After two terms serving a district of predominantly students, Dane County Supervisor Leland Pan, District 5, will leave county government after this April’s elections to pursue a graduate degree in social work.
Elected four years ago at the age of 19, Pan said he has taken great pride in representing unadulterated student idealism at the county level of government. A Madison native, Pan said he aims to continue shaping the community through more hands-on social work.
Pan graduated from University of Wisconsin with a degree in sociology and political science and said he sees himself as more of a community organizer.
While most supervisors have constituents concerned more with property taxes, Pan said he was grateful for the opportunity to run as an idealist focused on social and environmental issues. He said he laments a shift towards pragmatism among the current cohort of student politicians.
“It’s a shame that students feel more of a squeeze to be pragmatic and think about their résumés,” Pan said. “I believe passionately that students should be allowed to have time to have dreams and ideals.”
Pan said this ability to appeal to idealism is what originally inspired him to run for county board. When dealing with issues of criminal justice reform, homeless services and efforts to curb racial disparities, he enjoyed bringing an idealistic perspective to the discussion.
Pan said the biggest difference in how he envisioned working in county government and the reality was the political nature of small, everyday operations within the county, such as zoning land. He said he quickly learned to appreciate the smaller accomplishments of county government in contrast with the sometimes dysfunctional manner in which the county dealt with larger issues.
Dane County supervisor hands over keys after letting protesters into City Council buildingA Dane County supervisor turned over his keys and access cards after it was determined that he let protesters into the Read…
As Pan prepares to leave his seat at the county board following this April’s elections, he said he hopes barriers to entry in local government will diminish. He also hopes for greater involvement by young people in local and national politics.
“It’s not that students aren’t political; they care, it’s just that they don’t see the electoral arena as a place where they can win these fights, and I think that’s a rational analysis,” Pan said.
Looking to the future, Pan said he does not see himself returning to politics, but he said he will always stay informed about the political climate.