In an area that's evenly split politically, there was a consensus of disdain about the national standoff Saturday among folks in Washington County.
Washington might be snarled in a debt deadlock, but the folks of Washington County were uncharacteristically unified on Saturday. Along the St. Croix River banks, Republicans and Democrats alike say they're fed up with the political stalemate grinding Congress toward a looming default deadline.
"It's just like the Bloods and Crips, it's very difficult to figure out who's got something to say anymore," said Jeff Hayes, an exasperated architect from May Township. He was among the shoppers lingering on the sidewalk in front of the General Store in Marine on St. Croix, grimacing over the latest lack of solutions from Washington.
From the cafes of Stillwater to the little farmer's market up in Marine, an area fairly split in recent elections shared a consensus of disdain on an otherwise lazy Saturday.
"You can be a Republican or a Democrat, but you should come into a debate really listening and looking out for the good for all and then you compromise sometimes," Anna Maakestad, a high school teacher from Marine, said while picking out cucumbers. "What is this saying to our young people? How do you end up training the leaders to come? It's sad, but I hope they do come to an agreement that benefits us all so our young people can see that."
A toss-up territory
Washington County, which hugs the St. Croix and the Wisconsin border and includes Hugo, Stillwater, Mahtomedi and Woodbury, is more or less a political toss-up. Republican Tom Emmer enjoyed an 8.7 percent margin over DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in last year's race.
Voters there split their presidential ballots in 2008 nearly in half. Part of the area lies in U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum's district, and she attracted 52 percent of the vote. The other part is in Rep. Michele Bachmann's district, and she picked up 48 percent of the vote there.
Despite that political history, folks seem more flummoxed than divided along party lines.
"Both sides just seem ridiculous," said Margaret LeClair, an insurance broker who took a boating break to walk Leo, her King Charles spaniel, down Stillwater's Main Street. "How they can continue to not get their job done is mind-boggling and disappointing."
She considers politicians' strong convictions a positive attribute, "but there's a fundamental job of getting government done. Everybody else, when we go to work, have that responsibility or it comes out of our own pocket."
A look at the political divide
Gene Hinz, a retired maintenance worker from Scandia, had just picked up his son, Tom, who had camped on a St. Croix sandbar with a friend. They stopped for breakfast at the River Oasis Cafe south of downtown Stillwater.
"I respect them for digging in their heels, at least on the conservative side," Hinz said, with a chuckle. "I'm definitely against raising taxes and want to get rid of all the government waste and balance the budget so we can live within our means."
He backs Bachmann, his congresswoman, and leans to the "Tea Partier side," but doesn't like House Speaker John Boehner's plan to extend the government's borrowing power into early 2012.
"They shouldn't be doing anything short-term," he said, with little optimism that accord will be reached before Tuesday's deadline to avoid a potential default. "It would be nice to get it settled, but we're so polarized. There's the right and the left and no more in between."
Back up the river in Marine, retired pipefitter Jim Rosenwald, 66, was picking out vegetables at the farmer's market, where something didn't smell right. And it wasn't the squash.
"I think these Republicans are just being obstructionists and, instead of doing everything they can to help move the country forward, they're doing whatever they can to stop President Obama from getting re-elected," he said. "They should have compromised a long time ago, but they're hoping to get egg on Obama's face. I think the tide will turn and they'll all get booted out in the next election."
His fiancée, Susie Armstrong, said if she were in Washington, D.C., instead Washington County, she'd carry a sign to the Capitol that reads: "'You're all fired.' The Constitution was built on compromise, right?" she asked.
Outside the General Store, Peter Curtis, another architect, worries "that the rest of the world has lost faith in United States government because it's completely dysfunctional."
And retired police dispatcher Gary Campbell, 73, just shrugged.
"I'm just sorry and feel so bad that our country has gotten to this point," he said. "I'm not even mentioning names or parties, but it's just disheartening that we can't balance our budget. If I don't do that every month, God help me, I'm in a sore lot with my wife."
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767