We The People/Wisconsin: Economy -- Business owner favors political individuality over group identification
By Kay Nolan
Madison sales consultant Bret Gundlach belongs to two important demographics often mentioned by politicians and their campaigns these days: small-business owners and the middle class. Yet, he rejects the idea that there is a common description of either.
Gundlach, 44, considers himself an individual and not someone who can be lumped in with any particular group or ideology.
“I consider myself pretty fiscally conservative, but I’m socially moderate,” said Gundlach, who owns TransformPOS, a company that helps restaurants, clubs, bars and other hospitality businesses with point-of-sale and other high-tech solutions.
Gundlach was raised by a tradesman-turned-entrepreneur father and a mother whose nursing career included working with patients with mental illness. When political campaigns, analysts and others talk of how various issues resonate by gender, age or other groups, Gundlach understands why.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third installment of WisBusiness.com's part of the We the People/Wisconsin 2012 economy project. Members of the statewide media coalition will follow Gundlach and Wisconsin families throughout the year telling their stories and their views on the state and national economy.
The project involves Wisconsin media outlets based in Appleton, Chippewa Falls, Green Bay, La Crosse and Madison.
Now in its 20th year, We the People/Wisconsin provides a unique voice for citizens all across Wisconsin. WTP’s mission is to broaden residents’ participation in public life through citizen-based reporting, town meetings, candidate and issue forums. Since it began in 1992, WTP has sponsored more than 100 live televised forums, candidate debates, statewide conferences and town hall meetings.
3/31/12: Gundlach says he’s had to ‘buckle down’ due to rising gas prices
3/3/12: Intro: Meet Bret Gundlach
So Gundlach gets it. “There are voting blocs – it’s out there,” he says.
He just wishes more people would think for themselves and consider each issue’s merits individually instead of voting blindly with a certain ethnic, gender, age group or political party.
He blames what he calls “the bigs” for exaggerating the divisions among voters and for pushing certain agendas to an extreme.
“I look at all the ‘bigs’ – big business, big government, big labor, big all these things, and unfortunately, these are power brokers that are pushing things so far left and so far right and most of us live in the middle,” he said.
While Gundlach hesitates to support controls enacted on how much money donors can give to political causes, he complains “the money goes to the extreme types of positions and then they are diametrically opposed and there’s no middle ground -- but most of us live in that middle place and we just to get by and have a happy life.”
Gundlach dislikes references to the so-called “99 percent” and the “1 percent.”
“I think that they put these terms out there to try to put more strife in between people,” he said. “Really, I think 90 percent of us are stuck in the middle, and that’s really what we want, but the extremes are what’s pushing the agenda right now.”
Even for those who identify with a certain voting bloc, Gundlach calls a “group-think mentality” foolish and unrealistic.
For instance, he says the Tea Party movement started out as a fiscal conservative effort looking to address wasteful spending in government – a cause he agrees with. However, he said other right-wing positions have been adopted by the Tea Party.
“Now we’re pro-life and we’re anti-union and we’re all these other things,” he said. “There may be a lot of Tea Party people who believe that, but I’m not. I identify with the fiscal conservatism, but I’m pro-choice. I’m certainly not against unions; I think they have value, although I think they maybe have too much influence, too. I don’t want to see a welfare state, but we certainly need safeguards and things that are a safety net, too.”
One demographic Gundlach thinks should be left out of political discussion is religion.
“I think religion and politics should be separate. Too much is made of it,” said Gundlach, who doesn't practice any religion and can’t imagine basing his vote on a political candidate’s religion.
Gundlach thinks the media has contributed in some ways to polarization among voters because extreme viewpoints make better headlines.
“If two people got together of opposing views and did something great together, that doesn’t sell as well as, you know, somebody who went out and stated this very one-sided opinion,” he said.
But more important, Gundlach wishes political candidates would talk more about compromise. “I think that would be refreshing,” he said. “I think that’s what we all want.”