Liberals have a solid majority on the Dane County Board, but that hasn't stopped conservatives from zeroing in on a few key races - and a few key issues - in the April 1 election. In all, 17 of the 37 board seats are contested.
"This time around there's a pretty stark contrast between candidates," says Supv. Eileen Bruskewitz, who is herself unopposed. "People have a real choice, which is great."
Bruskewitz says voters are upset by County Executive Kathleen Falk's proposal for commuter rail and a Regional Transit Authority with its own taxing ability.
"There are a lot of people in Madison who don't want to be taxed for the train," she says. The issue has cropped up in most Madison races, including Supv. Al Matano vs. Steve Ingham in Dist. 11 on the west side, a planned rail stop. "It's kind of a hot issue."
County Board Chair Scott McDonell says conservatives are trying to use commuter rail as a wedge issue. "I don't know that it's resonating," he reports. "I'm not hearing a lot about it on the campaign trail."
McDonell, who faces a challenge in his downtown district from J.P. Heyn, a local sales manager, faults conservatives for not dealing with the county's traffic congestion. "They don't have a good alternative," he says. "They don't have a vision other than roads."
The other issue driving this spring's election, says Bruskewitz, is public safety: "Everyone I talk to, it doesn't matter where they live, is really concerned about how safe their neighborhoods are."
Dave Glomp decided to run against Supv. Matt Veldran on Madison's southwest side after a neighborhood meeting on crime last fall drew about 800 residents. He criticizes Veldran for voting against hiring 12 more sheriff's deputies last year.
"We felt in our neighborhood that we were being shortchanged for police protection," says Glomp. "Officers assigned to our neighborhoods are being siphoned off to Allied Drive."
Veldran counters that even Sheriff David Mahoney did not support hiring new deputies. And he notes that the cities of Madison and Fitchburg, not the county, are responsible for providing neighborhood police protection.
The county, says Veldran, can help the neighborhood by supporting programs that address poverty and crime. He cites the county's recent expansion of its early childhood initiative into the neighborhood: "Part of the answer is to get at the root of the problem."
But the race has turned ugly. McDonell accuses Glomp of sending out a "Willie Horton leaflet" attacking Veldran for supporting electronic monitoring of inmates to help reduce jail overcrowding. The mailing tells about Britney Langlois, who cut off her electronic bracelet in 2001, spent five years on the run from the police, then shot a man to death in a Madison robbery.
McDonell says Langlois was from another county, and that Dane will do a better job screening those placed on electronic monitoring. "It's got a real partisan edge to it," he says of Glomp's mailing. "I don't think that plays well over there."
But Glomp insists, "I'm not really trying to scare people. I'm trying to raise awareness. There's a serious concern here."
Say 'inappropriate use of resources' or just 'cheese'
Conservatives are crying foul over photos Sheriff Dave Mahoney has taken with several liberal candidates outside his office in the Public Safety Building. In some of the pictures, Mahoney is wearing his uniform.
"It was unethical," says Bruskewitz, who believes the Sheriff's Office should not be used for political purposes. "It may not be illegal, but it's tacky."
Mahoney says he just happened to be wearing his uniform on the day photos were taken for Veldran and Lisa Subeck, a candidate in Dist. 15 on Madison's far west side. "In some of the photos with the candidates I support, I was in a suit."
And the hallway outside his office is a public area, so he's allowed to take pictures. "It doesn't violate any regulations."
Brusekwitz is not placated. "There was no doubt about the message he was trying to send with the picture: 'I'm the sheriff.' To use his office in that way is an inappropriate use of county resources."
A recent study by the Wisconsin Women's Council found the number of women holding local elected office in Wisconsin declined from 2005 to 2007. Statewide, women make up only 18% of County Board members.
But the April 1 election could significantly improve representation of women on the Dane County Board. Currently, just eight of the board's 37 members are women, or about 22%. The board will likely add at least two more: Robin Schmidt is unopposed for the seat currently held by Dale Suslick in Dist. 24 in Monona, and both candidates in Dist. 14 on Madison's southwest side are female.
In addition, four women are running against men in other districts. If all of the women candidates win, the board total would rise to 14 - or 38%.
Spokesman Carlson faced discipline
Dane County's Human Services Department has had a rough year. First came allegations of sexual abuse at a group foster home ("Predators at Work," 1/19/07). Then last summer, a six-week-old infant was murdered by her abusive mother, after a county social worker sent the child back home. The state Department of Health and Family Services recently faulted the county for giving the child back.
Even the world's best spokesman might have trouble spinning such stories in a positive light. Which is why some have raised questions about the departure of David Carlson, the department's communications manager.
Carlson abruptly resigned from his post on Jan. 18, after eight years with the county. He left so quickly he didn't even take his personal belongings from his office.
Lynn Green, head of Human Services, says Carlson left for personal reasons: "He resigned - that's all I can say."
But an open records request by Isthmus hints at another reason for Carlson's departure. Green sent Carlson a letter in January requesting a "pre-disciplinary meeting regarding issues with performance and Internet use."
Within days, Carlson was gone.
Green won't comment further. She says it's typical that when managers leave, "we don't make a big deal. We've never done an announcement."
Five years and counting
It's been five years since the U.S. invaded Iraq. Nearly 4,000 American servicemen have been killed in the war, including - with the death of a 24-year-old Waukesha airman this week - 86 Wisconsin soldiers.
Miles Kristan, a photography major at MATC, is working with several area peace groups to mark the war's anniversary with five days of protest. Starting this Saturday, March 15, there will be daily rallies at the Capitol at 11 a.m. Kristan also promises acts of "civil disobedience" on some days and a party for anti-war vets on Sunday. (For more information, call 575-7683.)
Kristan says the public shouldn't rely on this year's presidential election to end the war. "Back in 2006, a lot of people looked at the elections as a way to bring home the troops," he says. But the Democratic takeover of Congress hasn't changed anything. "It's necessary for people to speak up and not expect the politicians to speak for them."