Having just returned from an all-too-short summer break, many students might not be aware of this fall’s election season, which will come into full stride after next Tuesday’s primary. While many might have their eye on November’s vote, the primary on September 14th will have a major effect on the choices voters are presented with. Students in most residential halls and a significant part of Langdon will be able to vote in the 77th District Assembly race. Having a pro-student assembly member in the capital will be invaluable in efforts to improve campus and the community.
With former 77th District Assembly member Spencer Black stepping down after 26 years, a total of eight candidates are running to replace him. By next Wednesday morning that number will have been cut in half after four of the five Democrats are eliminated, leaving one Democrat, one Republican, one Green, and one Independent. So who should students support next week? It isn’t a terribly easy question, as most of the Democratic candidates have made great efforts to tout their environmentalist and pro-student credentials. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t significant differences in personality, experience, record and policy worth looking at.
With less than a week until the primary, some obvious front-runners can be identified based on their endorsements and fundraising achievements. But as Spencer Black noted himself, in a primary with so many candidates, it doesn’t take much to win.
At a glance, among the Democrats there are John Imes, former director of the Wisconsin Environment Institute and Doug Zwank, former two-term Mayor of Middleton. However, attorney Fred Wade and County Supervisors Dianne Hesselbein and Brett Hulsey are perhaps the best known of the group; they are the only candidates whose campaigns have gotten any traction, and while the race may be very close it’s likely that one of them will come out ahead.
Hesselbein has been on the County Board for less than three years and already is seeking higher office. While that sort of ambition might be appealing to some, it should make others consider what exactly is motivating her public service.
In addition to opposing a Regional Transit Authority to facilitate modern transportation in Madison and beyond, Hesselbein has recently done an about-face on county immigration issues. The Dane County sheriff’s arguably xenophobic and categorically counter-productive practice of reporting undocumented residents to federal immigration authorities has been a heated issue on the County Board in recent months. Until very recently Hesselbein had voted against all efforts to pressure the sheriff to change his policy. Perhaps in preparation for her assembly run and in reaction to community outrage, Hesselbein voted to approve the Dane County Immigration Task Force’s recommendation that the sheriff stop reporting individuals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While her change of heart is encouraging, it doesn’t necessarily constitute a ringing endorsement of Dane County’s immigrant communities.
Nonetheless, Hesselbein’s advocacy for public education and the environment, while lacking in specifics, puts her on a level playing field with the other Democratic candidates.
Of the three candidates trying hardest to flaunt their progressive values to a very left-leaning constituency, all have endorsed increased funding for public education and the creation of green jobs with varying levels of specificity. On immigration, Brett Hulsey is no better than Hesselbein although he is not making any efforts to pretend he stands in solidarity with minority, immigrant communities in the area. While immigration will remain an important moral issue for students, the influence the 77th Assembly person has over public education in the state hits much closer to home.
In a district as politically vibrant as the 77th — in one of the most progressive areas of the country — it comes as something of a surprise that none of the Democratic candidates have come out in favor of free higher education in the state, or at the very least, a tuition freeze. Indeed, such ambition might be crucial to maintain our public education system’s ability to nurture economic development and improve living standards.
On the campaign websites for Hesselbein, Hulsey, and Wade, a very concise description is given of the funding issues affecting MATC and the UW-System. It is telling and perhaps a little discouraging that the problems described are largely left unanswered. Aren’t political leaders supposed to be elected to solve problems and not just inform voters about their gravity?
It is worth noting that Fred Wade’s campaign site and literature does a much better job of explaining the issues and taking distinctly progressive positions on policy. Although he still documents more than he prescribes.
All in all, none of the front-running candidates are abysmal, but they simply leave something to be desired, something to be excited about, even though as the campaigns have revved up each seems to have moved toward more progressive policy prescriptions. Ironically, much of that movement seems to be toward the positions of Green Party candidate Ben Manski, who will take on Tuesday’s winner in November.
As this race develops, students on campus would benefit from paying attention. The 77th Assembly race will be an important venue to exercise the substantial control students have over Dane County, Madison and the University of Wisconsin.
Sam Stevenson ([email protected]) is a graduate student in the public health.