Supv. Eileen Bruskewitz thinks liberals on the Dane County Board are a bunch of hypocrites.
Case in point is how so many of them are up in arms about the state Legislature's approach to redistricting when, according to her, they've orchestrated a similar process at the county level.
"Everybody's got their undies in a bundle about how the Republicans did redistricting at the state to benefit themselves," Bruskewitz says. "The liberals on the county board did exactly the same thing. The hypocrisy is just too much."
Bruskewitz complains that, although more residents in Dane County live outside than inside of Madison (255,000 vs. 233,000), the majority of the supervisors on the board represent districts predominantly in the city. According to her, the county's new district map includes nine districts completely within the city, 17 completely outside the city, and another 11 that include sections of both. But the 11 districts that straddle the lines are mostly city-based.
A committee made up of supervisors and private individuals created the redistricting plan, and the county board adopted its recommendations earlier this summer.
"We should have more county supervisors than city supervisors," Bruskewitz says.
Bruskewitz introduced legislation last year that would have created a five-person panel of retired judges to do the redistricting process. It's similar, she says, to legislation state Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) introduced to the Legislature. But her proposal died in committee.
Bruskewitz's outrage is surprising to Supv. Dianne Hesselbein, who sat on the redistricting committee. "She never spoke up at all. She was at one meeting and never said anything," Hesselbein says. "I can only guess that her spoken outrage is to gain media attention."
Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, says he supported Bruskewitz's proposal. But, he adds, she has no business calling anybody a hypocrite.
"Her same critique of county redistricting should be her critique of the state redistricting, and she was able to bless that," McCabe says, noting that she testified in favor of the Republican state plan.
Other counties have done better - and worse - jobs of redistricting than Dane County, McCabe says. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign supports the Iowa model of redistricting, which turns the process over to an independent body.
"Both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, have abused the redistricting process in the past and continue to abuse it today," McCabe says. "But neither side is willing to step forward and change it."
Party for your right to fight RTAs
Conservatives in Dane County recently held a celebration to dance on the grave of the regional transit authority, which was killed as part of Gov. Scott Walker's budget. The RTA was created in 2009 to oversee the county's transportation planning, with the power to levy a half-cent sales tax to fund mass transit, including commuter rail.
Conservatives made a cause of defeating the RTA because they saw it as taxation without representation and a ruse for more restrictive land-use policies.
"Celebrate the repeal of the RTA and commuter rail!" said an invitation sent out by Bruskewitz.
The party, which was held July 20 at Rex's Innkeeper in Waunakee, was also a strategizing session. "The ink is barely dry on the RTA repeal and they want a new one," the invite noted. "The 'trainiacs' never give up and neither can we."
State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) does want to establish another RTA in Dane County. This time she's addressing conservatives' concerns by requiring any RTA plan get approval from voters - something Gov. Scott Walker has said he'd support.
Roys expects to introduce a bill in August, but she's not particularly hopeful it will pass: "The Republicans have shown a great deal of hostility not just to Dane County but to these cooperative ways of planning."
Though not completely opposed to regional planning, Bruskewitz remains skeptical: "These are taxing authorities that collect lots of money and find ways to spend it."
Let them drive cars
Rather than invest in costly public transit systems, Bruskewitz thinks a better idea is to help poor people buy cars.
"The best way to get a better job and increase income is to have an education and an automobile," Bruskewitz says.
Dane County plans to apply for a $20,000 to $30,0000 grant from the state's Department of Transportation to help start a program based on Wheels 'n Work, created by Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program. Wheels 'n Work gives low-income folks loans of up to $4,500 to buy a car, says Community Action's Jeff Segebrecht. It's a no-interest loan, though participants pay into a fund to help cover car repairs. The cars also come with alarms to remind people when to make their loan payments.
Started in 2001, the program has loaned $1.3 million to buy 352 cars. "I was doing welfare-to-work case management out in Dodgeville, where there's no mass transit at all," Segebrecht says. "You'd find people jobs but there's no way for them to get there."
The program has been successful, and not just at helping people get around. Last year, participants increased their income by about $4,200 a year.
Segebrecht notes that the program is popular among both liberals and conservatives. "I joke that the Democrats like it because you're helping people and the Republicans like it because you're making [the money] back."