David Obey had a change of plans after hearing Pat Kreitlow was going to be honored at Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner by the Chippewa County Democratic Party.
Obey rose to be one of the nation’s most powerful Democrats during his 41 years serving Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District.
He was invited by former New Hampshire governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu to speak Friday at an economic forum at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Museum in College Station, Texas. Obey, now a senior counsel for Gephardt Government Affairs, said he was always fond of the Republican president and was happy to go.
Then Al Holle called. The chairman of the Chippewa County Democratic Party said the party was going to honor Kreitlow during the dinner at the Heyde Center before he leaves the area he has called home since his school days at UW-Eau Claire in the 1980s.
“Although I’ll be a more virtual presence than a physical presence, my heart will always be here,” Kreitlow told the crowd at the Heyde Center Saturday.
He and his wife Sharry are leaving for an opportunity in the Cayman Islands. Kreitlow said they intend to return to Wisconsin, and is unsure if the time in the Caymans will be brief or a new chapter in their lives.
Kreitlow said that his family’s residence here will be converted into a second home. “But it’s still home,” he said. “That’s what counts most of all.”
A party stalwart
Holle wanted Obey to be a surprise guest at the ceremony honoring Kreitlow, who served as the 23rd District state senator from 2007-11 and was a candidate for Obey’s former U.S. House seat in 2012. He most recently worked as an aide for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
“I will miss him, because he was a first-rate public servant. And, as far as I’m concerned, a first-rate politician in the finest sense of that word,” Obey said of Kreitlow.
“He’s a kind of guy who’s always there,” Holle said, adding Kreitlow has worked tirelessly for progressive ideas in the Chippewa Valley and northern Wisconsin.
While he was a state senator, Kreitlow made every attempt to attend the Chippewa County Democratic Party’s monthly meetings. He kept the local party members up to date about what was happening in Madison.
“He was also cognizant about helping out the party. The thing is, he never forgot his roots,” Holle said.
He said the local party tried to figure out a way to honor Kreitlow and then remembered that he worked closely with Obey.
“I called Dave and asked him if he would ever do this,” Holle said. After checking his calendar, Obey worked out a way.
“If you can get somebody to pick me up at the airport on Saturday, I think I will be able to swing this,” Obey told Holle.
Obey said Kreitlow and his wife are dedicated to helping others. “It’s an example of the kind of people you cannot afford to lose,” Obey said. There are many good public servants, but they just aren’t in the majority, Obey said.
Obey said he’s known Kreitlow since Kreitlow worked for WEAU-TV from 1996-2005, including working as the station’s news anchor. Obey said he was impressed by Kreitlow’s professionalism and objectivity.
He said Kreitlow has a special insight into health care because Kreitlow’s wife is a physician.
“As Pat leaves, he can be proud of the fact he was on the right side, pushing for health care expansion,” Obey said.
Kreitlow said the timing was right for his family to take advantage of the new adventure, just as the timing was right for Kreitlow to become a public servant in 2005.
He knows there’s still a concern that members of the public don’t have the voice they used to.
“But that doesn’t mean you stop fighting,” Kreitlow said. “For me, that means just taking a break.”