Wiganowsky: More liberals are not needed on board. Schauer: Vote 'for someone with new ideas.'
Wars of words have begun in the seven competitive races for the Dane County Board of Supervisors, as candidates set themselves apart from their opponents in the lead-up to Election Day on April 1.
Non-incumbent candidates in two other races are running unopposed, and four incumbents are stepping down. Supervisors Dianne Hesselbein, Melissa Agard Sargent, Kurt Schlicht and Erika Hotchkiss filed non-candidacy papers in December.
Among the slew of perennial issues facing the board, the next class of supervisors will grapple with several dynamic issues, ones with far-reaching implications. Up in the air are whether to build a new jail, where to build a $600,000 day shelter for the homeless and how to reel in the county's $250 million in debt.
To the chagrin of conservatives, these decisions will land squarely in the hands of the board's liberal wing, whose current super-majority could grow by six more seats.
Of all nine races, District 21 is perhaps the most closely watched, as labor attorney Andy Schauer launches an energetic challenge to David Wiganowsky, the board's 10-term conservative stalwart.
Barring a successful write-in candidate, Paul Nelson, running unopposed, will replace Hesselbein in the District 9 seat. Michele Ritt, also running unopposed, will replace Sargent in the District 18 seat.
Both Hesselbein and Sargent were elected to the state Assembly in 2012. Like their predecessors, Nelson and Ritt are left of center politically.
Below are overviews of the seven competitive races, what issues the candidates feel should be board priorities, why they believe they're the one for the job, and what distinguishes them from their opponent.
Pan won the seat in April 2012 with 55% of the vote, according to county voting records. He is an advocate for student workers' rights, while Hoffman is a former chair of the College Democrats.
Hoffman says Pan has failed to engage constituents in the county's political process.
"We need an active voice across the campus," he says. "We haven't seen much of that in the last two years."
Pan disagrees, saying he has a track record of mobilizing students, most notably during the Act 10 protests in early 2010.
"I brought a lot of students to the Capitol," he says.
Although both are left of center politically, Pan is arguably the more progressive of the two, with his overarching goal as supervisor "to stand up to the regressive state government."
For both, environmental and land-use issues rank as high priorities. If reelected, Pan says he will continue his push to end racial disparities in the county's criminal justice system, while Hoffman says he'd like to nurture a more collaborative relationship between the board's liberal and conservative supervisors.
Political newcomer Andy Schauer is eyeing the District 21 seat held for 10 terms by David Wiganowsky, perhaps the board's most vociferous member.
District 21 covers a large swath of Madison's northeast side and includes the town of Burke and parts of Sun Prairie.
Schauer, 37, an attorney representing the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, says district residents have not benefited from Wiganowsky's tenure.
"The people of this district will benefit greatly from voting for someone with new ideas... and who believes government can actually help people," he says. "My opponent has been on the board for 20 years, but I can't figure out a single thing he has accomplished."
Wiganowsky, 54, declined to say what he has accomplished while on the board.
"I'll let you figure that out," he says.
He did say, however, that voters should think twice before handing liberals an even larger majority. Currently, he says, conservatives are outnumbered 28 to 9.
"But when it comes to brain power, we're pretty even," says Wiganowsky, a tavern owner and self-avowed pragmatist.
He says his liberal cohorts talk much but do little.
"They talk and talk about cleaning the lakes," he says, "but we sure as hell ain't cleaning up the lakes. They're blowing money on parks instead of infrastructure."
Schauer says he doesn't fixate on party lines.
"It isn't about being conservative or progressive; it's about doing what's right for Dane County," he says.
According to the candidates seeking the District 22 seat, which includes the village of DeForest, voters want a supervisor with experience or one who is accountable.
Of course, it depends on which one you ask.
"I've been a taxpayer in DeForest for 34 years," says Maureen McCarville, a two-term incumbent. "My opponent lives with his mother and father, so he is not a taxpayer. I'm not sure he's even been to a government meeting."
While McCarville, 55, touts her 23-year-old opponent's political inexperience, he blasts what he sees as McCarville's laissez-faire approach to the county's $250 million debt, which accrues an estimated $110,000 in interest daily.
Wichmann also promises to rein in what he sees as the board's regulatory overreach when it comes to "job-killing [environmental] initiatives," while McCarville says protecting the county's natural resources is among her chief concerns.
McCarville won a three-way primary Feb. 18 with 54.9% of the vote, while Wichmann came in second with 30%.
Both candidates for the District 27 seat say their current positions as Fitchburg city council members have prepared them for a spot on the County Board.
"The biggest difference between us is the collaboration I've done in the past on policy issues," says Stern, an employee of Tri-North Builders since 2003.
He says that in Fitchburg's most recent budget, collaboration helped him secure seed money to organize a community event. A self-described policy wonk, he says Fitchburg deserves stronger leadership on the board.
Krause disagrees. She says her achievements on the board speak for themselves. More importantly, she says, residents elected her to the board in 2012 because of her outreach work.
"I got elected because I've been working in the community," she says. "He got elected for his ability to move along the developer's agenda."
Krause, 57, cites last year's approval of a $600,000 day center for the homeless as among the board's signature accomplishments.
Stern says if elected, he would help resolve ongoing issues within the 911 Center, advance the county's watershed cleanup, and give Fitchburg a greater voice on the board.
Suggesting her opponent isn't the great collaborator he claims to be, Krause says she will always try to find the middle ground on issues, working with conservatives.
"I don't do state Capitol-style politics on the board," she says. "I know how to work with everyone."
Two candidates are vying for the open District 28 seat being vacated by conservative board member Kurt Schlicht.
Wuest, 34, won the three-way primary Feb. 18, with 55.6% of the vote. Osborne, 45, came in second with 36%.
An assistant attorney general with the state Department of Justice, Wuest says maintaining local control over zoning issues will be among her priorities if elected.
"Communities need the ability to regulate these operations in a way that protects health, safety and the environment," she says.
Osborne wants to reverse what he sees as the board's "lack of transparency," referring to its 2012 attempt to pass a wheel tax, an annual vehicle registration fee on top of what the state already collects.
"It was introduced and voted on in a 24-hour period," he says. "It was a very sneaky attempt to pass a new tax."
Osborne says he is a moderate conservative and the more sensible candidate.
"My opponent makes no bones about being a liberal progressive," he says. "Being a leader is not as simple as going to the podium to speak out against global warming. It's important that all points of view are represented on the board."
Wuest says she will do what is best for constituents.
"While we both believe in fiscal responsibility, I believe that investments in things like education, human services and infrastructure are critical to the long-term economic health of the district," she says.
Business owner Jerry O'Brien, 49, hopes to oust four-term incumbent Patrick Downing from the District 30 seat, claiming, "There are too many supervisors having a dollar's worth of fun with a quarter's worth of authority."
District 30 includes the village of Mount Horeb and the towns of Primrose, Perry, Vermont and Springdale.
Downing, a 64-year-old piano tuner and technician, didn't have much to say about his opponent. Both men oppose a bill pending in the Legislature that would curb counties' authority to regulate nonmetallic mining, such as oil fracking.
Late last year, the board approved a resolution Downing introduced prohibiting oil fracking in Dane County.
"I'm a firm believer in local control," says Downing, who lives in the town of Perry and is its former board chair.
Although O'Brien, a town of Montrose resident, agrees local control is paramount when it comes to zoning, he also says the board needs more conservative voices.
"We need to take care of core services before we take care of bike paths and parks," says O'Brien, who lost to Downing in 2012. "The board doesn't have good spending priorities right now."
Mike Willett wants back the District 32 seat he lost to outgoing supervisor Erika Hotchkiss in 2012, a defeat he blames on state politics.
"It was all about [Scott] Walker that year," he says. "It's all anyone could talk about."
With Hotchkiss stepping down, Willett will face off against Pat McPartland, a retired special education teacher who says Willett's fiscal hawkishness is wrong for Dane County.
"He thinks if something costs money it shouldn't be spent," says McPartland. "I don't believe that."
Willett, the 55-year-old owner of a collision repair shop, chafes at the board's current spending priorities. He opposes a $20 million plan unveiled last month to add more parking spaces to the Dane County Regional Airport parking lot.
"Have you ever gone to that airport and not gotten a spot?" he asks.
McPartland, 62, says her years as a special education teacher give her a unique perspective on issues around human services, which accounts for roughly 40% of the county's annual budget.
And with the county weighing whether to build a new jail, McPartland says, if elected she will work to provide mentally ill inmates with better care.
"I understand the issues facing this county," she says.
[Editor's note: This article was corrected to note that District 30 includes the village of Mount Horeb and the towns of Primrose, Perry, Vermont and Springdale.]