For more photos, click gallery, above.
The key question is: Why? Why do they do it?
Running for a local elected position like County Board is no easy task. But running as a challenger borders on crazy.
All 37 County Board seats are on the April 6 ballot. Twenty of these races are contested. In 16 of these, a challenger is going up against an incumbent.
For many of these challengers, this means spending every free moment pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, trying to persuade people to vote for them. And for most, it will likely be a losing battle. (In the last election, in 2008, 11 of the 13 candidates challenging Dane County Board incumbents lost.)
"It can be very hard to unseat an incumbent," says County Board Chair Scott McDonell, explaining that incumbents usually have more name recognition, money and endorsements. McDonell, who has served on the board since 1996 and has been chair since 2005, is one of the incumbents facing a challenger.
Serving on the County Board of Supervisors is a time-consuming, sometimes thankless and anonymous duty. For an annual stipend of just $8,200, supervisors commit to two long board meetings and multiple committee meetings every month. They must do a lot of homework, field questions from constituents, and be involved in municipal and neighborhood affairs. And the chances are good that many of the people they represent don't even know their names.
So why do challengers decide to run? Isthmus put this question to all 16 of them and focuses here on six. We learned that their motivations range from ambition to anger, from altruism to deep concerns about taxes, spending and priorities.
The candidates cited a range of issues, especially hot topics like the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and shoreland zoning rules. The RTA would have the ability to charge up to a half-cent local sales tax to finance transportation needs, possibly including commuter rail. The shoreland zoning rules, now being promulgated, might restrict the kinds of development that could occur on or near lakes. Many candidates talked about the need to get county spending under control and argued that they can do a better job of communicating with voters.
And almost all spoke passionately about the importance of making a contribution to the community, giving voters a choice, and faithfully representing their constituents. As Dist. 24 challenger Pat Barry put it, "Everyone should do this at least once in their life. Running for office gives you an incredible appreciation for the democratic process."
Dist. 1: Dennis Amadeus de Nure (vs. Scott McDonell)
Challenger Dennis Amadeus de Nure is so sure he's going to lose he's actually using the campaign slogan "Don't You Dare Vote For Me." He's running against Scott McDonell, who has served on the County Board since 1996 and has been chair since 2005. The Dist. 1 seat he seeks covers part of downtown Madison.
"I see this election as another opportunity in promoting the Museum Mile Plan," De Nure explains. "You could say I am a single-issue candidate."
Persistent and passionate, De Nure has been talking up his marketing plan focusing on museums since the 1980s. Running for office - mayor, city council, state Senate and County Board - has been one of his favorite ways to focus attention on his idea. This year, with major expansions in the works at the Chazen Museum of Art and the Madison Children's Museum, he is convinced the time is right for local government and businesses to join his crusade.
"The current system is preparing for a big discussion and vote on a sales tax for the Regional Transit Authority, and my voice is coming along saying, 'Wait a minute here.' We need a museum mile governing board more than a Regional Transit Authority. We can't do justice to both."
De Nure, 50, describes himself as a nonfiction writer and publishes a blog. He has run several small businesses, including a T-shirt shop on State Street.
McDonell, 40, works as a policy analyst for the Wisconsin Department of Administration. He has a number of endorsements, including the Democratic Party of Dane County and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. De Nure has no endorsements. He probably doesn't want any.
"I am not running to get elected," he says, "and if by a quirk of fate Scott were to drop dead from being hit by an unidentified flying object, I would drop out and not serve, forcing another election."
He is heading into April 6 with remarkable clarity: "I'll lose the election. I've lost before. But I'll never give up."
Dist. 30: Donald Steinhauer (vs. Patrick Downing)
Challenger Don Steinhauer thinks he can do better.
"I just do not feel we've had effective representation for our district," he says of his bid to represent this largely rural district in southwestern Dane County.
Steinhauer is convinced that his views on issues like the RTA and shoreland zoning and his fiscal conservatism are more in line with those of the district's constituents.
"Citizens here are opposed to spending money for a train that won't serve anyone out here," he says. "The county has overspent and overborrowed, and people here are not getting the bang for their buck."
Steinhauer, 52, is a former Mount Horeb village trustee and current village president. He traces his involvement in local government, beginning two years ago, to his discontent with village officials' decisions. "Once I became part of local government, I just got more frustrated."
The owner of Spectrum Powder Coating, Steinhauer employs 14 full- and part-time workers. He has endorsements from the Realtors of South Central Wisconsin and the Dane County Council of Public Affairs.
"People I talk to understand we have to pay taxes but think the county cannot afford to do many of the things they are trying to do. The issues - the RTA, the emergency radio system, shoreland zoning - are important, but the bottom line for people here is the cost."
Patrick Downing, 60, tunes pianos and makes and repairs stringed instruments. He is completing his second term on the County Board. He's been endorsed by Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association and the Democratic Party of Dane County.
Dist. 4: Greg Hull (vs. Brett Hulsey)
Challenger Greg Hull is just 22 years old and still working on a degree in political science at the UW-Madison, but already his list of accomplishments is impressive.
He got his real estate license at age 18 and works for a real estate company called the Condo Shoppe. He's on the board of directors for the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin, Spring Harbor Neighborhood Association and Habitat for Humanity of Dane County. This is his second run for a County Board seat against incumbent Brett Hulsey. He has big ambitions.
"I would like to be in politics for a long time, someday to run for governor or senator," Hull says. He acknowledges that he is not ready yet, but says his youth hasn't held him back so far. "People who know me don't think I'm too young [to be on the County Board]."
Hulsey, 50, has represented the Madison west-side district for six terms. The president of Better Environmental Solutions, he is endorsed by the Democratic Party of Dane County and County Executive Kathleen Falk.
But Hull insists that he is the superior choice, and that he has a good chance to win. His candidacy is backed by the Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association and the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin.
"I can represent the district better," he says. "I think [Hulsey] has lost touch with our wants and needs."
Hull likes the idea of an RTA but is concerned that Hulsey voted to create a taxing authority without county oversight. He also criticizes his opponent for supporting the county's shoreline zoning proposal, which he believes goes too far.
"We have a lot of shoreline in our district, and Brett should have warned us about what is developing," Hull says. "It will hurt property values and tax base."
Dist. 15: Barbara McKinney (vs. Ronn Ferrell)
Challenger Barbara McKinney says it's all come down to love.
"I am running for County Board because I love this community, I am passionate about it. I believe that we all should participate in shaping the community where we live."
McKinney, 63, moved to Madison from St. Louis, Mo., five years ago to care for her son, who had colon cancer. She fell in love with the community and decided to stay after he died. She is employed at the Madison Area Urban Ministry, where she trains volunteers to work with men and women who are returning to the community after serving time in prison.
"I have been actively engaged in issues that impact our community - issues like restorative justice, economic growth, education and the alleviation of homelessness and poverty," says McKinney. "I get things done, I believe in partnerships and collaborative efforts, and I am a problem solver."
The incumbent is Ronn Ferrell, 50, who has represented the southwest Madison district for two years.
McKinney says people in her district have concerns about taxes and spending, but their biggest worries are the overall economy, crime and public safety. She touts her long involvement with community organizations, volunteer groups and her church. And she says her experience working with a regional planning council in St. Louis would be valuable in RTA discussions.
Ferrell is endorsed by the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, the Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association and the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin.
McKinney has endorsements from County Executive Kathleen Falk, the Democratic Party of Dane County, Sheriff Dave Mahoney and District Attorney Brian Blanchard.
Dist. 7: Mike Thomsen (vs. Matt Veldran)
Challenger Mike Thomsen is a convert to the cause. His transformation occurred when he became a homeowner in Madison, after 22 years of being a renter.
"I never thought much about the property taxes when I was a renter, but when I got that first bill, I realized that it's a lot of money," he says. With a proposed county sales tax increase for funding the RTA, Thomsen worries that spending is spinning out of control.
Thomsen, 52, a marketing databases manager for Econoprint, says he sent a letter about the RTA to incumbent Matt Veldran and got "a perfunctory response." That and a 7.89% hike in the county property tax for 2009 got him thinking about running.
"I haven't talked with anybody who has received a 7.9% pay raise this year," he says. "When I walk around our neighborhoods, I hear about a lot of economic stress. I see many houses that need repairs and find many residents wearing jackets and thick sweaters inside their homes to save on heating expenses. In tough times the County Board should be sensitive to residents' difficulties."
Thomsen opposes commuter rail in Dane County, saying it will "serve very few people. It's a small project except for the expense." He would prefer to see more support for buses and road improvements.
Veldran, 50, works as a paralegal and has represented the southwest Madison district for two terms. He is endorsed by the Democratic Party of Dane County and South Central Federation of Labor, among others.
Thomsen has endorsements from the Dane County Council of Public Affairs and Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin.
Dist. 33: Sam Cooke (vs. Jack Martz)
Challenger Sam Cooke has lived in Fitchburg for 18 years. He's witnessed a surge in population and development and is proud of the way the city has managed that growth.
"Sixty to 70% of the district is still largely rural," he says, "and there's been a lot of movement by the planning commission for preservation and planning for development that includes a mix of homes, employment and retail." He wants to preserve a landscape that includes open space, parks, streams and wetlands.
Cooke, 50, is an environmental consultant. He is chair of the Fitchburg Resource Conservation Commission and participates in his neighborhood association, often devoting up to 30 hours a week to this work.
"I think it's just in my DNA to want to help meet people's needs," he says. "Once you start getting into it and see how you can affect lives positively, there's something motivating about it."
Cooke talks up environmental protection and favors an RTA to lessen dependence on automobiles. Incumbent Jack Martz, 68 and retired, doesn't like the way the RTA has developed, with a non-elected board and an emphasis on trains.
Cooke also says Martz has a poor attendance record and missed critical budget votes in both 2008 and 2009. (Martz responds that he missed the 2008 budget vote because of a family funeral and several meetings, including the 2009 budget vote, because he had two major surgeries. He says these absences were excused by board Chair McDonell.)
Cooke's endorsements include American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Democratic Party of Dane County. Martz's endorsements include the Dane County Council of Public Affairs, Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association and the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin.
Other challengers, other races
Here are the other races in which a challenger is taking on a Dane County Board incumbent in the April 6 election:
Dist. 3, east-side Madison: Donald J. Imhoff, 58, real estate appraiser, is running against three-term incumbent Elaine H. DeSmidt, 59, homemaker and landlord. Imhoff has many endorsements, including the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin. DeSmidt is endorsed by the Dane County Democratic Party and AFSCME.
Dist. 12, east-side Madison and Maple Bluff: Rick Raulin, 49, professional trainer and real estate broker, is running against four-term incumbent Paul Rusk, 54, executive director of Alzheimer's & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin. Rusk has endorsements from County Executive Kathleen Falk and the county Democratic Party, among others. Raulin is backed by the Realtors.
Dist. 16, east-side Madison and Blooming Grove: Ryan Jennissen, 35, packaging sales for Warner & Warner Packaging, is running against three-term incumbent Dave de Felice, 58, chief of staff for state Sen. Spencer Coggs. Jennissen is endorsed by the Realtors, De Felice by Dane County Democrats.
Dist. 20, Sun Prairie: Gordon Shea, 41, non-practicing lawyer and stay-at-home dad, is challenging Duane Gau, 61, a business development manager, for the seat Gau has held for three terms. Gau's endorsements include the Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association; Shea is backed by Falk and the Dane County Dems.
Dist. 21, Cottage Grove: Harvey E. Potter, 58, auditor for the State Controller's Office, is running against eight-term incumbent David E. Wiganowsky, 60, owner of Wiggies Bar and Grill.
District 24, Monona/east Madison: Pat Barry, 44, business owner (Specialty Services of Wisconsin), is running against one-term incumbent Robin R. Schmidt, 53, who works at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Barry is backed by the Realtors, Schmidt by the Democrats.
Dist. 27, south Madison and Fitchburg: Jeffrey Kritch, 38, owner of Flooring Solutions, LLC, is running against four-term incumbent Kyle R. Richmond, 48, communications coordinator at UW-Whitewater. Richmond is endorsed by the Democrats and Progressive Dane, Kritch by the Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association.
Dist. 28, Cross Plains: Bob Green, 51, buyer for UW Provisions, is challenging Kurt Schlicht, 46, tavern owner, for the seat Schlicht has held for one term. Schlicht is favored by the Realtors and deputies' association, Green by the Sierra Club.
Dist. 34, McFarland: Spencer Zimmerman, 30, employed at Menards, is challenging two-term incumbent Patrick Miles, 42, information technology consultant. Zimmerman is endorsed by the deputies, Miles by the Democrats and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.
Dist. 35, Stoughton: Dave Siitari, 57, retired, is running against incumbent Denise Duranczyk, 58, physical therapist, who was appointed to the County Board in October 2009. Siitari has the deputies, Duranczyk the Democrats.
Who's backing whom?
Here's a list of groups that have made endorsements in the race for County Board, and their websites:
For more information on these and other contested races, see the League of Women Voters insert in next week's paper.