Wisconsin State Journal
Conklin: Wisconsin's top cop is also top Mason
MON., SEP 24, 2007
J.B. Van Hollen is not only Wisconsin 's top cop.
He 's also Wisconsin 's top Mason.
Van Hollen 's official cop title is Attorney General. His official Masonic title is Most Worshipful Grand Master.
Having known Van Hollen while attending a small college together, I told him that even in his office at the Grand Lodge, the center of Freemasonry in Wisconsin, I can 't bring myself to call him Most Worshipful.
"We had four years of college together, " he said with a laugh. "I 'll let it go. "
While the sight of Van Hollen wearing the Mason 's elaborate apron and collar holding a gavel is not well known to many of his political constituents, it is clear the Wisconsin Masons are proud to have the sitting attorney general as their leader.
The Grand Masonic Center, in Dousman, has Van Hollen 's photo in Mason regalia displayed in frames, and on the cover of brochures and the Masonic newspaper sitting on coffee tables. Walking into the building, you can 't miss it.
There is an eight-year process of succession in becoming Grand Master (the highest position in the fraternity, as there is no national or international leader), although the candidate still needs to be elected as confirmation.
When it became Van Hollen 's turn this summer at the Annual Communication, he offered to step aside. As attorney general, he told them, his other elected job must come first -- as would his family. They chose him anyway.
And while the job is usually managerial, that is not his focus. "Because of my time constraints I try to use most of my Masonic time highlighting how being a Mason interacts with being a Christian and being attorney general and being a family man. "
While Van Hollen has generally received high marks as attorney general, like any political position, there has been criticism, especially during last year 's close, heated campaign. Since he took office in January, the loudest grumbling has been from fellow Republicans who say he 's been too kind to Gov. Jim Doyle and works too amicably with Democrats.
I wondered aloud if being a leader among Masonic brothers is his counter-balance, a source of support and an escape from the political realm.
Van Hollen agreed his "brothers in the Craft " help him, yet it 's clear he doesn 't view the roles as separate.
In terms of what drives him, it is very much connected. "I can be speaking in one day, giving a political speech to a group of Republicans, an AG 's governmental speech to another body and then giving a sermon at church and then giving a Masonic speech that evening and find that I can have fairly consistent themes in every presentation. "
Van Hollen joined the Masons 22 years ago, as soon as he turned 19, following in his father 's footsteps. He always knew he would and he met all the requirements -- you must be a male, a monotheist and join of your own free will. Masons never recruit -- one reason Van Hollen believes the group has an undeserved reputation for secrecy.
If you 've listened to his political speeches, he isn 't likely to mention Masonry, but its values -- an emphasis on morality and doing what is right -- stream through his message.
"We really stand for three significant categories, " Van Hollen said. "One is brotherly love, basically fraternity. One is morality -- honesty and being a good person. And the third one is charity. "
It 's natural to ask how, when he holds one of the state 's highest elected offices, he 's also able to head the Masons.
"You have to be willing to sacrifice personal time, " he said. "You won 't see me out there golfing much, at least for a year here. This is largely what I do with my ' time. "
But Van Hollen adds his life has actually slowed since his AG campaign.
"I can be Grand Master and attorney general and put my time into both of them and still have more time at home than I did during the campaign. "
He recalls a telling example of a rare night alone with his family during the 22-month campaign spent camping in the "Van Hollen RV. "
"We were sitting around the campfire and my daughter said, Dad, this is the best night of my whole life. ' I thought, We aren 't doing anything. ' It dawned on me that she was just young enough that she didn 't remember anything pre-campaign. So this was the first time she just remembered us just sitting around as a family. "
One reason close attention is paid to Van Hollen is that he 's discussed as a likely Republican candidate for governor. So I offered him the opportunity to announce his candidacy for 2010 in my column.
He responded: "If the time ever arrives, sure. "
Even in the heart of the Grand Masonic Center, Van Hollen can answer like a true politician.