The Dane County February primary is the start of an election cycle full of local leadership turnovers, specifically in the Dane County Board of Supervisors.
Dane County primary elections will be held Feb. 18 and the spring election will take place April 7. With 11 incumbents on the Dane County Board of Supervisors choosing not to run again, the primary will witness many positions open for new members.
A total of five districts are contested, including districts 5, 25, 26, 31 and 37, with two of those races pinning an incumbent against a new candidate, according to The Cap Times. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said there is going to be much more change to come on the County Board.
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“Not only is the Board changing now, it’s going to change a lot more in the next two years [because the Census will be complete,]” McDonell said. “It’s a challenge to lose that much experience.”
Three former supervisors — Jenni Dye, Jeff Pertl and Mary Kolar — left the County Board in early 2019 to serve in Gov. Tony Evers’ administration. All three held leadership positions before they left, but usually it staggers out, McDonell said.
A year later in January 2020, the Board went through another bout of turnover. Former County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan resigned Jan. 24, followed by Vice Chair Paul Nelson just a few days later, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The benefits of a large County Board include varying levels of work from members, McDonell said.
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“But it seems to attract people who are smart, and partly because of the makeup of the county — it’s a highly educated county — and people are passionate,” McDonell said.
District 1 Supervisor Elizabeth Doyle said from an outsider’s perspective, there are big turnovers happening on the Board-level. But, Doyle said it is important to view these turnovers as natural, given several people who were on the Board for a while decided to step down and allow new voices to form the next County Board. These new voices can strengthen the policymaking abilities of the Board, Doyle said.
“It’s really exciting to see the people who are running — it definitely seems that after the Spring elections, the Board will be comprised of more youthful voices and different perspectives,” Doyle said.
Doyle said the Board can make more comprehensive policies when including diverse perspectives.
Though, since all 37 seats are up at once, Doyle said one of the more difficult aspects of the same election year turn over is getting all new members integrated and up to speed. In preparation for the large change, Doyle said the board staff ensured it has enough training resources to make the transition of new members as smooth as possible.
District 5 covers much of the University of Wisconsin campus. Elena Haasl and José Rea are the two candidates running for District 5 to serve the predominantly UW student population.
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According to Haasl, a current UW student, UW has a great significance in the primary in terms of votes. Haasl said UW students will have prevalence in not just the District 5 election, but across the spectrum of local government.
“Especially in today’s political climate, young people are realizing that their vote is their voice,” Haasl said in an email to The Badger Herald. “We will see an overwhelming amount of student participation in the upcoming elections.”
Rea is excited to see the community and UW students get involved in the upcoming February primary and the other important elections this spring, Rea said in an email.
According to Rea, the turnover opportunities hold promise to strengthen local government with new candidates having a positive effect on local leadership.
“I believe that those of us who have been residents of Dane County but are frustrated with how our local government handles many issues finally have the opportunity to make systemic change,” Rea said in an email.
According to McDonell, the university makes it hard to connect with students in the District 5 constituency, so candidates try to find creative ways to make sure students know who they are and that they are running.
McDonell said one important thing UW voters should note is unlike some other UW system schools, UW does not allow student IDs to be used as a voter ID, which might pose a challenge for out-of-state students. In addition, being the student representative of UW in the Dane County Board can be difficult, said McDonell, who was previously the student representative.
“The challenge is being taken seriously,” McDonell said. “Whoever wins really needs to do their homework, and it’s just gonna be harder for them with the constant other County Board members telling you that you’re the same age as their kid.”
McDonell is familiar with this perspective and said a supervisor doesn’t want to just occupy a seat — they want to accomplish goals.