Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Rosa Parks Day

December 8th, 2005 7:31 PM

No Wal-Mart During My Watch

From: David Olsen
Sent: Sunday, December 04, 2005 2:44 PM
Subject: No Wal-Mart during my watch

As a first term city council member in Jefferson, Wisconsin (a small town of 7,300 between Madison and Milwaukee) I voted against annexing land into the city for the purpose of building a Wal-Mart SuperCenter. As a result of my voting against this annexation (twice), they (Wal-Mart and their minions) forced a recall election which was won by my opponent by 65 votes out of a total of 1,699 votes cast (880 - 815). The mayor was quoted in the local paper two days after the election as saying, "I'm gonna call Wal-Mart and invite them back."

A DJ from a Madison radio station (Sly of WTDY) interviewed me the day after my election loss and said, "History will read Bob La Follette, Gaylord Nelson, Bill Proxmire, Russ Feingold, and David Olsen."

While I am humbled to even be mentioned in the same breath as these American heroes, I'm honored that, like them, I stood by my convictions and did the right thing, despite the personal cost.

Here's a story which ran in the Capital Times in Madison:

Anti-Wal-Mart alder ousted in Jefferson
By Karyn Saemann / The Capital Times
September 28, 2005

JEFFERSON - A Jefferson alderman who twice this year voted against annexing land for a Wal-Mart SuperCenter has been thrown out of office.

David Olsen, a funeral home operator and lifelong Jefferson resident whose first term on the City Council was to expire in April 2006, lost a recall election Tuesday to Chris Havill, an auto dealership manager.

The vote was 880 for Havill and 815 for Olsen, a margin of 52 to 48 percent.

It was the first recall election in the history of this city of 7,500 residents, about 35 miles east of Madison in Jefferson County.

Olsen was among the dissenters in April when the council voted 5-3 against annexing 22 acres on which Wal-Mart planned to build a SuperCenter. In a second vote in June the results were flip-flopped, with 5-3 in favor of the annexation. But that was not enough support for the two-thirds majority required for an annexation. Olsen was again among those voting no.

Afterward, citizens supporting Wal-Mart began circulating petitions to recall Olsen from office. Two other council members who voted no could not be recalled because they have not yet served a full year in office.

Olsen said the message is clear.

"Today was Jefferson's referendum on Wal-Mart. The closeness of the election shows how divided the city is," Olsen said. "The power of Wal-Mart has come in and said 'anyone who stands up to us had better watch out,' " he added. Olsen said he has every expectation that Wal-Mart will now return for another annexation try.

"Wal-Mart is coming to Jefferson," Olsen said. "Don't let anybody kid you. I am guessing right now that if the (Wal-Mart) people in Bentonville (Ark.) don't already know the election results, they will know first thing in the morning and they will trot out the old annexation paperwork faster than Brian Calhoun can get a first down."

Olsen said he would continue to speak out against the retail giant locating here.

"My convictions have not changed. I don't think Wal-Mart is the answer to our economic issues. The fact that I lost this race doesn't change my opinion that they don't belong in Jefferson," he said.

And he said he doesn't see Tuesday's outcome as a mandate in favor of Wal-Mart. In April 2004 he won his seat with 776 votes, Olsen said. "I have actually gained support from the last time I ran," he said.

The loss will allow him to spend more time with his 12- and 9-year-old children, he said.

"I'm disappointed tonight. But tomorrow morning the sun is going to rise, the kids have got to get to school and I have a funeral to run," he said.

Havill said the annexation probably would be pursued again, even if something other than Wal-Mart goes on the site. But he said he still hoped it was possible to bring in the SuperCenter. "Opportunities are time-based. I am hoping the door hasn't closed," he said.

Havill said he hoped to work on making Jefferson a more business-friendly city.

"You need to be open to businesses that want to invest in your area. The way and style that you greet them is important," he said. "From this day forward we have to be on the ball as far as businesses coming in, and doing everything we can to help them. We need to start creating some positive energy in Jefferson again."

Havill, who has never held public office, will be up for re-election again when Olsen's term expires in April.

"I have a lot of work in the short six months ahead," he said.

After congratulating Olsen on a clean campaign, Havill said he wished his margin of victory had been wider.

"I know there is going to be some hurt because the race was so close," he said. "Hopefully, in time, our city will heal and we will get through this."

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