Isthmus sent the six candidates for the July 12 Democratic primary for the 48th Assembly seat questions about why they're running for office and what they hope to accomplish. Here is what they had to say.
Dave de Felice
Current employment: Chief of Staff, State Sen. Spencer Coggs and Dane County Supervisor, Dist. 16
Campaign website: Dave4Assembly48.com
Relevant experience (in 75 words or less): 15-year career in journalism covering government and labor; congressional aide; aide to minority and majority leadership in State Assembly; current Chief of Staff to Sen. Coggs and currently a four-term elected official on the Dane County Board of Supervisors
Please answer the following questions in 200 words or less.
1. Why are you running for the Assembly seat?
I am running for the Assembly because I am for everything Scott Walker is against. I am for teachers and many other public workers whose collective bargaining rights have been strip-mined by Scott Walker. I am for schools, technical colleges and universities. And I'm against Scott Walker's "Back to the Future" agenda. Education is the way to keep our competitive edge in a global economy. I am for the environment. Converting the DNR to a drive-through building permit service for developers is a disgrace and goes against the legacy of Wisconsin's tradition of leadership in environmentalism. This is not the Wisconsin of Gaylord Nelson and Aldo Leopold.
Why am I running? My philosophy of community and civic involvement is expressed well by Supv. Al Matano, a colleague of mine on the county board. He calls it "The campground theory. Leave it better than you found it."
2. If elected, what will be your priorities for the district?
My highest priorities are education and mental health. Education is an opportunity-creation machine. An education should be available for all who want to work for it. But, it is being pulled incrementally out of reach for everyday people. I would like to see the day when education in technical colleges and universities is free with admission based on academic merit. Not solely for honor students, but for those who can demonstrate interest, accomplishment and potential for schooling and training.
egarding my other priority, mental health, my daughters and I lived through the tragedy of the death of my wife and their mother by suicide. Since her death in the summer of 2006, my daughters and I have helped each other through adversity. We are lucky to have family and friends. Many don't. Many are ashamed to admit they are depressed or are ailing. I have become involved with the mental health community and HOPES (Helping Others Prevent and Educate About Suicide). I have developed a number of priorities linked to promoting mental health wellness. In Dane County, there are more suicides each year than traffic fatalities. We can give this devastating public health problem the attention its due.
3. Explain how, as a member of the minority, you can be effective in fighting against the Republican agenda?
As a four-term member of the Dane County Board, I have served in both the minority and majority. The majority party in a Legislature controls the legislative process. When combined with a governor of the same party, democracy is a one-sided, unilateral affair. I was also a member of the minority and majority when I worked for Democratic leadership in the state Assembly. Both experiences were unpleasant. When the majority rules with a heavy hand, it is an especially unpleasant, even bitter experience. It's also an opportunity: Where else can you find what made you strong in the first place? How else are you forced to rediscover and renew your core values?
To be an effective minority requires discipline, courage and resolve working in the service of shared values such as education, fair wages and working conditions for working families, health care for all (not just those who can afford it), preservation and protection of the environment, and justice and opportunity for the poor and those without privilege or advantage. Renewing our commitment to those values will make us an effective minority and in time, a majority.
4. Which issues do you find common ground with Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans? If you don't see any common ground, how will you try to sway them to your point of view?
I don't find common ground with Scott Walker or his Republican allies. I am for everything they are against; education, collective bargaining rights, health care for all, consumer justice, the rights of minorities, keeping a leash on corporations, preserving the environment and providing the rules and infrastructure for a sound economy that produces family-supporting jobs and prosperity in Wisconsin. If common ground were measured as radiation, there would be no clicks on the Wisconsin political Geiger counter. Not even background radiation. I don't get it. What do you do with a Governor and his allies in the Legislature who won't take "yes" for an answer? This will have to be settled at the ballot box.
5. Closing the deficit has become a rallying cry for the Republicans and it is one that resonates with many Wisconsin residents. Is it important to balance the budget and if so, how would you do so? If it isn't important, why not?
It is important to balance the budget. It's important to demonstrate that our government is competent, worthy of confidence and that it's a place to raise a family and start a business, a place where the people know what they're doing and where they're going. At the county, we are responsible for writing a balanced budget every year. We're strictly pay-as-you-go.
But the state budget is a political document and a spending plan, in that order. That's why Wisconsin's structural deficit has been a continuing problem. What made it seem intolerable was the crash of the economy. The structural deficit in state government exploded under Gov. Tommy Thompson's watch.
Today, we should take an even-handed approach to balancing the budget. We should follow some "Do's" and "Don'ts." Don't reduce taxes for those already earning high incomes. Don't expand the costly charter and voucher school programs. Do reverse the nearly quarter-billion dollar raid on the General Fund for the Transportation Fund. Do fund local governments -- one of the biggest expenses in the budget -- at the same level as last year. We're used to making-do.
6. What role should the state play in protecting the environment? Name some specific programs you would push for?
The state should continue its long tradition of being a watchdog and impartial arbiter of the use and preservation of Wisconsin's natural resource issues. The most important step would be to restore the DNR Secretary as a position not appointed by the Governor, but by an independent Natural Resources Board represented by those who truly have the knowledge, skill and experience in dealing long-term with the environment.
As for a specific program, I would name the Stewardship Fund as the most important environmental program in Wisconsin. The state Stewardship Fund partners with local governments, conservation groups and like-minded individuals who wish to preserve rather than develop unique and valuable natural resources. The Stewardship Fund, through purchases, easements and matching funds for conservation is functionally and symbolically the most important environmental program Wisconsin has today. And for generations to come.
7. Most Democratic candidates -- and most residents in the 48th district -- agree that the state should provide services to the poor, disabled and elderly. At the same time, these programs are among the fastest growing in cost to the state. How can the state simultaneously control these costs while providing better services to people? Are there any grand reforms you would push for?
President Obama failed to achieve real and lasting health care reform when he too easily gave up the public option as part of the recently passed national health care legislation. There is no competition in health care today. In Wisconsin, that is expressed by the building boom of multiple and duplicative health facilities owned by a few key players who have locked up the market.
One reform that I'd push is complete transparency in pricing; i.e. what are doctors, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies charging for tests, treatments, surgeries and prescription drugs? That information should neither be private nor proprietary. Not when we face a public health crisis that reaches into every corner of our personal lives and the economy. In fact, a policy of total transparency in the health care field enlists the Holy Grail of economists and talk show hosts across the country: The market. Injecting (pun intended) competition into pricing -- understanding what we pay for health care -- would be an important first step towards meaningful reform.
8. What reforms, if any, would you make to the Wisconsin tax system? If you wouldn't make any, why do you think the current tax system is appropriate?
There are various proposals to change the tax system to improve the way we pay for schools. That cost is easily one of the top two spending items of every state budget. I think the plans have merit, but I have not become familiar enough with them to endorse any plan at this time. They are, however, useful for discussion.
For instance, instead of using local property taxes to pay for schools -- a policy that only reinforces vast inequities in education funding throughout Wisconsin's 426 school districts -- why not eliminate local property taxes and replace them with a state property tax? Others propose a one-cent increase in the sales tax, which would raise nearly $900 million to fund school districts. Still others say that we first need to figure out what it actually costs to educate a student.
Today those decisions are largely based on politics. In other words, it's the Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules. I believe that determining the cost of education should lead the discussion of reforming the tax system and not be merely be the footnote.
9. What reforms would you push for with the school system?
As noted in the previous question, I would take a hard look at financing schools. The property tax falls too heavily on some, such as elderly homeowners who live on fixed incomes. Reforming the tax system requires us to look ahead at the new economy, not rely on myths and "The way we've always done it." For example, recent studies have determined that a sales tax is not as regressive as many hold it to be. When viewed over the lifetime of an individual, the studies say, the sales tax is no more regressive than the income tax because purchasing rises and falls over a lifetime.
10. What are the most important issues facing women in Wisconsin?
I believe that health care is one of the most important issues facing women. In Wisconsin, cancer, domestic abuse, depression and other illnesses affect women disproportionately. Women's health needs greater public attention, not only from policy makers but from women as well, many of whom are still unaware that they face great health risks.
For instance, every year in Wisconsin 10,000 women die of heart attacks and strokes. Greater public awareness and detection and treatment protocols should be brought to bear on this disease. Another example: Depression is the number-one cause of disability among women. These problems are treatable! Yet, these illnesses continue to claim victims far out of proportion to their population.
11. If elected, what would you do to improve the economy?
I would focus on developing a green economy. Wisconsin is world-renown for manufacturing. As an example: A typical wind generator is made up of dozens of manufactured parts. Each part carries what is called a NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System). Each of these codes match up with parts manufactured by companies in Wisconsin. According to a study by the Renewable Energy Policy Report, establishing a viable wind turbine industry in Wisconsin would generate $75 million of economic activity in Dane County alone, creating nearly 500 jobs. The impact in Milwaukee, one of the manufacturing centers of the world, would be enormous: more than $700 million in economic activity and 5,000 jobs.
During my time on the Dane County Board we have enlisted green power, not only to save money, but to make money. Our new nursing home is powered by geothermal. Community manure digesters, a first-in-the-nation innovation, are useful in a number of ways friendly to the environment. And the county earns money by capturing methane gas, a byproduct of the county landfill. That methane is burned by generators that produce electricity which is sold to the power company for more than $3 million each year.
12. I've touched on some obvious big issues, but are there any issues that the media and general public are overlooking? What are they?
I think the media and the general public are unaware of how much damage mental illness can do to individuals and society. The stigma is still present, but it can be overcome. Like AIDS and cancer, once taboo, we need to drag mental illness out of the closet. In the vast majority of cases, depression is treatable. Some are even talking about a cure for depression in the near future. Knowledge, awareness and treatment should become commonplace in society, seeing that one in four people at one time in their lives will suffer from a mental illness. If you are feeling depressed, please seek help. You can be helped. You will be helped.