As part of its coverage of the campaign for Dane County executive, Isthmus is asking candidates a series of questions about governance. Spencer Zimmerman did not respond.
Tell us about a time when you experienced a conflict (with either a person or institution) and how you dealt with it.
When I was first elected to the Assembly, I was told that as a member of the minority party it would be virtually impossible to pass any meaningful legislation due to the institutionalized conflict between the two parties. So when it was brought to my attention that survivors of sexual assault were routinely billed for the forensic exams that were performed on them in order to collect evidence, I worked behind the scenes with the Department of Justice, and victim advocates in order to find a solution to this unacceptable practice.
Together, we developed a process under which survivors of sexual assault would no longer be insulted by being billed for this important procedure, which is invaluable to efforts to bring perpetrators to justice. Once we found a solution, we drafted a budget amendment and asked a member of the majority party to introduce it. He did, and it passed.
Through this process, we were able to bring about positive change by working behind the scenes and not worrying about whose name would be on the proposal or who would receive credit for the work.
In the mid-1990s, Tommy Thompson and the Republican leadership were doing everything they could to dismantle our state's social safety net. Every member of the legislature was fully informed of the severe consequences these cuts would have on our most needy families. Thousands of single mothers working two or three part-time jobs to make ends meet, young kids who depended on free meals at school, families who needed help just to put food on the table -- they were the ones who would be hardest hit. But despite the known negative impact, these bills were fast-tracked due to their popularity amongst many legislators' constituents.
Personally, I didn't care how popular the W-2 bill was. Poor families would be crippled by the cuts, and they needed someone in their corner. So then-Senator Gwen Moore and I took a stand. And when they shut her microphone down, I picked mine up. We fought, stalled, and pleaded -- but it was a losing effort. In the end, 28 of 33 Senators voted for the bill.
Protecting vital human services must always be our top priority, and I stick by that vote. Sometimes we have to challenge what's popular because it's the right thing to do.
Just before Labor Day 2009, Mercury Marine's 850 machinists took a vote that one union member described as a choice between "amputating your legs or cutting off your head."
As the lead member of the state's negotiating team, I can attest to how challenging the conflict was -- for all involved. Fond du Lac County stood to lose as many as 5,900 jobs if the company left for Oklahoma.
It was not just a labor-management conflict; the entire community was involved. I built relationships with union, management and community leaders, learning what they wanted, what they absolutely needed, and what they could give up.
I focused not on the differences between the stakeholders -- of which there were many -- but on the common ground on which I knew all sides genuinely wanted: saving those jobs, creating new jobs and preserving a county's economy.
This type of conflict is, unfortunately, going to be more and more common in these tough economic times. Leadership requires a calm, logical and creative approach to help diffuse high-stress, high-stakes situations to achieve the ultimate goal. In this case, saving thousands of high-quality jobs and to bridge fractured relationships between parties whose economic prosperity is linked.
After the 2008 Brittany Zimmerman murder and the failure of the county executive and the administration to respond to the public demand for information, I felt compelled to pursue the truth. The first duty of government is public protection, and emergency dispatch/911 is a basic service for the public and for law enforcement. County Board Chairman Scott McDonnell orchestrated a public hearing that seemed to me to cover up the 911 Center's failings.
Sups. Jack Martz, Ronn Ferrell, and I organized another public hearing. It was through this public vetting that we learned about other problems the public experienced with the 911 Center, and how recommendations in a 2004 report calling for substantial improvements to the 911 Center had not been implemented.
To this day, there are people in this county like me, who think about Brittany and her family every day. My daughter is the same age as Brittany would be today. This tragic event is one of the reasons I am running for County Executive. The County has to get back to providing the basics so that people are safe in their homes and neighborhoods. A functional and responsive 911 Center is surely one of those core responsibilities.
Sheriff Hamblin approached me about solving jail overcrowding by building more beds. At that time, I told the Sheriff I would support additional floors if I knew everything else in the system was efficient and there were no cost or space savings to be found anywhere else.
I commissioned an audit of the criminal justice system, where we found hundreds of ways to make the system more efficient without letting anyone out early and without endangering the public. We simply made the system work smarter, while saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars now and into the future. It is my leadership that has brought jail occupancy from 1,200 to 800 in the last few years.