This story appeared in the Madison, WI, Capital Times. Something for Sarasota to think about as the Newtown Wal-Mart proposal is considered.
Win for Wal-Mart, loss for Jefferson
By John Nichols September 29, 2005
The city of Jefferson provides a textbook example of what happens when a city loses control of its own affairs.
In 2001, the local meat processing plant - a 120-year-old concern with solid roots in the community - was purchased by the Tyson conglomerate. The Arkansas corporation quickly provoked a long and nasty labor dispute as part of a move to cut local pay and benefits. The long and bitter strike created serious tensions in what had once been a tight-knit and prosperous community.
Now, following a move by Wal-Mart - another Arkansas-based corporation - to elbow its way into the local retail market, the Jefferson County community of 7,338 finds itself even more deeply divided.
On Tuesday, a Jefferson alderman who stood up for local retailers and employees was narrowly recalled from his position by a candidate who was friendly to Wal-Mart.
The vote was so close that neither side can claim a mandate. Ald. David Olsen, the subject of the recall, won 815 votes, or 48 percent of the vote, while his challenger, Chris Havill, received 880 votes, or 52 percent of the total.
Still, the removal of Olsen, a local funeral director with deep roots in the community, is a boost for Wal-Mart and out-of-state retailers that have decided to radically reshape commerce in Wisconsin communities.
Indeed, as Olsen said after the vote, "The real winner tonight was Wal-Mart, which shows the power of a big corporation to reach in and have a great impact on a city."
Olsen is right about that, just as he and his supporters are right to fear the impact.
Wal-Mart, like Tyson, makes its money by cutting wages and benefits for workers, forcing out locally owned competitors, and treating communities as "sources of revenue" rather than hometowns.
David Olsen had the courage to stand up to Wal-Mart, which wanted to build a so-called "supercenter" in Jefferson. That made him a marked man politically, and the powerful interests he opposes succeeded in taking him out on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, history will prove Olsen to have been correct.
Just as Wal-Mart was the winner on Tuesday, so Jefferson will be the loser in the long run.