The end of the Falk era in Dane County may be at hand.
Twice in recent years, Kathleen Falk, who is preparing to run for an unprecedented fourth four-year term, has tried to ditch her gig as county exec.
In 2002, she ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and lost. In 2006, she ran against fellow Democrat and then- Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. Falk defeated Lautenschlager in the Democratic primary, then lost to J.B. Van Hollen in the November election.
There are lots of liberal - er, I mean progressive - Democrats in Dane County who have never forgiven Falk for taking out one of their own and helping to pave the way for a Republican to become AG in an otherwise Democratic tidal wave election.
Then, on top of it all are the 911 debacles.
Two separate high-profile 911 Center failures in the past eight months have left two people dead and raised thorny questions.
The first case was the botched call from murdered UW student Brittany Zimmermann. For months, Falk tried to politically manage the situation while others worked to conceal information from the public.
But thanks to aggressive reporting from people like Jason Shepard and Bill Lueders at Isthmus, Zimmermann's apparent effort to summon help came to light. Last week, the Wisconsin State Journal broke the news that screams and the sounds of a struggle could be heard on the 911 tape of the call.
Kudos to Isthmus and the State Journal for not letting the truth die with Brittany Zimmermann.
The timing couldn't be worse for Falk, who may have once thought the 2009 re-election campaign would be another cakewalk.
Nancy Mistele has announced her candidacy for Dane County executive; other candidates may yet emerge.
Mistele, who was elected twice to the Madison school board, also ran two very strong races for state Senate. She's clearly a bright, hard-working, formidable candidate who, if well financed and organized, could bring the curtain down on the Falk era in Dane County politics.
Voters don't like being taken for granted. The fact that Falk has twice signaled she is either ready to move on or is simply bored with being county executive may not play well with voters who want someone fully committed to, and engaged in, the demanding job of running Dane County.
And the public doesn't like seeing tax dollars wasted on an inept and ineffective 911 system. If Falk can't get it right on high-profile public safety services, what else is going wrong that we don't know about?
As we saw in the recent election, there are plenty of voters in Dane County who think change is a good thing. If eight years of George Bush was enough, 12 years of Kathleen Falk may also be more than enough for Dane County voters who sense it might be time to clean out the barn downtown.
It's important to note that more Dane County residents now live outside Madison than in the city. If Mistele can hold on to those in Madison who twice elected her to the Madison school board and can speak the language of the out-county majority, this could be a very interesting race.
Mistele is sometimes seen as having an overly combative style, which isn't consistent with the thoughtful, affable way she typically comes across in small groups or among friends. Of course, let's remember that, in Dane County, liberals with intensity are said to have "passion," while conservatives with intensity are called "combative."
If Mistele can convince voters she can straighten out the 911 mess; corral county spending in a time of diminishing resources; promote a sane (read: "no train or trolley"), comprehensive transportation plan; embrace greenspace without owning it all; support Sheriff Mahoney's enforcement of federal immigration laws; and generally make Dane County a better place to live, work and do business...well, she might be able to pull this off.
Perhaps Nancy Mistele can help make Kathleen Falk's dreams of a career change come true while bringing some much-needed credibility and sensibility back to Dane County government.
Rick Berg is a Madison-area freelance writer and political commentator.