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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Partly Cloudy
The Daily
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Newcomer Jenni Dye tops off progressive landslide on Dane County Board
Dane Dems tally the outcomes of county board races on election night.
Credit:Julia Kerr

A week before Tuesday's election, Dane County Board Chairman Scott McDonell was not optimistic that Jenni Dye would unseat conservative Jack Martz, a 10-year board veteran, in Fitchburg.

"Jack always wins," said McDonell, who noted that internal polling showed Dye trailing in the race.

But this time around, Martz lost. Unofficial results have Dye winning with 55% of the vote, a 331-vote margin. On Wednesday, McDonell said he obviously misread the recent poll, missing a surge in her numbers.

"She worked hard," he says. "That's the thing. If you fight to the end, you can catch a wave."

Dye became politically active during the Capitol protests last year and gained a huge following on her Twitter account, @legaleagle. But she credits her volunteers and old-fashioned door-knocking, not social media, with her victory. "Social media helped me to recruit volunteers," she says. "But social media only works if people are following you anyway."

She said she knocked on some 4,000 doors during the campaign. "In the last two weeks, we talked to so many people in Fitchburg," she says. "People in general, given our political climate, were energized so we had good turn out. And [voters] really want people who will listen to them."

Dye's victory was one of the most surprising in a wave of victories for progressives on the county board. Although they already had a majority, they picked up enough seats to prevent the group of 10 conservatives from blocking borrowing measures. The liberals now have 28 seats on the 37-member board.

Two other conservatives, Don Imhoff of Madison and Mike Willett of Verona, were also unseated, by Jeff Pertl and Erika Hotchkiss, respectively. Meanwhile, in Madison, two Progressive Dane candidates, Heidi Wegleitner and Leland Pan, won open seats.

Supv. Eileen Bruskewitz, a conservative who did not run for reelection, calls Tuesday "one of those times the pendulum has swung to the left, way to the left. That's just the way it goes sometimes."

Bruskewitz was redistricted out of her seat and decided not to run again in a new one. Her old seat in Waunakee was tentatively won by Tim Kiefer, who collected 1,416 votes to Brian Raemisch's 1,364. However, with outstanding absentee ballots, there's still a chance that race could turn, she notes.

McDonell says the progressive gains show Dane County is geared up for a recall battle against Walker. "It's not just Madison," he says. "We won Waunakee, Mount Horeb, DeForest, Stoughton."

Conservatives, he says, blundered by aligning "their agenda with Scott Walker."

The growing progressive majority means good news for the county's lakes, he says. The progressives have been pushing a Clear Lakes Initiative. While some conservatives supported the idea, they likely would have rejected implementing one of its key elements: strategically buying land around the lakes to prevent erosion and run-off.

Says McDonell: "It's a boon to clean lakes that we won these races, because they can't stop the borrowing to protect the lakes."

Bruskewitz worries what the board will do now that the liberals have free rein. "I want to see what kind of fiscal restraint there might be," she says. "Without the reality check from conservatives, I think borrowing could go dangerously high. I hope they'll have enough common sense to not go that way."

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