I checked out MAGNET's happy hour for Spring election candidates, including two candidates for the Court of Appeals and quite a few people running for the County Board.
Each candidate had two minutes to present him/herself in any way possible. Many chose to list their endorsements, while others talked about specific policy priorities. A few mentioned their opponents. Frankly, were I running I would have tried to find a way to combine all three techniques, which only a few of them did effectively.
The endorsements from big orgs the Dems, a union, etc. help establish your identity better than just about anything else you'll be able to say in two minutes. However, you still have to list some policy to show people you're not an empty suit. Finally, you should distinguish yourself from your opponent so people know there's something on the line.
Economic development and the county's budget were the most common themes in the candidates' speeches. Many complained of run-away spending and the resulting debt. Surprisingly, only one candidate, Greg Hull (Dist. 4) mentioned that the county's bond status was recently downgraded from Aaa to Aa. There were quite a few references to environmental issues and almost no mention of social issues, except that some candidates referenced their endorsement from FAIR Wisconsin (list of FAIR's endorsements).
I got the opportunity to talk with four candidates individually. The first was Greg Hull, a 22-year-old real estate agent who's challenging Bret Hulsey in the 4th district. Not only is Hull in my political science class, but I met his campaign manager in the only other poli sci course I've ever taken three years ago. Hull is a very sharp guy, and he seems genuinely optimistic about the race, although he certainly doesn't hesitate to remind you of his underdog status. He mentioned overspending by the county and a neglect of social services for the elderly, the poor and minority groups as his priorities for the County. When I asked him what he would cut, he responded that he doesn't have a specific answer but that the County should do an audit before it begins discussion on the issue.
Audits seem to be a recurring theme among candidates who advocate lower spending. Bill Clausius, running for the 19th district seat (Sun Prairie), also did not advocate specific cuts but said there should be an audit, and that the county should take a look at its programs to see what is and isn't working. An employee for the Department of Corrections, Clausius nevertheless says that adding more cops doesn't translate into better law enforcement, which he notes is one of his priorities. Clausius referred to himself as a fiscal conservative/social moderate, and said that the three percent cuts to elderly services were unacceptable and that the money needs to be restored.
I was interested to see what the Sun Prairie folks would say about an Regional Transit Authority. Clausius says he supports an elected RTA but not an appointed board that has taxing authority. In addition, he says he'll support whatever the people of Dane County support in a referendum (even if they support an appointed taxing authority).
The other Sun Prairie candidate I talked to, Gordon Shea (Dist 20), gave me an ambiguous response to RTA. He said his opponent, incumbent Duane Gau, was the only board member absent during the RTA vote. When I asked Shea if he supported the RTA, he again focused on his opponent, saying that Gau had been so negative on the RTA that it makes it look as if Sun Prairie is in "bad faith." I finally got him to say that he would probably support RTA, but that at the very least he would be present for a vote on the issue.
Finally there was Analiese Eicher, a candidate in the 5th district race. She's endorsed by the College Dems and the Dane Dems, which essentially makes her the Democratic candidate running against the Progressive Dane candidate, Michael Johnson. Eicher emphasized her commitment to the RTA, as well as to environmental issues, such as lake upkeep. When I asked her about shoreland zoning she was unable to give me specifics but emphasized the need to find balance between development and conservation. When I asked her what her top priority was on the Council, she said that the Rape Crisis Center needs better funding.
What Eicher chose to talk about differed from what her opponent, Michael Johnson, discussed with me several weeks ago. Johnson said his priority was getting $10 million for the affordable housing trust.
Eicher and Johnson will be having a debate this Monday, at 7 p.m., in room 1101 in the UW Humanities building
What do you think County candidates should be talking about?