County Board District 26 covers much of northeast Middleton, wrapping around the northwest edge of Lake Mendota. The contest pits incumbent Mark Opitz against Adrian Augustine and appears to center on the commuter rail issue. Unlike other Dane County communities, Middleton will be directly affected by a line that would run from its downtown area through Madison to Sun Prairie.
What is the single most important issue for your particular Dane County Board district?
Adrian Augustine: Transportation - We need an enhanced bus system that works for Middleton with express routes to major employment centers. We need the North Mendota Parkway built now with the proper environmental protections implemented. Middleton residents should not have to face more congestion with a train that stops traffic 66 times to get to Sun Prairie. Dane County does not have the population to support the usage of an expensive train and the fares could never recoup the costs. We need public transportation that meets the needs of people.
Mark Optiz: Rapidly increasing traffic congestion is a big concern because of its impacts on public safety, air quality, economic development, and "family time". Clearly, this is a major quality of life issue for not just District 26, but the county as a whole. I have yet to meet anyone who wants Dane County residents and visitors to have to learn to endure the widespread traffic gridlock that so many other metropolitan areas already face due to urban sprawl and an over-reliance on the automobile. The number of people commuting into Dane County nearly doubled between 1990 and 2000, and the neighborhoods straddling the Century, University, Branch and Park/Gammon corridors bear the brunt of increased traffic. Through my work on several transportation-related committees (including the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board and the Metro Transit Long-Range Planning Committee), I am helping lead efforts to develop cost-effective transportation alternatives.
If Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk were to leave office, who would be her ideal successor?
Augustine: Dave Wiganowsky, he's a fiscally conservative Democrat with an engaging personality who can relate to blue collar workers and small business people.
Opitz: Dick Wagner or someone with similar experience, vision, temperament, and grasp of the issues facing every corner of Dane County.
Do you support a Dane County Regional Transit Authority, with its own taxing ability? Why do you think some communities oppose an RTA?
Augustine: While I do support regional transportation planning, I do not think that such an authority should have its own taxing ability. Taxing authority should remain in the hands of elected officials who are responsible to the people, rather than an unelected appointed board. I am in favor of expanding cost-effective bus service. Community opposition to the RTA emerged because citizens do not trust the County with money, especially if it is spent disproportionately on a train that serves the needs of downtown Madison. Middleton's negative experience with trains in the past serves as a warning that it would be a huge money loser.
Opitz: I support this idea in concept to address a variety of components of our transportation system, but clearly there needs to be a lot more regional discussion about how an RTA would be structured and funded. I have played a key role in committing county government to holding a referendum on the RTA and sales tax concepts. Community opposition surfaced primarily after the county executive and Madison mayor announced their two-party agreement on a proposed RTA funding allocation last summer. Though well intentioned, their proposal consequently was panned by critics who weren't involved in the process and who have subsequently made this a focus of several county board campaigns, including my opponent's. County government needs to redouble its efforts to collaborate with the county's various communities so that we can get back on track with addressing the significant transportation challenges facing our region.
Has the County Board become more or less relevant over time?
Augustine: I believe that in general the Board has become more relevant, especially in the delivery of basic services like health and human needs, emergency medical services and law enforcement. The board would be well served to focus more on those areas rather than interfering with various municipalities and passing resolutions concerning national and international politics.
Opitz: County government is the frontline for many programs and services, particularly in the human services and public safety arenas. It is the level of government to which the buck is often passed, and that trend is unlikely to change any time soon. The County Board's relevancy depends on how well it addresses key policy issues that affect our region. It is imperative that board members recognize that good ideas and initiatives can be found in large and small communities, in the public and private sectors, among staff as well as management of an organization. Collaboration leads to respect and trust, which maximizes effectiveness and relevancy.
Name the one quality you possess that is most essential to the job?
Augustine: Independence, I will not be a vote for downtown Madison or Progressive Dane interests. I will listen to the concerns of residents and be a vote for Middleton.
Opitz: I have a proven ability and desire to work with people regardless of affiliation to address the myriad issues facing Dane County and its communities. After more than a decade of service in local government, I recognize that no one person or political party has all the answers. I work hard to listen to all points of view before voting in the way I believe best serves the interest of the residents of District 26 and the county as a whole. I do not accept PAC money nor am I a formal member of any political party. The most recent campaign finance reports show that 87% of my campaign donors live within District 26 (the same stat for my opponent is only 7%). I am humbled to have earned the public support of more than 200 hundred Middleton residents from across the political spectrum.