Guest Column: Presidential Politics Don’t Define Door County

by DICK EGAN, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

This past spring, the Washington Post sent a couple of reporters and photographers here to do a story on the fact that Door County is one of only nine counties in the entire country to have backed the ultimate winner of the presidential election in the past five election cycles. 

From the article, one could tell that they looked for what I’ll call “the usual suspects,” meaning finding and interviewing minorities, interrogating both the county Democratic and Republican Party leaders, and using the “man on the street” interview approach to find out why Door County has been so accurate in choosing the ultimate winners. 

In my view, they never did explain the phenomenon, other than to cite demographic changes that have made the county a “reliably purple region.”

The reporters did note that Door County residents are “animated by issues closer to home,” but they never explained why. They concluded, “There’s no decisive political majority, and independents command significant sway.”

Well, I think I know why.

This county is unusually cohesive around local matters. I submit that Door County residents are among the best-informed citizens anywhere in the United States when it comes to their local community. Sure, there are strong political-party affiliations, and if you read the letters to the editor in this newspaper, you can see political opinions expressed every week. But when it comes to local governance and local issues, party loyalty takes a back seat to community support.

Why did so many people check their politics at the door (pun intended) when it came to working at food pantries and vaccination sites during the pandemic? How did United Way and the Community Foundation raise $1.1 million in emergency-relief funds in just a few months? Why do we so often see fundraisers for neighbors who have a serious health issue? It’s because we really are a community.

I’m an old guy who has been hanging around the county for 70 years and have lived here since 1995. I’ve watched how things have changed, and I marvel at the sense of community that I see here every day.

My belief is that much of this is due to the existence of the Peninsula Pulse. Anyone who reads it has access to a huge array of information, including government affairs, the environment, taxes, sports, business development and education. Most smaller cities and communities have lost this as newspapers shrink or vanish entirely. Local knowledge then comes from unedited social media, and citizens default to national newspapers and cable TV coverage, which is primarily political. Focus shifts from community to national political tribalism.

People care most about things that directly impact their lives. What is happening here is more important than what’s going on in Washington, so when there’s a presidential election, I suspect many of us look at our options and make a choice. To be sure, there are ardent Democrats and Republicans, but a lot of voters here have a perspective that is lacking elsewhere because we are so much better informed.

Thanks, Dave, Myles, Deb and the rest of the Pulse staff. You’re doing important work.