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Happy Thanksgiving and Pura Vida

Kirk Bangstad

So its Wednesday, November 25—the day before Thanksgiving and 22 days after the election in which Wisconsin did its part, just barely, to help save democracy in the U.S.

I’m currently sitting on a balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica, where they’ve averaged 1,086 daily cases of Covid over the last week, with 21 cases per every 100,000 people in the country.  

Compare that to Wisconsin, which has averaged 6,327 daily cases in the last week with 109 cases per 100,000 people in the state

I think I’m in the right place.  

I decided I wasn’t going to become a victim to Wisconsin’s abject public health failure caused by a relentless far-right Covid misinformation campaign and senseless Republican legislative obstruction to Covid public safety policy, so I flew to Costa Rica.  

I guess that makes me a pandemic refugee.  

Although I feel completely justified in finding a safer place to avoid Covid, I do feel terrible for those who don’t have the means nor job flexibility to escape to safer climes.  If you’re stuck in Wisconsin right now, it’s not your fault that our government has put you in harm’s way.  You shouldn’t have to be a victim either. Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if you were able to log all the instances where you made the “right choice” to wear your mask or avoid that crowded bar, and rack up enough “Covid miles” to freely transport you and your family to a safer place as well? 

So while somewhat guiltily feeling both warm and safe, I’m currently reflecting on my political campaign and the events that have transpired since the election.

I lost my Assembly race by a pretty solid margin. It was the most likely outcome, but upon reflection, there were a few things I would have changed about how I ran the campaign.

First, I think if I do this again, I’ll make sure someone takes my phone away after every Facebook post so I can’t get involved in the melee of FB commenting.  I’m a pretty combative person who will defend myself aggressively, but in doing so, I too often went down the rathole of senseless arguing, and many of those fighting words were too heated, too juvenile, or were taken out of context and used against me.

Apart from the Facebook war of words, I think many of my supporters as well as detractors would tell me that I turned off a number of voters in the way I attacked my opponent, Rob Swearingen.  I would understand those critiques, but in retrospect, I don’t think I would change my approach.

Rob Swearingen proved to embody every harsh name I called him.  Let’s remember his “greatest hits”:

-He didn’t enforce mask-wearing in his restaurant, which may have led to the Covid death of the husband of one of his employees.  

-He never once used his elected bully pulpit to encourage Covid safety among his constituents and the local businesses in his district.

-He supported suing Evers to overturn “Safer-At-Home,” mask mandates, and safety limits on seating in restaurants/bars, which has led to our state’s undoing and unnecessary deaths.

-His support of gerrymandering and his silence on Trump’s/Vos’ attempts to disenfranchise large swaths of Wisconsin voters is sickening.

In short, this dude is simply a terrible public official. 

It’s weird--although I lost to Rob Swearingen, I still feel like I am running against him because I can’t accept the political sickness in Wisconsin that he currently embodies.  We’re a state led by a minority party because they’ve corrupted our democracy, and I can’t be at peace with that—unless of course I let go of Wisconsin altogether.

I love this state, but I have to say that the last few weeks in Costa Rica have reminded me that there are other pockets of America where political sanity is much more commonplace.

I’m currently taking surfing lessons (you can socially distance while surfing) and have been spending time with other novice surfers from California and New York.  Conversation eventually leads to politics, and inevitably these folks from either coast just shake their heads when I tell them that there are still people in my town who refuse to wear masks in public, still bars that are packed even though there isn’t a free ICU bed to be found statewide, and still a legislature that hasn’t met to deal with Covid since last April. 

Most of you know that I’ve leased the Minocqua Brewing Company building to the awesome Oakfire Pizza outfit out of Lake Geneva, so my need to physically be in Minocqua has decreased.  My brewer Rich is ably handling the day-to-day operations of MBC, which enables me to travel and analyze my life through overly-long blog posts:)  It also seemingly enables rumors to spread about the nefarious things I’m up to.  Here are a few I’ve heard recently:

-I’m bankrupt (shhh, don’t tell that to the guy behind the counter at my hotel, I haven’t paid my bill yet).

-I’ve used money raised to serve lunch to essential workers through my #custmomerx fundraiser to pay for my own health insurance (seemingly if I were gonna steal money I could think of a MUCH more fun way spend it).

-I got a PPP loan through the CARES act but somehow miraculously figured out a way to not pay my employees with it. (It’s pretty hard to fudge payroll numbers, given that a paper trail exists through each employee and the IRS).

-I underpaid, overworked, tricked, and basically did every other bad thing you can think of to my past employees.  (Ok, maybe that’s the truth…just kidding!).

So yes, in light of Wisconsin being politically bankrupt and my adopted hometown of Minocqua being so small and conservative that the rumor mill tells me new nasty things about myself daily, it has occurred to me that the Northwoods may not be my final life destination.

But I do love it.  I love the community of friends and like-minded folks I’ve met there throughout the last 7 years.  And I love running on the Bearskin Trail and skiing at Winter Park.  

And I love watching Feed The Dog play in the Divano Lounge, and I love singing on that stage to my friends.

And I love fairness and decency, and my gut tells me that the Northwoods is where I need to be to help bring more of that about.

And I’m selling Biden Beer and Biden Beer T-shirts, which is fun as hell.

So in Minocqua, my small little adopted touristy hometown, I’m reminded that there’s a lot to be thankful for—especially in the summer;)

Hopefully, on this most strange Thanksgiving holiday, you’re focusing on what to be thankful for as well—your community, your health, and your extended family who you can toast through a Zoom call tomorrow.

And since you won’t have as much food to buy, I’d suggest you splurge on some great craft beer or nice California Cabernet!

Happy Thanksgiving and Pura Vida,


Written by Kirk Bangstad on 11/25/20

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