Last year's Republican-controlled redistricting in Wisconsin has clearly wreaked a bit of havoc in Dane County. The shifting of districts is pitting veteran Democrats and old friends against each other.
But it has also created some opportunities, says Mike Basford, chairman of the Democratic Party of Dane County. Witness the campaign of Dianne Hesselbein, who lost a tough state Assembly race to Brett Hulsey in 2010 for the 77th District. Redistricting put Hesselbein into the 79th District, whose Assembly seat is currently held by Sondy Pope-Roberts. Pope-Roberts decided to run in the 80th District because it includes much of the district she was elected to represent.
That leaves Hesselbein facing Ellen Lindgren in the primary.
"Dianne ran a very spirited race two years ago," Basford says. "I bet she never would have thought she'd have a more than even shot two years later to get into the Assembly."
Likewise, Dane County Board Supv. Melissa Sargent is running unopposed for Assembly in the 48th District on the east side of Madison and Dane County. The district is currently represented by Chris Taylor, who won the seat just last year in a fierce six-way race. Rather than move, Taylor is running unopposed in the 76th District, which includes central Madison. This area had been represented by Mark Pocan, who is stepping down to run for Congress; it had previously been called the 78th District.
The old 76th District was on the city's west side and is currently represented by Rep. Terese Berceau. She is running unopposed for the 77th District, which is more in line with her old one.
There's even more craziness. Republican Rep. Joel Kleefisch, who is the husband of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and is based in Oconomowoc, has had his district shifted to include a small piece of Dane County on the east side. Kleefisch has a Democratic opponent from Dane County, Scott Michalak of Marshall, who is running unopposed in the primary.
"These districts are so convoluted and clearly designed to dilute the influence of Dane County in the Legislature," Basford says. "When you have hunks of Dane County being put into districts that include hunks of Waukesha County, you're reducing the opportunity for Dane County residents to have candidates who share their values."
But redistricting has also set up a tough three-way Democratic primary in the 80th District, in southwest Dane County. It pits Sondy Pope-Roberts, who is moving to be with the majority of her old district, against longtime legislator Joe Wineke. Charles Uphoff, who has served on both the Fitchburg City Council and the Oregon School Board, is also running.
Wineke says he's not surprised by the redistricting chaos. "People are complaining about redistricting and campaign finance reform, but when we had a Democratic governor and control of both houses, we did nothing about it," he says. "They had a chance to fix it. They could have done an Iowa [nonpartisan redistricting] model. But power corrupts. And [Democrats] wanted to write their own districts."
Wineke served in the Assembly for 10 years and the state Senate for six, and then became chair of the state Democratic Party. He helped recruit Pope-Roberts to the Assembly. They aren't close today and take a few swipes at each other.
Pope-Roberts criticizes Wineke for twice resigning elected office, once to run for state Senate, once to run for Congress. "Joe's been there and walked away because he wanted to do something else," she says. "I'm not walking away. I chose to follow my district."
She says she knows the new 80th District much better than she does the new 79th. "In order to stay with the people I represent, I have to follow them."
Pope-Roberts says the biggest issues facing the district are jobs and education, two areas she has experience working on. She calls education her passion.
Meanwhile, Wineke says he wants back into the Assembly to help Democrats find themselves. He has a long list of things he'd work on, including fighting for the rights of public employees to collectively bargain, repealing the constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, increasing educational funding, and working toward public financing of elections.
Says Wineke: "Democrats have to stand for something in order to get back in the majority."