Whoever wins the election to fill Joe Parisi's seat in the state Assembly will be no friend of Scott Walker.
The race in the liberal Dist. 48 heavily favors Democrats. Seven are running in the July 12 Democratic primary. With no Republicans or independents yet registered (the deadline is June 14), the Democratic primary winner will likely coast to victory in the Aug. 9 general election.
All seven Democratic candidates - Fred Arnold, Dave de Felice, Andy Heidt, Katherine Kocs, Bethany Ordaz, Vicky Selkowe and Chris Taylor - made it clear at a candidate forum at the Barrymore Theatre on Tuesday night that, if elected, they'll fight the Republican establishment to the bitter end.
"I've been standing up to bullies my whole life," declared Taylor, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, in her opening statement.
"We have to fight back, and fighting back is what I'm about," said Ordaz, a labor activist who works for Rep. Jocasta Zamarippa (D-Milwaukee).
"I've always been a voice for the underprivileged and those who have no voice," said de Felice, a Dane County supervisor and chief of staff to state Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee). "I'm for everything that Scott Walker is against."
There was an unusual level of cordiality among the candidates vying to lead this liberal east-side district, replacing Parisi, who was elected in April as Dane County executive. They see themselves as being on the same team.
So there were frequent nods to the other candidates' qualifications. Lines like, "I'm sure all the other candidates would agree" were common. And when de Felice grabbed a guitar for his closing statement and sang a few lines of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," Taylor prompted the crowd to clap along, and Heidt gave him a high-five afterward.
On the issues raised - tax increases (for the rich, yes), legalizing medical marijuana (yes), protecting groundwater (yes), fighting global warming (of course) - there was little disagreement. The candidates sought to distinguish themselves without putting each other down.
Selkowe, who works for Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), touted her legislative know-how. Kocs, a community developer and activist, pointed to her experience as a hard-working mom.
There were a few jabs. Arnold, a former Madison alder and economics professor, at one point jokingly accused Heidt of "pandering to the crowd." He then said the best way to help Democrats find unity is for the candidates to strongly advocate their own positions, which "helps us all articulate the issues."
Heidt, ombudsman for Dane County Department of Human Services and a former alder, took the biggest swipe of the evening when he accused some of his rivals of being part of a broken two-party system. When the Democrats had power, he said, they didn't do much with it.
"As wonderful as my colleagues are, they're part and parcel of the beast," he said, referring to their work in or with state government. "We need to change the system to make it our house again."
Madison rethinks its vow to fund Overture
Fans of the Overture Center hoped its financial struggles were finally over when the city agreed late last year to have a nonprofit entity own and manage the facility, with the promise of a $2 million annual city subsidy.
The deal settled the center's $28.6 million debt. But it turns out that the $2 million annual gift is no sure thing. In fact, Mayor Paul Soglin doesn't think the city will pony up that amount next year.
"It'll be very difficult to justify a $2 million commitment to Overture when you look at the significant cuts that will be made to city agencies and city services," Soglin says.
But the arts center won't go away empty-handed. Soglin wants to find $1.35 million or more. "I'm hoping that's the floor."
Ald. Mike Verveer says it would be "really unfortunate and bordering on potentially devastating if the city does not keep its financial commitment."
The amount of the city's subsidy won't be known for a few months. The mayor's budget proposal is due in October, and the Common Council will likely make changes before approving it in November.
Verveer remains optimistic. "The mayor has proposed a budget process that encourages community input between now and the fall," he says. "It'll be interesting to see how Overture comes out in the mix among community priorities."
Too much disclosure?
Madison Ald. Paul Skidmore has proposed exempting assistant city attorneys from the need to file financial disclosure forms. These include property holdings and financial interests, and are kept on file with the city clerk.
Skidmore says assistant city attorneys have asked him to make the change because of concerns for their safety. He tells of one city attorney who was stalked by and got a restraining order against the subject of a city enforcement action.
"There's compelling interest here to protect key city workers," says Skidmore. "If a staff member is concerned for their safety, I take it very seriously."
City attorney Michael May does not support the change and will speak against it at the Ethics Board's June 2 meeting. "There's no basis to exclude attorneys," he says.
Boombox Union Corners
For years, people have driven past the empty lot that is Union Corners and thought, "If only somebody would do something there."
The large, undeveloped parcel on East Washington Avenue at Milwaukee Street is seen as an eyesore and a graveyard for ambitious development plans. But musician and filmmaker Wendy Schneider likes the space just as it is and has organized "Boombox the Wasteland" to make use of it.
The event on Sunday, June 5, from 1:30 to 7:30 p.m., is half block party, half guerrilla art project. In lieu of live bands, people will bring boomboxes tuned to WORT-89.9 FM, which will broadcast programming tied to the event.
Schneider has no agenda for the parcel's future. "People see it as a failure. I didn't come on board with any of that," she says. "It's there. Let's see if we can use it."