Political games

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin offered no apologies for insulting remarks posted late last year on Salon.com, and the city of Greenville asked for none.

Instead Greenville and Butler County officials extended their hand in friendship and invited the senator and his wife, Mary, back to the area for a game of golf and a second look.

Following the November General Election, Feingold visited Greenville to play golf at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Cambrian Ridge.

On his arrival the first thing he noticed was that Butler County was a Republican stronghold and that the county obviously supported President Bush’s re-election.

He wrote on the liberal website, Salon.com, of Greenville’s &uot;abject trailer parks, and some of the hardest used cars for sale on a very rundown lot.&uot;

When word reached Greenville about the article, Republicans rushed to arms over it.

The state’s U.S. Senators, Congressmen, governor, attorney general and state lawmakers, condemned the senator’s words.

Mayor Dexter McLendon decided to turn some negative publicity generated by Feingold into something positive and invited the senator and his wife back for a second look.

On Monday, despite a weekend of torrential rains, the senator and mayor played golf together at Cambrian Ridge.

On the way to the course though, local dignitaries showed the senator and his entourage of staff and press around town.

They toured the $17 million Greenville High School where they stopped in on Billie Faulk’s ninth grade world history class.

They then visited Hysco and Hwashin where they saw the American and Korean cultures blending in motion. After a round of golf, Feingold then spoke briefly to the Greenville City Council and ended his day with a private reception at the home of the Dr. Bill and Magoo Hamilton.

During a noon press conference, the mayor said this trip was about nothing more than a golf game.

&uot;The number one issue here is that Senator Feingold chosen to come here and play golf on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Cambrian Ridge,&uot; McLendon said.

&uot;Here we have U.S. Senator who could have gone to play golf anywhere in the country, or the world for that matter, but he picked Greenville to come play golf.&uot;

When Feingold spoke he said Alabama resembles Wisconsin in many ways and that when he was here, he found many of his constituents already know about Greenville.

&uot;We’re out on the course and someone from Wisconsin asked ‘Russ Feingold’ why are you here?&uot; he said. &uot;What I learned is that many people from Wisconsin visit here.&uot;

Feingold praised McLendon for his invitation and said was grateful for the experience.

&uot;I’ve really learned something here today as we’ve seen more of this wonderful town,&uot; he said.

&uot;This is a good example of a what a healthy dose of optimism can do.

You have used your optimism to turn the situation around.&uot;

The senator also commended the mayor and other officials for their work on economic development and by doing that work, having a much lower unemployment rate.

&uot;A heavy dose of optimism and being upbeat goes a long way,&uot; Feingold said.

He said visits each of Wisconsin’s counties and that he has learned there that the two primary concerns his constituents have are jobs and healthcare.

Those echo concerns by the majority of Alabamians.

&uot;So far, it appears to me at least on the jobs side of the equation, that is a very big deal here,&uot; Feingold said.

Feingold, a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 also said this serves as a fact-finding trip on why Democrats win local races here, but lose nationally.

&uot;We need to go to every single state in this country, especially states that used to vote Democrat in presidential elections. We need to listen and learn like I’m trying to do here today,&uot; Feingold said. &uot;You can’t just talk to some pollster in Washington. So I come here today as an American because it is sad to see this country as only blue or red state.&uot;

He also chastised other Democrats who have said they &uot;hate the president&uot; or that a &uot;regime change&uot; is needed.

&uot;No one should say they hate the president, because he represents everyone,&uot; he said.

&uot;Democrats today must show they care about the people and not the negativity.

And they should not say we need a regime change.

That equates us to Saddam Hussein.

I believe both parties lose ground when they use language like that.&uot;

Mary Feingold, who visited with her husband, spent the afternoon with Greenville’s own first lady, Janice McLendon.

The two spent the afternoon visiting various shops around town and also paid a visit to the Greenville YMCA.

The Feingolds continued their tour of Alabama on Tuesday with visits to Montgomery and Birmingham.