Experience: Elected to Dane County Board in 2000; registered nurse and owner and manager of rental properties.
There's one thing Eileen Bruskewitz would like to make perfectly clear: She is not now and never has been a member of the Republican Party.
Just as the labels "liberal" or "socialist" might spell political death in some parts of the country, Bruskewitz knows that "Republican" carries negative connotations in Dane County.
But she's a proud conservative, which she defines as someone reluctant to "waste other people's money." And she thinks that could give her the edge in a Dane County executive race that's crowded with liberals.
One of her rivals, former Madison Ald. Zach Brandon, notes that Dane County has seen this sort of match-up before: a liberal with broad Madison support running against a conservative with support from outside the city. "We've run that race five or six times," Brandon says. "The liberal wins every single time."
But Bruskewitz believes "the stars are aligned" for a conservative victory, not just in the primary but in the general election. For the first time, Dane County has more residents living outside Madison than in it. And she sees last fall's nonbinding referendums on commuter rail as a sign that the conservative tide is gaining force.
Moreover, Bruskewitz thinks even some people in liberal Madison are open to a conservative message in these tough economic times. "There are pockets in downtown Madison where you have a very strong progressive contingent - I'm not going to win there," she says. "But in other parts of the city and county, I might just have enough votes."
Bruskewitz is pushing an array of conservative ideas, many of which seem drawn from Gov. Scott Walker's playbook. She would ask county employees to pay more toward their health and retirement benefits, as is typical in the private workforce. "We can't allow some folks to do well in the economy while other people are not making it," she says.
Bruskewitz hopes to spur economic development by creating a more business-friendly government. "We've got to de-demonize business and profit," she says. "We have to have a different attitude and realize businesspeople are good people doing good things. And the hand of government has to not go so deeply into what people are doing."
To this end, Bruskewitz would completely overhaul the zoning code, which she thinks is too restrictive, and create an economic development corporation.
While Bruskewitz is not looking to make deep cuts to human services, she wants to streamline those services and make sure funded programs are getting desired results.
For example, she says the county currently contracts with two programs dealing with at-risk kids. One costs $1,000 per student, the other $3,000; both have the same success rate. By funding only the cheaper program, she says, "You can serve more kids, or you can save some money. Take your pick."
Indeed, she thinks the county should have embraced such approaches already, but says leaders like Falk and County Board Chair Scott McDonell were in a kind of denial: "Some of us saw this economic downturn coming several years ago, and there was no interest in cutting back."