In the campaign for Dane County executive, the candidates at times sound as though the apocalypse is upon us.
The Republicans have taken control of the governor's seat and Legislature, and severe cuts - to human services, school aid and money to local governments - seem all but certain. Almost all of the candidates paint a bleak picture of the next four years, while offering hope they can carry the county through it.
But Kathleen Falk, the woman who has held the job for 14 years and shocked everyone last fall by announcing she's stepping down, says none of this is new.
"We face this regularly," Falk says, noting that she was first elected during the tenure of Gov. Tommy Thompson, who supported her opponent. And she says former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle was forced to cut funding as well.
That's not to say things will be easy. The county executive manages a budget of around $500 million, oversees 2,500 employees, and provides leadership on county issues. The job pays $113,568 a year.
Despite the pending challenges, competition for the job is fierce. There are five serious contenders - Zach Brandon, Eileen Bruskewitz, Scott McDonell, Joe Parisi and Joe Wineke - each with a viable chance of winning. A sixth candidate, Spencer Zimmerman, is running on a platform to abolish the position. The Feb. 15 primary will narrow the field to two contenders.
Falk is not endorsing anyone in the primary but plans on making an endorsement for the April 5 general election. As she sees it, "The difference in the six candidates running is very stark."
Here's a considered look at the candidates and their distinctive attributes.