Chris Taylor won a crowded, hard-fought race this summer to replace Joe Parisi in the state Assembly, representing Madison's east side. But then a funny thing happened: redistricting.
Thanks to the Republican-controlled Legislature, Taylor's home was moved into a restructured 76th District, one that now includes the neighborhood of Rep. Mark Pocan. Pocan plans to step down to run for Tammy Baldwin's congressional seat, which she is vacating to run for the U.S. Senate. Is Taylor an incumbent even though she's in a completely new district?
The Democratic Caucus thinks so. A WisPolitics newsletter quoted Minority Leader Peter Barca saying the Democratic Caucus would back Taylor in the race against other Democrats. Two others who wanted to run for the seat - Vicky Selkowe, an aide to Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) who lost to Taylor in the 48th District primary, and Melissa Malott, an environmental attorney with Clean Wisconsin - have since dropped out of the race.
Also considering a run for the seat is Dane County Board Chairman Scott McDonell. "There's only one or two wards that overlap where [Taylor] ran," he says. "So the area that she ran and won in, this is not that area."
If redistricting stands (it is being challenged in court), Taylor will be living in a new district made up of parts of her current one, parts of Pocan's and parts of Rep. Terese Berceau's.
"They've basically blown to hell all of Dane County," Taylor says. "The intent of the Republicans was to tie us up in primaries."
Taylor says she was hoping to spend the next election cycle helping progressives in other districts get elected, rather than defending her own seat against fellow Democrats. "No legislator ever wants a primary challenge. I just got through a primary," she says. "But do people have a right to vote on who should represent them? Absolutely."
Ed Garvey, an activist who spearheads Fighting Bob Fest, says by endorsing the incumbents, the Democrats are letting the Republicans, through redistricting, pick the candidates they want to run against.
And, Garvey adds, it breaks with tradition. "I can't recall the last time the Democratic Party has endorsed in a primary," he says. "It was the La Follette tradition that the people ought to nominate, not the boys in the back room."
Under the influence
As Wisconsin bikers say: Be careful riding after 9 p.m., because all motorists are drunk.
These days, motorists are abusing even harder substances. In Madison this year, eight of them have been charged with driving under the influence of heroin or other opiates, according to Lt. Brian Ackeret, head of the Madison Police Department's drug unit. In addition, another person killed a pedestrian in an accident on the city's east side earlier this month after allegedly taking methadone.
Ackeret says the spike in people driving on smack simply correlates to a rise in heroin abuse and addiction.
"Typically drug transactions happen out in the public area," Ackeret says. "It's not uncommon for people who are purchasing drugs to have to travel. And the strong addictive nature of the drug causes them to want to use it immediately."
Despite all the cutbacks the state is making because of Gov. Scott Walker's budget, the Capitol lawn is getting a bit of pampering.
A new irrigation system is being installed under the lawn to the tune of $176,000. Carla Vigue, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, says, "The layout of the existing system covers only 60% of the lawn and very little of the flower beds and bushes, which means that maintaining the Capitol lawn currently requires significant hand watering."
Hand watering, of course, requires employees.
Burning through savings
Madison and Dane County regularly top lists for the best places to live, but there's one distinction they're trying to lose. Dane County has the third-highest particle air pollution in the eight-state upper Midwest.
The levels get particularly high in the cold months, when people fire up their wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, says Lisa MacKinnon, director of the Dane County Clean Air Coalition. In 2010, there were eight days when the county exceeded the acceptable limit for particle pollution, putting people at heightened risk of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
This year, the Coalition obtained a $50,000 grant to encourage people to replace their old wood-burning stoves. The program gives people a $750 rebate for buying a newer, cleaner wood stove or fireplace insert. Combined with tax credits and manufacturers' rebates, residents are eligible for as much as $1,500 toward the purchase of a new stove, which can run around $3,000, she says.
The Sept. 30 deadline is fast approaching. For information call MacKinnon at 608-266-9063 or go to healthyairdane.org/woodstove.aspx.