WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -- Marathon County’s former administrator plans to run for county board, and Mort McBain will have an campaign advantage few people ever get. That advantage is a Federal Communications Commission rule that affects incumbent 19th District Supervisor Oliver Burrows. It’s the FCC’s equal time rule, requiring broadcasting companies to offer equal access to the airwaves to all candidates.
McBain has filed with the State Elections Board, and is circulating nomination papers, but has until Tuesday to turn them in. Once those documents are turned in, McBain can campaign as expected. Burrows will have to choose between his county board campaign or his radio duties. Burrows reluctantly decided late Friday, saying, “Shortly after two o’clock today, I submitted the form indicating that I am a non-candidate.”
Last election, Burrows was the only candidate, which meant the equal time rules didn’t apply. Burrows says he has discussed the issues with Sunrise Broadcasting owner Steve Resnick, and it was clear he would be immediately taken off the air if the campaign continued. “There is a possibility by Tuesday that one or more than one person could be in the race. If it were two people, there would be a primary, and as you know being in media, the FCC rules dictate equal time requirements that Sunrise Broadcasting was very cognizant of.” The FCC rule means if Burrows hosts his sports or religion show, then Sunrise Broadcasting would have to offer McBain the same amount of air time to talk about anything he wants, such as county board issues.
This is not the first time in recent history the FCC rules have influenced people’s career paths. Former WSAU morning host Pat Snyder left the airwaves late in the summer of 2012 during his campaign for State Assembly. He left his show after an FCC deadline, which led to several free commercials for his opponent Mandy Wright running on WSAU radio. Current Marathon County Board Supervisor Lee Peek is also a former morning host at WDEZ Radio, but he credits his wife for sparking his interest in county government. Peek didn’t run for the seat until after he had left radio.
Burrows has been a burr under the saddle for some leaders in county government. He has questioned several decisions and policies. Most notably, Burrows has challenged the county’s leadership over the ability to electronically record closed meeting sessions for his own use. That issue is being referred to a judge to see if Marathon County’s board policy against recording closed meetings is appropriate. Burrows argues the present rule doesn’t require any recording, which means there is no complete and accurate record of what took place in closed session.
During a meeting of the Marathon County Executive Committee, Supervisor Jim Rosenberg suggested waiting until the spring election to see if this issue still needs to be resolved. Burrows says he may be leaving, but the issue still needs to be resolved by a judge because the policy is flawed.
(Our interview with Oliver Burrows can be heard on our website, here.)