Terri Kelso, a Dane County Board candidate from DeForest, hits the standard conservative talking points on her campaign website, calling for balanced budgets and "spending only when necessary."
Kelso, who is running against Maureen McCarville for the post, also wrote in an op-ed in The Capital Times: "As a homeowner and business owner, I know how important it is to adhere to a budget. If I wish to make a purchase, but don't have the money, I need to save for it. If borrowing money is an option, then the decision needs to be made whether or not the payments can be managed on a current budget, not on what I 'hope' to make in the next year. If your income-to-debt ratio is too high, your credit score goes down. So it is with the county."
But the statements seem to contradict Kelso's background: she has declared bankruptcy five times, either with her ex-husband or on her own, most recently in 2005.
In a phone interview, Kelso explains that the bankruptcies grew out of criminal problems her ex-husband faced. Kelso declined to go into the nature of those crimes, but explains: "It left me with a very large legal bill, on top of being a single mom," she says, adding she had $65,000 in lawyer bills. "When he went away to [prison], it left me with all of the debt."
After her ex- went to prison in 2002, Kelso says her lawyer at first advised her to try a restructured bankruptcy, which would allow her to reorganize her finances and retain some assets, like her car. She says, "I failed, because I didn't have a full-time job."
"[The bankruptcies] were a direct result of his actions," she adds. "I tried to keep it together as long as I could and it didn't work."
Since her last bankruptcy, Kelso says she has cleaned up her finances.
"Walk in my shoes for a little bit before you judge. The general public is very quick to judge before knowing all the facts," she says. "I got through it as best I could. When you feel trapped and you feel like you don't have any choices available to you, you do what you can do to feed your children."
County Board chair Scott McDonell says Kelso's campaign rhetoric is hypocritical, given her history. "These situations are exactly why we spend money on human services, to help single moms and people in need," he says. "I would have thought she would have been more sympathetic to people in need. It just seems strange to criticize the county, which still has a really high credit rating, when you file for bankruptcy so many times yourself."
As for how fiscal conservatism should be applied on the Dane County Board, Kelso says it involves making tough choices. "The first prudent thing to do is to review the programs we have, make sure they're serving the public," she says.