Wisconsin state Rep. Roger Rivard might have genuinely had no idea the Internet would explode after his "some girls rape easy" views, which would make him unique among your typical political troll. Usually, when a state legislator rockets from obscurity to national infamy, it is not an accident, an unexpected phenomenon resulting from the right people seeing the right Tweet + link combo from the right twitterer. Usually, state legislator infamy is the result of a long and extended campaign to get people's attention by saying inflammatory things—you might remember Bob Morris, the Indiana state representative who got famous in February for saying Girl Scouts were "feminists, lesbians, or Communists." But Rivard appears to be a truly involuntary meme. Despite his longtime role in Wisconsin civic organizations, Rivard has thrown only two bombs, and he seemed to have been clueless he was doing so.
Best bombs thrown: Most of Rivard's record of public statements contains your typical "get spending under control" talking points. Rivard got a little carried away at a September rally, saying:
“You put money in the hands of a bureaucrat or a politician, they’re going to piss it away... They’re like cocaine addicts. You hand a little snort of cocaine to a cocaine addict, what are they going to do with it? They’re going to snort it.”
When the Associated Press asked Rivard about it, he backtracked a little, saying the whole cocaine thing was "probably an exaggeration."
On March 6, 2011, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram's Eric Lindquist reported that some state legislators were going to the capitol in Madison wearing regular clothes so pro-union protesters wouldn't know they were politicians. They changed into their suits once they got inside. But not Rivard, who, despite keeping his cool, clearly got caught up in the emotion of the moment, because he compared the protesters to terrorists.
"I'm not going to be intimidated," Rivard said. "It's just like with terrorists. If they change the way I do business, then they've won. I won't change anything."
Background: Aside from that, there is little trace of Rivard in the Lexis Nexis archives before he ran for the state legislature in 2010. That's surprising, because Rivard says he was a member of several of his hometown organizations: the Rice Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Rice Lake Fire Department, and the local Knights of Columbus. Again he's not like Indiana's Bob Morris, who desperately tried to get the media's attention long before he ran for office by taking a horse and buggy to work. Before his political career kicked off, Rivard's name doesn't show up even in his local paper, the Rice Lake Chronotype, except for a September 2009 story about getting the Outstanding Chamber Member award from the local Chamber of Commerce. That's despite his crediting his September 2010 victory in the Republican primary to name recognition. He's a realtor—maybe he meant his name is on signs everywhere.
Strange local fights: The only other mini-scandal involving Rivard is a curious series of letters to the editor posted by the Chronotype debating an incident at the Haugen Fun Days Parade. It has taken me a bit to piece together what happened, because the Chronotype does not seem to be following a "digital first" strategy and does not link to things ever. It also is a small look at how local politics are always the weirdest.
But here's what happened. On August 15, a man named Larry Mazel wrote a letter to the Chronotype, which the paper titled "Appalled by words of campaigner." Mazel said he was at the Fun Days Parade when a campaigner for Mazel approached him. Mazel said they were "the wrong party for me." The campaigner allegedly responded, "You're not going to vote for that n---er are you?" and walked away. Mazel said, "You know who you are and you know what you said to me.... Shame on you!"
On August 22, Rivard responded with his own letter, titled, "Incident disturbing if true, says Rivard." Rivard wrote:
Many people, myself included, were very disturbed by Mr. Mazel's letter to the editor last week. I, like others, were trying to figure out if Mr. Mazel was trying to right a wrong or to make political points. Why was this in the paper and not handled privately? The "perpetrator" was never mentioned in the letter and Mr. Mazel refused to give me the name when I called him.
Rivard said he was sorry if it did happen, but prayed it had not. Here he betrays the real befuddlement you would expect from a political n00b. On August 29, Mazel responded with "All colors deserve best representation," saying:
It was a member of your team who made the racial slur about our president. I told you when you called there were not many people working for you there so you should question them and identify the guilty party then call me back.
You laughed at me, never offering me an apology. I gave you the name of someone else who was there and you quickly hung up on me. Monday night, Aug. 20, an individual called you confirming what was said and who said it.
The incident appears to have calmed down, as the last word on the parade crisis was the contextless letter on September 5, Susan Hansen, who wrote that "my name has been dragged through the mud by James Miller's false accusations" and that she had no connection to "Mr. Mazel, the Haugen parade, or Mr. Rivard's response to the Mazel letter to editor, until Thursday, Aug. 23 at the Obama Campaign Tour."
So that's the case of Rivard. His stupid rape comments are part of a long record of being totally clueless about how to deal with issues that people feel strongly about and that elicit intense responses. He's wrong about rape, but it seems he wasn't wrong on purpose.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.