Please forgive Vic Bankston if she seems a bit perplexed. The Dane County Board candidate was recruited to run for the southwest Madison district by Kathleen Falk. The county executive endorsed Bankston, gave her a $100 donation and held a fund-raiser on her behalf. But she's done the same for Bankston's opponent, Melanie Hampton.
"I'm trying to look at this objectively," says Bankston. Both she and Hampton are Democrats, and Falk apparently didn't want to pick one over the other. "I have to assume that Kathleen was trying to show some type of fairness."
But being a Democrat is not one of the reasons Falk cites when she lists everything she likes about Hampton, a Madison police officer. Falk says Hampton agrees with her on preserving the county's Conservation Fund and on a "rational" tax policy.
"I thought her positions were in line with what Dane County constituents want," says Falk. "When you have a candidate who has a great record, I think that's important. Why wouldn't I support that candidate too?"
Falk also still likes Bankston, who is a member of the county's Equal Opportunity Commission. "I'm very pleased to endorse both of them," she says. "Sometimes, you have two great candidates."
Hampton has an impressive list of endorsements from all over the political map. Besides Falk, she has Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney. She also has a number of conservative County Board members, including Supv. David Wiganowsky.
"I think she's going to be an independent thinker," says Wiganowsky. "If Mel can stay in the middle, I like that." He believes Falk is supporting both candidates "to make sure she's got her butt covered."
Hampton attributes her support to her law-enforcement background and independent leanings. "I am definitely my own person," she says. "No one will tell you I'm easy to push around."
In fact, Hampton disagrees with her supporters on some issues. Wiganowsky calls the county's plan to reduce jail overcrowding by expanding electronic monitoring "catch and release," saying it could return dangerous offenders to the streets. He says Hampton "seemed to be on the same line."
But Hampton is noncommittal: "I can't say it gets me real worked up. I don't have an overall opposition to electronic monitoring."
And while Hampton likes Falk's idea of commuter rail, she wonders whether it's economically feasible. "What really worries me is the maintenance cost and safety issues," she says. "I question whether the full cost of the project has been thoroughly analyzed."
Bankston, however, enthusiastically backs both commuter rail and a proposed Regional Transit Authority, with a taxing ability to fund transportation initiatives. She also wants increased electronic monitoring: "I applaud the sheriff for working on it."
But Bankston doesn't know why her strong positions on those issues aren't enough to win Falk's full support. "I've not had a lengthy conversation with her," she says. "My focus is just on running an honest campaign."
Wiganowsky, on explaining why he's endorsed Steve Ingham over Supv. Al Matano on Madison's west side: "If Jeffrey Dahmer were still alive and a member of Progressive Dane, Al Matano would vote with him."
Nearly 20 cities and villages have gone on record opposing new development rules passed last month by the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission. The new rules eliminate a "flexibility factor" that for years allowed unrestrained development on a city's periphery.
The city of Madison has hundreds of acres of undeveloped land on its borders. Mayor Cieslewicz, who normally touts infill as a defense against urban sprawl, opposes the rules change, since it would limit development there.
"The real issue with urban sprawl is not infill, but single, large-lot development on what was previously agricultural land," says mayoral spokesman George Twigg. "When the city of Madison does expand, we do so in a compact way. Good, dense development as much as possible - that's our policy. These rules make that more difficult."
The planning commission tried to appease the municipalities by offering exceptions for things like inaccurate population-growth forecasts. Topf Wells, Falk's chief of staff, says those exceptions restore flexibility, while still protecting the county's water quality.
"Water quality was supposed to be at the center of the discussion," Wells says, adding the cities and villages don't seem to understand that. "There was not nearly as much knowledge as I would have thought about what the commission is supposed to be doing."
But Twigg says the exceptions create more uncertainty, not less, through "an approval process that could become subjective and potentially political."
He notes that the old planning commission, which dissolved in 2004, "fell apart amidst acrimony and divisiveness." Having a new commission impose rules that the municipalities are all against, he says, is not a good start: "The mayor's hope was that the first major decision like this would build more consensus."
A SAGE move?
Alice Howard, head of the Allied Drive neighborhood association, worries about the school district's decision to remove state funding from Glenn Stephens Elementary. Nearly half the kids in Allied attend Stephens, which gets SAGE funding to allow smaller class sizes. That money is being transferred to Crestwood Elementary.
"I'm concerned about the children not receiving the extra attention they need," says Howard. The larger class sizes at Stephens are "going to be kind of hard for the children, especially if they have special needs."
But the school district says nothing is really changing for Allied's kids. "There are Allied Drive children at both schools," says Ken Syke, district spokesman. "So it's not like they're being targeted."
Of Allied's 141 elementary school kids, about 30% go to Crestwood, while 44% attend Stephens.
"What about those children being left behind at Stephens?" asks Howard. "Don't they need the SAGE program too?"
Arlene Silveira, school board president, says the district only gets enough state money to fund SAGE at 20 of its 31 elementary schools. District policy is to use that funding at schools that have a low-income population of 30% or more. And when the district redrew the attendance boundaries to accommodate the new west-side elementary school, Crestwood's number of low-income students surged, while Stephens' dropped.
"In an ideal world, all schools should have it," she says. "The state runs out of money, so we can't get more."
The Wisconsin Legislature has done so little this session (no statewide smoking ban, no Great Lakes compact, etc.), that 2007-08 is one of the least productive sessions in recent years. In the 1995-96 session, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, the Legislature passed 469 bills that were signed into law. This time around, only 170 bills have been enacted so far, with Gov. Jim Doyle expected to take action on another 54. Only the 2001 session, with 109 laws, and the 1999 session, with 198 laws, were worse.