Next spring could bring big changes to the Madison Common Council. At least five members are not seeking re-election, while another two, Santiago Rosas and Ken Golden, are apparently still undecided. Three more ' Tim Gruber, Robbie Webber and Larry Palm ' are considered vulnerable. All told, half of the 20-member council could be leaving.
'We could have 50% turnover,' says Ald. Paul Van Rooy, who has decided to retire after six years on the council. 'It's going to be a big change.'
And it's a change that could dramatically alter the council's political landscape. Two die-hard Progressive Dane members, Judy Olson and Brian Benford, are leaving. Marsha Rummel, head of the Marquette Neighborhood Association, is running for Olson's seat and will likely get PD's endorsement. (Candidates for the office have until Jan. 2 to file.)
But Benford's seat could become contentious. Neighborhood activist Mike Basford is running and doesn't plan to seek PD's support. 'I'm a Democrat who considers himself a small 'p' progressive,' he says. Observers also expect a more conservative candidate to run.
Ald. Zach Brandon adds that the seat now held by Progressive Dane stalwart Gruber 'could easily flip.' Gruber upset many of his constituents when he backed a proposed $25 million development of Midvale Plaza, which neighbors said was too large.
But also on their way out are some council members who often vote with Brandon to trim the city's budget, including Van Rooy, Noel Radomski and Cindy Thomas. 'Whoever replaces Noel will have the same fiscal responsibility,' predicts Brandon. And he thinks Progressive Dane will have trouble fielding candidates for all seats. 'The left of the council will be stretched thin trying to run so many campaigns.'
Brandon, by the way, insists he won't run for mayor or county executive, despite persistent rumors to the contrary. 'It hasn't even crossed my mind,' he says, before admitting that if Kathleen Falk had won her bid for attorney general, he would have given 'serious consideration' to a county exec run.
Santiago Rosas, one of the more conservative members, also may leave. His brother died recently. 'I've not had a chance to grieve for him in the last couple of months,' he says. Rosas was also arrested in August for allegedly violating his wife's restraining order; no charges were filed. Still, Rosas says he is 'leaning toward running,' adding, 'Without my work on the east side, a lot of things would not get done.'
Ken Golden, who many speculate will not return after nearly 18 years on the council, did not respond to a request for comment.
Finally, Ald. Paul Skidmore, who had been rumored to be leaving, says he is staying put for another term. But he understands why so many alders are leaving. 'This is really not an easy job,' he says. 'It just wears on you. It never goes away.'
Domestic bennies at risk?
A few weeks ago, Supv. Eileen Bruskewitz was one of five Dane County Board members who voted against a resolution opposing the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions. That's kind of ironic, since Bruskewitz herself has been in what she considers a domestic partnership with attorney Rick Petri for nearly 12 years.
But Bruskewitz says the new ban, which Wisconsin voters passed 59% to 41% last week, won't affect her relationship with Petri. 'People really need to understand that they can still protect their relationships through contracts,' she says, adding that granting someone medical power of attorney or leaving them assets in a will can be done easily. 'They have to take responsibility.'
Bruskewitz declines to say how she voted on the amendment, but doesn't think county employees need to worry about losing their domestic-partner benefits. 'Even if someone filed a lawsuit, I don't think they'd win,' she says. 'They can't stop the county from providing certain benefits that many private companies provide.'
But Kristi Gullen, Dane County's assistant corporation counsel, noted in a memo last December that shortly after Michigan passed a similar ban, the state's attorney general prohibited government entities from offering domestic partner benefits. That matter is now before Michigan's Supreme Court. 'Domestic partner benefits provided by taxpayer-supported entities,' wrote Gullen, 'are particularly vulnerable to such legal challenges.'
And indeed, on election night, a man named Paul Olson e-mailed the County Board and the Madison Common Council, ordering them to end the benefits 'in accordance with Wisconsin law.' Olson e-mailed again two days later, warning, '[Y]ou are subjecting your offices and taxpayer-funded operations to legal remedy.... [T]hank God for the citizens of Wisconsin for showing this obscene island of Dane County what the majority really thinks.'
To read Olsen's e-mails and Gullen's memo, see this story at TheDailyPage.com.
Consortia United, a coalition of human services agencies, is appealing to the business community for help.
'Funding for human services has been eroding for 20 years,' says Lynn Brady, the group's chair. 'There's been a real change in the priorities about federal dollars and where they go.'
But rather than just plead for more funding, Consortia United is holding a town hall meeting on Dec. 1 to discuss the issue. And the coalition is inviting businesses to take part, hoping to get ideas for how to make human services agencies more efficient.
'We have an influx of people needing services, diminishing resources and overworked staff,' says Brady. 'How do they deal with that situation in the business world?'
Brady says a half-dozen businesses have promised to send reps. But the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce wasn't aware of the event, says spokeswoman Freya Reeves, adding, 'Human services are not something that directly affects business.'
Brady disagrees. Without human services programs to help, she says, there's increased homelessness, crime, domestic violence and hospitalization, which in turn leads to higher health-care costs ' all of which affect business. 'We need to enlist their help in solving this problem,' she says.
The Dec. 1 meeting is at Cuna Mutual Group, starting at 8:30 a.m.
What's in a label?
You might have noticed something strange on last week's ballot. Peter Ellestad, who ran as an independent for Dane County's register of deeds, had this message printed under his name: 'Responsible Thoughtful Public Service.'
Huh? How come a candidate gets to print what sounds like a campaign message on the ballot?
'It's equivalent to a party ID,' explains Kyle Richmond, spokesman for the State Elections Board, which approved the message. State law allows independent candidates to include a message of up to five words.
Ellestad wasn't the only one on the ballot who took advantage of the space. Ben Glatzel, who ran against U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, had 'Wisconsin needs a conservative voice' under his name.
Candidates can't use another political party's name, but there are no other restrictions on what they can say. Even 'Jim Doyle is an idiot' is fair game, says Richmond, adding that no one has ever said that.
The ballot messages didn't do either independent candidate any good. Ellestad lost to Democrat Kristi Chlebowski, 80% to 19%. And Glatzel got just 1% of the vote against Kohl.