By Ron Hardy, Wisconsin Green Party
Wisconsin Greens were on the ballot in elections for County Board of Supervisors across the state April 1—ten incumbents and four challengers. Ten of the 14 were elected. Wisconsin now has 17 Greens holding elected office.
Among the ten Wisconsin Green victories were two first-time candidates: Wyndham Manning, who won a landslide victory with 66 percent of the vote to take the Dane County Board of Supervisors seat vacated by retiring Green Party member Ashok Kumar, and Kathy Kienholz, who ran unopposed for a seat on the Polk County (Northwestern Wis consin) Board of Supervisors.
Manning’s victory came in District 5, Madison’s “Student District” and a hotbed of political activity with an engaged electorate. Greens have traditionally done well there—Echaton Vedder first won the seat in 1998. A University of Wisconsin senior majoring in Environmental Studies and Communication Arts, Manning opposed College Democrat Conor O’Hagan, a freshmen Engineering student involved with student government. Manning campaigned on an overall environmental program, including specific focus on solutions to keep the many lakes surrounding Madison clean.
“The process of making our lakes and watersheds safer has begun by banning phosphorus and coal tar sealant. I will take the lead in the next step by exploring a system of anaerobic manure digesters that co-generate exhausted methane for heat and electricity, as well as evaluating the impact of other negligent runoffs such as pesticides,” said Manning.
Manning also championed the under–represented in Madison, including support for Domestic Partner benefits, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, and working with local area groups to expand the availability of homeless shelters.Far north of Madison, Kienholz won her first seat and thereby kept at least one Green on the Polk County Board. An active member of the St. Croix Valley Green Party since 2003, Kienholz was first introduced to the Greens by one of her sons.
Kienholz believes she was unopposed because of the credibility that her environ mental platform gave her, combined with her financial background as a CPA and as Treasurer of the local Lake Association and the local Friends of the Library group. “My goals are local,” said Kienholz, “Our county board has struggled in the past six to eight years, as anti-tax folks were elected to seats. Their agenda could be summed up in one word—No. No spending, no programs, no building, no nothing.”
Kienholz intends to continue the work that fellow Green and outgoing Polk County Supervisor Jeff Peterson began by making sustainability a focus for Polk County. “I want to continue his efforts to keep that goal in the forefront. As a CPA I asked for and was elected to a seat on the Finance Committee, where I hope to be an influence for Green goals. My other committee assignment was to the Land and Water Committee, which is right up my street.”
Incumbents Re-elected at 80 Percent Rate
Eight incumbent Green County Board of Supervisors won re-election on April 1, including six unopposed—Robert Browne and David Conley (Douglas County), Greg David (Jefferson County), John Hardin (Barron County) and two from Dane County—Kyle Richmond and Barbara Vedder, the mother of Echnaton Vedder.
Conley has been serving on the Doug las County Board of Supervisors in North west Wisconsin since 1986 and is the longest serving Green in office nationwide at 22 years and counting. His tenure in office predates the Wisconsin Green Party, which will be celebrating 20 years as a Party this October. Conley’s colleague on the Douglas County Board, Robert Browne, has been on the board since 1992, 16 years and counting.
David in Jefferson County (East Central Wisconsin) has been actively promoting the Natural Step for Communities, a movement that has been sweeping across Wisconsin. He spoke at the Wisconsin Green Party’s Summer Gathering in August 2007 at which the Party officially endorsed the Natural Step and the Eco-Municipality movement throughout Wisconsin.
In Dane County, Greens have had between two and four members on the 39-member County Board of Supervisor since 1998. Joining first-time candidate Manning this time were Richmond and Vedder, along with John Hendrick, who successfully fought off his challenger with 83 percent of the vote.
A member of the County Board for 14 years and a near east neighborhood community activist for even longer, Hendrick is considered an expert on local land use, planning and zoning issues and is someone other Board members turn to for advice. In recent years he has also championed drinking water quality and bringing living wage standards from Madison to a broader section of Dane County. His opponent Mark Schmitt, a print and mail coordinator for Bethel Lutheran Church, took a more conservative position than Hendrick on transportation, regulations, prisons and police, that clearly did not resonate well with the voters.
Richmond has served on the County Board since 2002, and Vedder since 2006, following six years (1995-2001) on the Madison Common Council. In 2007 the two of them, together with Richmond and Kumar, led a successful effort for the Board to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney, becoming the second county in the nation at the time to pass such a resolution. Richmond also had a role in the July 10, 2003 Dane County Board boycott of Tyson Foods in support of striking workers in neighboring Jefferson County. Vedder, in her past role on the Madison Common Council, was instrumental in passing Madison’s Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, a policy tool that relies on zoning laws to encourage or require developers to provide affordable units in their new housing developments.
Also re-elected in a competitive race was incumbent John Rendall, a member of the Portage County Board of Supervisors for 12 years, and before that a member of the Almond School Board for five years. Rendall supports substance abuse treatment and alternative sentencing as opposed to expanding prison populations. His opponent’s issues were primarily ‘saving the taxpayers’ money’ and opposing a proposed new Justice Center in the county. Rendall won re-election with 62 percent of the vote.
Two other incumbent County Board Supervisors were not so fortunate. Both Bob Ryan (Door County) and Jeff Peter son (Polk County) were defeated this year. Ironically, Peterson, elected just two years ago, had also been recently appointed vice chair of the Polk County Board and was being asked to consider chairing the new, post-election County Board before he was challenged three days before the election with a well organized, “under the radar” write-in campaign that caught him totally by surprise.
Peterson’s last minute challenger officially filed as a “write-in” candidate the Friday before the Tuesday election by a man who moved to the area in 2006. He and his supporters were ready to roll first thing Saturday morning with an efficiently coordinated literature drop throughout the district. In the literature, his opponent claimed that the county government was fleecing the tax payers, and that he would cap all taxes and slash county spending. He attacked Peterson for voting for the county budget (which raised property taxes by 13 percent) and for supporting the construction of a new environmentally conscious Highway Shop to replace the 75-year-old facility Polk County currently uses. Peterson, who didn’t have time to adequately respond to his challenger’s charges, lost 192 to 159, with 45 percent of the vote.
Ryan, who was first elected to the Door County Board of Supervisors in 2002, has been actively involved with Sustain Door, a group of citizens and public officials looking for ways to help make Door County a more sustainable community. He is also involved with the Door County Histor ical Society and is the co-facilitator for the Alternatives to Violence Program, a domestic violence prevention group. “Our county’s future, and the tax burden that its residents are asked to carry, are the two main reasons I’m running,” said Ryan during the campaign. “Two key issues are taxes and maintaining our rural environment.”
His opponent, a self-employed farmer who was elected to the Clay Banks Town Board in 2007, accused Ryan of being “pressured by special interest groups.” He challenged Ryan in 2006 and lost by a mere handful of votes. This time he defeated Ryan by 56 votes, holding Ryan to 41 percent of the vote.
Two other first-time Green candidates had impressive results, despite not winning their races: Michael Slattery for the Manitowoc County Board, and Bobby Gifford for the Portage County Board. Both ran strong, issue-based campaigns against well funded opponents.
Slattery, who farms 370 acres in the predominantly rural Manitowoc County south of Green Bay, ran against the nephew of the incumbent, who outspent him ten to one. Although the district is rural, only 14 farms remain (including Slattery’s), while 25 percent of the population lives in $300,000-$400,000 homes and commute to jobs in Green Bay.
Against an opponent who didn’t appear at candidate forums and whose primary message was that he would lower taxes, Slattery focused on the nation’s ‘big picture’, promoting non-violence, and opposition to the Iraq war. “I listed issues that we need to deal with: rising energy and commodity prices accompanying a pending recession,” said Slattery. De spite this, Michael Slattery took 37 percent of the vote.
Gifford, who moved to Stevens Point from Milwaukee several years ago, ran against a long-tenured and well known incumbent. He ran with little money and little organized assistance, but ran on the issues important to him and important to Wisconsin. He ran on issues of the Natural Step, promoting the Eco-Municipality movement in Stevens Point, community supported agriculture and preparing for a post-Peak Oil society. “My opponent actually adopted my own expression ‘make the eco-municipality effort county-wide’ on his campaign literature, although the caveat was ‘if it didn’t impact the tax base.’” said Gifford. “I don’t feel beaten, I feel like the Board is now on notice from the citizens: get with the program or step down.” Gifford lost with 28 percent of the vote.
The Wisconsin Green Party is continuing a history of running and winning in local races that goes back 22 years. Already the party is making plans for 2009 local common council races where seven incumbents will be up for re-election in Madison, Oshkosh, and Stevens Point.
“We have our greatest impact at the local level where we can apply Green values to local issues.” said Cindy Stimmler, co-chair of the Wisconsin Green Party. “Several dozen communities in Wisconsin are actively working toward becoming ‘eco-municipalities’ through the Natural Step process and elected Wisconsin Greens are taking the lead in their local communities.”