To Supv. Scott McDonell, the County Board elections earlier this month were a big victory for liberals, at a time when liberals are under attack nationally and sustained significant losses in other Wisconsin counties.
McDonell, who was just reelected board chairman with a hugely comfortable 24-13 margin, says local liberals even prevailed in rural districts where County Executive Kathleen Falk didn't fare so well in 2009.
So now that the liberals have won convincingly, what will they do with their mandate?
Unfortunately, a big part of what lies ahead will be tending to nuts-and-bolts issues. These include negotiating an agreement for an interoperable emergency radio system with the county's towns (Mad Talk, 2/18/10) and deciding how to deal with the state's forthcoming Family Care program (Madison.gov, 4/23/09).
There's also the problem of shrinking revenues because of the recession. "We've basically frozen everything, all borrowing, most of the positions," says McDonell. "And these positions do actual work."
The board, he adds, must also gear up for the redistricting after the 2010 Census: "We draw the map that everyone else uses. So we go first."
But McDonell does see some areas where it may be possible to advance a liberal agenda, particularly with the transfer of development rights.
A few months back, the county quietly passed a program that lets rural property owners sell development rights to developers, meaning the owners get money for agreeing not to develop. In exchange, developers win the ability to build more densely in population centers.
The program, says McDonell, makes it easier to "leave farmland as farmland. And developers like it because if they can put 10 more houses in [a development], they make more money out of it."
Money is also an issue for the county - and the liberals' agenda.
"Usually you need money to do things," McDonell says. "So we have to get out of our budget mess to do any big ideas."
One major goal: increasing funding to human service agencies that have been "surviving with no cost-of-living increases for years."