Assembly colleagues knew right away Dave Considine was different. It’s not every legislator who shaves his head bald, wears an earring and boasts an entire closet full of brightly colored Chuck Taylor shoes.
“I don’t think they knew what to make of me,” he said.
After three years in office, Considine is now considered unusual not for his appearance but for his approach. The Baraboo Democrat isn’t afraid to defy his party, or reach across the aisle and work with Republicans. Whether it’s legalizing community wine walks or allowing first responders to treat animals injured in mishaps or simplifying foreclosure laws, Considine has earned a reputation for championing common-sense legislation.
“I wish there were more legislators like that,” said Rep. Joel Kitchens, a Republican from Sturgeon Bay, “that were truly trying to get things done rather than playing games.”
Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, worked with Considine to pass a law that improved the process for selling foreclosed properties through sheriff’s sales. “I appreciate Rep. Considine’s willingness to work across the aisle and bring ideas from his constituents to enact good policy,” she said.
In an era of hyper-partisanship, Considine’s philosophy is unconventional. He believes good government starts with an earnest conversation. Considine said what constituents truly want is to be heard, even if he can’t tell them what they want to hear. They appreciate his time, and his candor.
“I think we ought to listen; we ought to talk,” Considine said. “Sometimes the frustration is you can’t help everybody.”
“I have come to know him as someone with compassion, wisdom about people, good listening skills, a calm presence and a good sense of humor,” said the Rev. Marianne Cotter, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Baraboo, where Considine sings with the praise band. “He understands people, and is sensitive to folks who may feel misunderstood.”
Considine learned early on that voting against the party ensures a rebuke from leadership. He also has learned that sometimes he must follow the will of constituents even when he personally thinks a bill — such as the one that authorized state funding for the Milwaukee Bucks’ new arena — would benefit the people of Wisconsin.
He prefers to work behind the scenes, rarely speaking on the floor unless he believes rural Wisconsin is being ignored. “I have a voice, and my voice needs to be heard,” he said.
Even for a seasoned Baraboo Theatre Guild performer, taking the microphone was intimidating at first. Considine said it took a while to feel confident among colleagues who had served for decades. “It has been a continual process of learning,” he said. “I believe that never stops, and if it does, we’re in trouble.”
Considine’s reticence has paid off. Because he picks his spots, he isn’t considered a blowhard. His reasonable outlook has won him respect among lawmakers from both parties.
“He’s certainly seen as someone who will look at everything that comes before him objectively,” Kitchens said. “He’s someone you can trust.”
“They know I’m not just going to point fingers at them,” Considine said. “I think they’re legitimately interested in my viewpoint.”
With the GOP controlling both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, working with Republicans is the only way to get things done. Considine “plants seeds” by pitching bills to Republican colleagues, figuring the majority party’s stamp of approval will help them pass.
“You look for small victories,” he said. “You look for moving the needle one point, rather than 10 or 15 points.”
Heading the Baraboo Education Association pushed Considine into politics, as Gov. Scott Walker championed legislation that essentially stripped unions representing teachers and other public-sector workers of any significant power.
As a former special education teacher, goat farmer and community volunteer, Considine brought a broad base of experience to the Capitol upon being elected in 2014. The 65-year-old serves on the Agriculture, Corrections, Education, Tourism and Mental Health committees.
Considine said he’ll run for a third term representing the 81st District this fall. He originally planned to step down after three terms, but is considering a fourth because he wants to be around to ensure redistricting is done fairly after the 2020 Census. The last time around, Democrats sued the GOP for gerrymandering, a suit that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
He hopes constituents appreciate having a representative who listens and considers all perspectives while maintaining his principles. “I stick to who I am and what I am and what I believe,” he said.
In a time and place where partisan politics reign, Considine maintains Republican colleagues have the state’s best interests at heart. The parties just disagree on priorities. Considine enters the final year of his second term concerned about rolling back protections for state wetlands. He also wants to see the Legislature restructure the way it finances education, and to find money to fix roads.
“I don’t like the fact we aren’t listening to citizens, at least not as much as I’d like to,” he said. “I don’t think our priorities are what the people of Wisconsin want them to be.”
He vows to continue working behind the scenes to change that, difficult though it is for a guy in colorful Chuck Taylors to keep a low profile at the Capitol. “Even if you want to work together, you have to stick to your principles,” he said.