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From Lee Rasch, Executive Director

Ethical Leadership and the American Democracy

“Our republic was built upon the core principles of democracy within a Constitutional framework. Are we losing touch with those core principles?"

We are growing further apart as a nation. Studies by Pew Research and others have shown a dramatic increase in the political divide. But it goes beyond politics. The data also indicate that there is a significant reduction in trust in basic institutions, such as media, business, health care, education and other areas (Gallup 2023). And we are seeing decreasing levels of confidence in the political judgement of fellow Americans as well (Pew Research 2023). The American democracy is a perilous place at this time. The reasons for these concerning patterns are many. But bringing people together and restoring trust cannot happen without the active leadership role of elected officials at all levels. Make no mistake. given where we are as a nation, we face a long journey ahead. However, we believe the place to start is to encourage and support elected leaders who embrace four key principles. 

Ethical leaders are truthful.

At a time when the significant majority of Americans do not believe elected officials are trustworthy, it is difficult for leaders to be truthful. Their motives may constantly be in question. Furthermore, political party pressure for loyalty can significantly stifle truthful candor. And the facts are often distorted via ads and social media. Finally, sadly, some elected leaders believe that truthfulness is not essential for political success. 

Ethical leaders recognize that truthfulness will not solve all problems...but it can serve as the foundation for all solutions. 

Ethical leaders embrace the importance of transparency with public information.

Just as it is a mistake for a leader to claim unwarranted credit for “good news”, it is also a mistake to withhold information when “the news is not so good”. It can be very damaging to the public trust when information is withheld. In addition, somewhat ironically, ethical leaders often take on their most important role when the times are tough...and transparency is needed most.

Transparency and trust go hand in hand, and must be earned over time.

Ethical leaders embrace practices that are unifying, rather than dividing.

This is a very challenging area. There are very powerful forces at play. Political party loyalty is determined to be the most significant variable in the growing political divide (Pew Research). Partisan Think Tanks are focusing on the development and promotion of sophisticated “divide and conquer” strategies. Special interests are investing heavily in the implementation of these strategies. And the expanded use of the internet and social media has dramatically fueled the fragmentation of political views. Yet the most serious issues we face simply cannot be addressed by a fragmented nation. Ethical leaders understand this and they are willing to stand up in the face of the powerful forces with the recognition that we should put our nation ahead of partisan loyalty. 

Ethical leaders are willing to represent the collective interests of their constituency

The American Democracy is founded on a core concept...elected leaders are determined by the numeric majority of those who vote in an election. Essentially, this means that in virtually every election, there are people who voted in the minority who are now represented by someone they did not support. Nonetheless, these citizens are constituents and they are entitled to have representation by their elected officials. Furthermore, some constituents (children, for example) are not eligible to vote. Elected officials who serve in an executive position should lead for the benefit of the whole. Elected officials who serve in a representative capacity should demonstrate an empathetic understanding of the needs of all constituencies.

Our People
Executive Board

Lee Rasch
Executive Director

Lee is the Executive Director of LeaderEthics-Wisconsin since March 2018. He served as President of Western Technical College from 1989 to 2017. Throughout his career, he has actively promoted leadership development, continuous improvement, economic development and sustainability at the national, statewide and local levels. He has written articles and given numerous presentations on these topics. Lee was Chair of the Legislative Committee for the Wisconsin Technical College System for more than 15 years. He was a candidate for the U.S. Congress in 1994 and 1996.

Rusty Cunningham


Rusty Cunningham is the highly respected and accomplished former Publisher at Lee Enterprises and Executive Editor of the La Crosse Tribune. In his distinguished career, he has more than 40 years experience in the newspaper industry, serving as a champion for integrity and community collaboration. 

Brandon Harris

Past President

Brandon works as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Dependable Solutions, an IT consulting firm in La Crosse, WI. Outside of work, he is a Past President of the Rotary Club of La Crosse-After Hours and Past President of the La Crosse area Rotary Works Foundation. He holds an MBA and an MS in Information Technology Management from Indiana University-Kelley School of Business and a BS in Information Systems from UW-La Crosse.

Catherine Kolkmeier
Vice President

Catherine Kolkmeier is currently the Executive Director of the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium and was former owner of Plain English Professional Writing Services. Her background is in the biological sciences and nonprofit management, and she was the Director of Development and Communications for Mississippi Valley Conservancy. She is past chair of the Family Policy Board in La Crosse and a member of the Rotary Club of La Crosse, where she co-chaired the Humanitarian Committee. In the community, she has served on multiple boards and was the Voter Services Chair for the League of Women Voters of the La Crosse Area. She is also a member and past chair of the Wisconsin Advocacy Committee of the American Heart Association-Midwest Affiliate in Madison. Catherine has lived in La Crosse since 2000.

John Smalley


John Smalley's career in journalism spans 39 years. He retired as Editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in 2020 after nearly 12 years in that role. In 2021-22, he has served as the interim media representative for the Wisconsin Elections Commission. He has long been a champion of engaging people to move the community forward.

Rick Kyte

Richard Kyte is the Endowed Professor of the D. B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin where he teaches a variety of ethics courses dealing with issues in business, leadership, and the environment. He received his undergraduate degree from Hamline University and his Ph.D. in philosophy from The Johns Hopkins University in 1994. Rick writes a regular column for the La Crosse Tribune titled “The Ethical Life.” His latest book, Ethical Business: Cultivating the Good in Organizational Culture, was published by Anselm Academic Press in 2016. He gives numerous presentations on ethics and leadership to organizations all over the country. Rick is a member of the First Presbyterian Church and the Downtown Rotary Club of La Crosse.

Joe Heim

Joe Heim is an emeritus professor of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, from 1985 to present. He has been active in a number of state and local organizations, and also an occasional guest political analyst on WKBT-TV, WIZM Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio. Many of his former students went on to successful careers as elected officials or public servants, representing the full political spectrum.

Jack Lawlis


Jack is a former intern at Leader Ethics-Wisconsin and holds B.A.’s in Political Science and Public Administration from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. At UW-L, he led a series of voter engagement efforts, registering over 1,200 students in an initiative that garnered national attention. He has conducted award-winning research on the voting habits of legislators in the Wisconsin State Legislature, and founded UW-La Crosse’s “Students for Ethical Leadership within Government;” a student-led affiliate of Leader Ethics-WI. He previously worked in legislative affairs for Minnesota’s Catholic bishops during the 91st Minnesota State Legislature, and now is studying law at Marquette University.

Brent Smith

Brent is a partner in the Law firm of Johns, Flaherty and Collins. He has served as chair of both the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, and the Wisconsin Technical College System State Board, serving both boards with distinction. He has served on numerous local boards and committees, notably the board for the La Crosse Center. he was a past chair for the La Crosse County Democratic Party.

Mike Huebsch

Mike is President of the Wisconsin Water Alliance since 2020. Prior to this role, he served as a Commissioner of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. Mike had a distinguished 20 year career of service with the State of Wisconsin. He was elected to the Assembly in January 1995. He became Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader before accepting the position of Secretary of the Department of Administration under Governor Scott Walker.

Judy Nagel

Judy retired from her position as a Financial Advisor at Wells Fargo. She serves on the Wisconsin statewide committee for American Promise, focusing on campaignn finance reform. She is active with the Green Bay Rotary Club, Vision Greater Green Bay and numerous other statewide and local organizations

Judges Panel

Tom Lister

Tom Lister served as judge on the Jackson County Circuit Court for sic years, retiring in 2014. During his tenure, He was instrumental in helping form the treatment courts for the county and Ho Chunk Nation. He also was instrumental in establishing the Welding Institute, where some treatment court participants are taught welding to support employment and industry demand.

David Peterson

David Peterson is retired Minnesota District Court Judge having served the state for 23 years as a full time Judge and two years as a Senior Judge. Peterson received a Bachelor of Science degree from Saint John's University and a J.D. degree from the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining the Bench Peterson practiced private law as well as serving as an Assistant County and eventually County Attorney for several years in Marshall Minnesota.

Dale Pasell

Dale served as a judge for the La Crosse County Circuit Court, Branch 5, in La Crosse County, Wisconsin from 1999 to 2014. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975, and his from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1978. He served as a public defender for the Wisconsin State Public Defender's Office from 1979 to 1999. In 2014, Dale was selected as Judge of the Year for the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates.

Program Officers

Sam Scinta

Sam Scinta is the publisher of Fulcrum Publishing, a leading independent book publisher. He received his JD from the University of Denver and worked as a public finance attorney, before joining Fulcrum as associate publisher; soon thereafter, he was named president and publisher. In 2015, Sam founded IM Education, Inc., a nonprofit focusing on education programming. He is a lecturer in the Servant Leadership Program at Viterbo University and the Political Science Department at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. In 2021, in partnership with Viterbo University’s Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership, Sam created Rebuilding American Civics, a program designed to provide civics education and discussion for community members. He currently serves on several boards in the Western Wisconsin region.

Ann Brice

Ann is passionate about ethical leadership. She is a successful small business owner and has extensive teaching experience in computer science at the college level. She has been instrumental in assisting in technical support for the virtual programs for LeaderEthics-Wisconsin.

Rusty Cunningham

Rusty Cunningham is the highly respected and accomplished former Publisher at Lee Enterprises and Executive Editor of the La Crosse Tribune. In his distinguished career, he has more than 40 years experience in the newspaper industry, serving as a champion for integrity and community collaboration.

Michael Durnin

Michael is consultant, speaker and seminar leader, Via Crucis Leadership. He was the former Dean of Student Formation at the University of Dubuque, actively involved in staff development and interpersonal skills development.


Chapters in La Crosse & Madison

Want to see a chapter near you?

Starting Your Own Chapter

LeaderEthics-Wisconsin members may decide to form a chapter. A minimum of ten members is required. These members may already be listed in another local chapter, or be listed as members-at-large. Typically, a new chapter is formed within a community or region, though it may be established at the statewide level.

Member of the proposed new chapter must submit an application letter to, addressed to the LeaderEthics-Wisconsin board containing the following information:

  • The name of the proposed chapter;
  • The community or region represented by the chapter;
  • A list of the names of the initial members in the chapter;
  • The names of the Chapter Officers: Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretary/Treasurer.
  • A written plan, describing how the chapter intends to meet the stated Chapter Purpose and Responsibilities; and
  • Signatures of the Chapter Officers.

Once the application is approved, the new Chapter should invite a representative of LeaderEthics-Wisconsin to meet with the officers and address the initial meeting.

Chapter Organization

  1. The local chapter should designate three officers.
  2. Chapter Chair – The Chapter Chair serves as the official representative of the chapter and is responsible for chairing Community Development and Candidate Development meetings. The Chapter President will be responsible for convening Chapter meetings, as well as planning/organization meetings, if needed.
  3. Chapter Vice-Chair – The Chapter Vice-Chair serves as the alternate senior representative for the chapter and is responsible for organizing the annual program for Community Development and Candidate Development activities. This includes securing speakers and presenters for these activities.
  4. Secretary/Treasurer – The Secretary/Treasurer will be responsible for maintaining financial records for the chapter and for external correspondence.
  5. Chapter Officers may organize the chapter to utilize additional members in chapter leadership roles.



A key focus of the local chapter is the development of candidates who actively support ethical leadership practices as a cornerstone to their candidacy. Next generation leaders are likely to be developed at the local level. The candidate for school board or city council may someday seek elected office at the set level. The chapter should provide information and technical support in candidate development on an ethical leadership platform. While chapters should develop a plan for Candidate Development at the local level, LeaderEthics-Wisconsin will provide assistance. The plan should include: a) a program to encourage new candidates to embrace LeaderEthics Principles, b) a format for dialog with experienced individuals, and c) the use of practical campaign tools (such as grassroots campaign development).


Local chapters should develop a plan for expanding community awareness. This plan should include developing programs with keynote speakers to discuss ethical leadership in practice. These speaker events may be virtual or face-to-face. They are an opportunity to invite guest attendees in order to expand awareness of LeaderEthics-Wisconsin. Furthermore, local chapters may embrace plans to engage with local editorial boards, the social media, and the community at-large. Local Chapters may opt to develop a local performance grading survey for local officials.

Chapters are encouraged to explore developing a Community information Coalition (CIC)...a collaborative effort between local media and community organizations. The CIC will develop virtual events designed to counter disinformation and misinformation within the local community.

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