At 11:45 this morning the epicenter of Wisconsin politics was, for a moment, the Town of Lake Mills in Jefferson County, the lone precinct not reporting votes in the nip and tuck battle by Justice David Prosser to keep his seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
An hour later the vote tally was completed and Prosser gained a net two votes which left challenger Joanne Kloppenburg, a relatively unknown veteran environmental prosecutor, with an unofficial 204 vote margin of victory in the hotly contested race.
It was a battle in which more than $3 million in special interest money was poured to promote one side or the other in what otherwise would have been a battle between two rather lackluster personalities but for it becoming a surrogate referendum on the administration of rookie Gov. Scott Walker.
The attack ads, robot phone calls, mass mailings and what have you brought a strong turnout for what is usually a mundane off-year spring election day. And it also brought some interesting results.
Kloppenburg trounced Prosser in Dane County, as expected, and he returned the compliment in Waukesha, Walworth, Washington and Ozaukee Counties. Racine and Kenosha pretty much cancelled each other out. Milwaukee went for Kloppenburg but the Fox Valley and most of northeastern and north central Wisconsin tipped in Prosser's favor.
All of this led to the nail biting exercise of waiting for stray unreported votes to come in from western Wisconsin. The La Crosse area was strongly for Kloppenburg. Then came Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn Counties which helped the previously little known Kloppenburg squeak past Prosser by 206 votes. And then it was down to the Town of Lake Mills which had some ballot issues the night before.
The major news media outlets stumbled trying to locate the missing vote tallies but just before seven this morning the weekly Lake Mills Leader reported on its website that 24 paper ballots needed to be counted and that would happen at 8:30 a.m. The major media outlets missed this.
A funny thing happened at 8:30 a.m. A quorum of canvassers wasn't rounded up so the tally was postponed until 11:45 a.m. with a proper notice of at least two hours given. This, too, was dutifully reported by the little Lake Mills Leader.
As Wisconsin waited for news as to whether Prosser could regain his lead and win reelection the major media outlets continued to chug along in blissful ignorance until about an hour before the adjourned canvass when they scrambled to find and get to the town hall.
And so it went. Under the watchful eyes of television cameras and hot lights the canvass plodded along for an hour before it was over. Dutifully at 12:58 p.m. the Lake Mills Leader updated its website with the Town of Lake Mills vote and, for an hour or so, the little weekly "scooped" the rest of the state with the news.
All the millions of dollars of special interest ad money, all the hype and noise of what passes for news reporting these days and all the anxiety surrounding this important political battle was reduced to a small room in a small town hall in rural Jefferson County dutifully, accurately and competently reported to the people of Wisconsin by the Lake Mills Leader.
As it should be.
Back in the 2000 presidential election one of the major party boffos was blowing steam about how demeaning it was that they had to spend time at city halls in Florida while votes were tallied. "What is this? A city council election?" was the arrogant salvo that made me smile.
No, it wasn't a city council election. It was American democracy reduced to its humble, basic level. Instead of a moment of shame, it was a proud observation that the high and mighty were made to cool their heels while local folks went through the process of trying to ensure that everyone's vote was counted.
As it should be.
For all the foulness of this election the sweetest breath of fresh air came for a brief moment at the Town of Lake Mills town hall where the high and mighty had to cool their heels and all the fancy expensive satellite trucks owned by well-heeled media conglomerates were upstaged by a little weekly newspaper.
This is what democracy looks like.