money up here as tourists or second home owners down the road. Unfortunately for our town, we lose their votes when they move away. But fortunately for us, they spend their tourism dollars with businesses who appreciate and share their enlightened worldview.
As I’ve said repeatedly, while agreeing with over 70% percent of the Wisconsinites who voted for Fair Maps in local referenda over the last decade, I believe ridding ourselves of political gerrymandering will solve many of the problems facing Northern Wisconsin. With Fair Maps, we have the opportunity to elect politicians with the intelligence, energy, and enthusiasm to help solve the economic challenges brought on by climate change, who will listen to experts in their fields who have already solved these problems in other states--as opposed to putting their fingers in their ears whenever the term "climate change" is mentioned.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for believing in the Minocqua Brewing Company. Together, we will find and nurture progressive leaders in rural Northern Wisconsin once we have Fair Maps, one beer at a time.
Owner, Minocqua Brewing Company
Founder, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC