Experience: Dane County Clerk, 1996-2004; 48th Wisconsin State Assembly District, 2004-present; former drummer for Honor Among Thieves.
Joe Parisi's political career began in an unlikely way.
"When I was 17, I dropped out of high school, partly because I was rebellious and partly because I thought I knew everything," he says. But the life of freedom was not so sweet. He worked during the day for a tree nursery and at night for a restaurant, and found himself going nowhere fast.
Parisi credits government programs and government employees, of all things, for getting his life back on track. He got his GED through a tutoring center on State Street and was later mentored by a professor at Madison Area Technical College. He transferred to the UW-Madison, where he earned a degree in sociology.
"The initial step was all because these people were there for me when I wanted to turn my life around," Parisi says. "And today these opportunities are being threatened."
Parisi, elected to the state Legislature in 2004, says he's running for county executive to "make a difference in people's lives." He doesn't view government programs as a drain on taxpayers and society, but as a means to this end. And sometimes, he says, smart social spending can save taxpayers money.
He saw this firsthand as a member of the Assembly's criminal justice and corrections committee. "A third of the inmates are suffering from mental illness," he says. "It's not just a human problem, but a fiscal problem. If we were to address their issues up-front, we could be saving taxpayers tens of thousands a year per person."
To deal with the pending state cuts, Parisi says the county needs to encourage economic growth. He'd establish an office of economic development within the executive's office. But he believes simply growing the economy isn't enough: "We need to determine how we want to grow."
He envisions Dane County as "a Midwest hub for clean energy. I want to see solar panels on every house and wind turbines on farms. It's not only good for the environment, it's good for the economy. And it's a sector that fits perfectly with Dane County."
The county already has relevant resources, including the UW-Madison and Madison College, which is undertaking a "green jobs" expansion. And he points to Falk's initiatives on funding manure digesters and burning methane gas at landfills as "successes we can point to and say this is just the beginning."
Parisi, who also served for eight years as county clerk, says no other candidate is as familiar with both county and state government, making him uniquely qualified. He also gives himself points for being a nice guy.
"We need someone who can stand up passionately on issues but also work with people on both sides," he says. "You can take strong stands while having respectful relationships.... People disagree. That's why we have government. It's a way of working out our differences."