Michael Johnson (left) and Analiese Eicher (right) both hope to represent District Five, which encompasses most of campus.[/media-credit]

Candidates for the Dane County Board of Supervisors 5th district squared off on issues of the environment, transportation and county services in a debate Monday night that drew roughly 30 students to the Humanities building.

Analiese Eicher, a University of Wisconsin senior and member of College Democrats, and Michael Johnson, a Madison Area Technical College student and member of Progressive Dane, are running for the District 5 County Board seat, which covers most of the campus area. University of Wisconsin graduate Wyndham Manning currently occupies the seat.

Johnson and Eicher attempted to distinguish themselves early on by focusing on their core issues.

Although both candidates emphasized their dedication to environmental issues, Eicher said she wants to focus on cleaning up Madison area lakes.

“I know from my experience working with many different groups on campus there are so many students who are concerned about issues involving the environment,” Eicher said. “I am a huge advocate for cleaning up our lakes, and that’s something that we can work together on and make changes in the county board on that issue.”

Johnson said if elected he would focus on maintaining affordable housing on campus and throughout the county. He added he wants to restart the Dane County Affordable Housing Trust Fund Subcommittee, which would preserve affordable housing. Johnson indicated this would be paid for through $10 fees on real estate, rather than a countywide tax.

Both candidates agreed the recently created Regional Transit Authority is a good idea and would help improve transportation for students and residents of Dane County.

“I think that the RTA is going to be extremely beneficial to the campus community,” Eicher said. “Like I said, not a lot of us have cars. Most of us rely on public transportation, and we need good, affordable, environmentally-friendly transportation.”

The candidates disagreed on how the RTA should be paid for, however. Johnson said he supports the raising of taxes to support the transportation system.

Eicher, however, said she hopes the board will look for other ways to fund the RTA because, as a student with a limited income, it is hard to pay for such increases. She added she will, however, support whatever the county board decides.

Johnson said the increase would be only be about .5 percent in sales tax, and in his opinion, the benefits of the transportation system would outweigh the added cost.

UW freshman Jonathan Gorman, who attended the debate, said he liked that Johnson took a stand on the tax issues with the RTA and wished Eicher would have been more specific as to how she would like to see it paid for.

When asked what issues outside of Madison they would focus on, Eicher singled out maintaining human services to county residents while Johnson focused on tackling urban sprawl.

Legislative Affairs Chair Adam Johnson, who moderated the debate, said he was happy with the outcome. He added even though there was not a large student turnout, the event got a lot of media attention, so word of mouth will inform students of the candidates’ positions.

In a statement released by ASM following the debate, Adam Johnson said he passed up a question from the audience concerning a series of comments Michael Johnson posted on a local blog in 2008 criticizing the classification of Jews as a currently oppressed group.

After the comments came under public scrutiny again, he issued an apology in the form of a letter addressed to the Madison and campus community.

“I made them, and I apologize in no uncertain terms because they were deplorable, offensive and hurtful to the personal histories and struggles of many of my fellow students,” Michael Johnson said.