I am not sure what will be placed on the grave marker for former State Representative Lary Swoboda, the Luxemburg Democrat who passed away on Sunday at the age of 73. But I think the most appropriate wording would be something akin to ‘Constituent’s Best Friend’.
While Swoboda had a special interest in education policy, and made efforts to find an equitable way to lower property taxes (I will never forget AB 131) his greatest emphasis on any given day was making sure his constituents were taken care of, their needs met, and their problems resolved. While anyone can make that statement about a member of the legislature I can attest to the fact in Swoboda’s case it was true.
I started working with Swoboda in January 1987, and never have I seen such devotion to the needs of constituents.
When Swoboda first arrived in his Madison office each week he would pull from his pockets and brief case bits of paper with scribbled notes. Someone from the barber shop wanted a Blue Book, a guy from the market had a homestead credit problem, a business person needed to have his plans moved faster through (then DIHLR), a woman at a fish fry had drinking water concerns and needed DNR assistance.
Lary Swoboda’s office was known to have effective and timely remedies to problems.
Well, most problems.
There were those who wanted strange things such as advice on how to arrange a mail order bride, and what could be done about a faithless spouse. But Swoboda took it all in stride.
I asked him on many occasions why he felt so connected to his constituents, and devoted as much time to clearing up their concerns.
He would always respond that he felt they needed to have a local connection to their state government, and to know the programs that were paid for with their tax dollars was money well spent. Swoboda was very proud to be the first Democrat in over 100 years to have won his seat, and he was determined to do the best job he could.
Lary Swoboda and Gregory Humphrey
I first met Lary Swoboda when reporting for WDOR on the Assembly Agriculture Committee that held a hearing in Sturgeon Bay. Swoboda served as the chairperson, and I interviewed him in a hallway. While some people when interviewed provide quick answers Swoboda talked at length, and allowed me more than enough material to work with for a story. Local radio always needs news stories to fill the minutes of a broadcast so his time with me that afternoon was appreciated.
Over the months I made more connections with Swoboda and recall the first taste of political campaigning while driving his car and trekking up the thumb of Door County while placing lawn signs along the way. It was during that time that he first posed questions for a back and forth about the potential pros and cons of certain people entering political races at the national, state and local level. It was something that we continued to do for the remainder of our years together.
Many years later Swoboda was still tossing out with a smile the name of Reuben Askew, a former Florida governor, and wondering if there was any chance for a political comeback. He loved to talk politics and reflect about the changes that had taken place.
One of the things we both enjoyed was the life of Richard Nixon, and the intrigue of Watergate. I still recall after some of the long days while campaigning in the primary election for State Superintendent of Public Instruction that Swoboda would start talking about Watergate. He could be exhausted, and almost as a way of unwinding and relaxing he would ponder again how the missing section of the tape happened, or how things would have changed had the tapes been destroyed. The conversations were really quite lively.
One of the things all had to respect about Swoboda was his desire to truly keep his marriage working while serving all the years in the legislature. He often told me there was no way he could have been in political office for the number of years he had, and left his wife in the district while he worked in Madison. So while there were some jokes about always seeing his wife, Jan, around the Capitol there was also a larger commitment to being a married couple that was taking place. While I would have found it easier at times to make the office operate with only Lary, I admired the committment that they shared with each other.
Over the decades many faces of the elected ones come and go under the Capitol dome. Some are remembered for political moves, and policy changes. Others will just fade away into history.
At the end of Lary Swoboda’s story one thing remains clear and stands out.
There was never a better friend to the average constituent than that of Lary Swoboda.
It may not be on his grave stone.
But it is the truth.