First off, Paul Axel has not become a contributing member to The Sconz, although it certainly wouldn’t hurt having him on board.
A few weeks ago he interviewed Analiese Eicher, the Democratic candidate (in a non-partisan race) for the District 5 seat on the Dane County Board. Disclosure: Axel is active in the College Democrats and very likely knows Eicher personally. Here’s the interview:
Why did you initially decide to run for county board, or who convinced you?
Well, I guess I really hadn’t been considering because there was an open seat, and it never really crossed my mind that it was something I wanted to do right away. I was definitely on the track for law school, taking the LSAT. Someone brought it more to my attention and asked me to consider it, and I began to consider it…just to think about it. And I was, like, “Well, OK.” So I started talking to a lot of students that I work with on campus, asking their opinion about it. I started to think about what the position means to the students on campus. So after many conversations with many students, it was clear a lot of people thought it was a good idea. I convinced myself that there were a lot of things that I wanted to work on that could be accomplished on the county board. I felt students needed strong represented to represent their voice on the board. I felt that students needed to know what was going on. They don’t realize just how relevant the board is to their everyday lives. So it was a lot of students that convinced me to run.
What is the single most important issue for you? What is your “niche”?
It’s a hard question, because I’m very much a comprehensive thinker. But I think the one thing that’s really important is kinda twofold. It’s important that students know thy have rep on the board and how those decisions affect them. What it comes down to…God, that’s so hard! There’s so many different things. Our safety on campus is really important to me and I know from the conversations with students that it’s important for them, and the Dane County Sheriff’s Department works very closely with Madison city police and UW police to make sure that we’re safe in our campus community. That’s one thing that’s important to me, but another is our campus environment. Having an environment that’s safe for us in terms of ‘can we go out and jump in the lake?’ There’s a lot more we can do to improve the quality and safety of the water. Students use the Terrace every single day as soon as the snow melts and we have amazing resources. Protecting those resources and having the ability to use them is an important thing to me and it should be important to students. It goes along with making sure that we live in a green community and doing things in our lives to live in a healthy environment.
We know you’ve mentioned how important you believe Health and Human Services to be. What do you feel needs to be done to maintain or improve HHS’ level of effectiveness with regard to the student population, and how will that work given the current economic situation?
Well, the human services department in Dane County is one of the best in the state and actually in the nation, in my opinion. It got national attention for its programs. It’s got the lowest infant mortality rate among African-Americans in the nation. I think a lot of that attests to making Health and Human Services a priority in Dane County, and regardless of the economic situation I think making sure the health of our community and making sure those services are available are key, especially because when you enter times like this, we see people needing these services more than ever. So they’re important. I think in terms of keeping those a priority…budgets are difficult, we saw that last year with the county budget and next year’s will probably be difficult too. It comes down to finding a balance on what we’re working with and what we need and there’s a lot we can do with shared revenue, making sure we have funding for programs. If it means asking the state for shared revenue, we shouldn’t hesitate to do so. We need to evaluate what programs work best, and from what I know, most of them work well and efficiently, but I think monetarily we need to make sure we’re using the right services.
There’s been talk for a few years now about purchasing biodigesters to help clean the lakes. However, talk about them tends to disappear after election day. Do you feel there be progress to purchase this equipment in the next two years, and if so, what role can you play in that?
Well it’s funny you mention, because at the county board meeting last night there was talk specifically about manure digesters. From what I understand, they are actually taking the steps to move forward to purchase one of these and I don’t know the timeline but if I get elected, absolutely I’ll be involved. They’re extremely beneficial to making sure we have clean water. I would definitely advocate for it, vote for funding for it, no question.
Between September 2008 and 2009, Dane County’s unemployment rate went from 3.3% to 5.4%. The rate is the same in the City of Madison. Compared to the rest of the state, the county unemployment rate is the lowest, and compared to the U.S. unemployment rate of 9.5% at the time, Dane County has not been hit as hard. Why is that? What can be done to further lower the unemployment rate?
Well, first let me say that looking at the unemployment rates for the rest of the state and surrounding counties and the rest of the nation, I think Dane County is comparatively very fortunate. The reason I think it’s lower than the rest of the state and nation is because Dane County’s main priority is that people have jobs. Jobs are important and the board has made that a priority…that has something to do with it. It might have something to do with the types of jobs we have in Dane County. If you look at it, there’s just higher unemployment nationwide. Will that change anytime soon? It seems so. We need to protect the jobs we have and create opportunities for more and newer jobs. In terms of protecting jobs we already have, I think it’s recognizing where those jobs are and if it comes down to everyone taking a cut instead of losing your job, personally I would take the pay cut. But I also think that there’s potentially other solutions. In terms of new jobs, looking to new businesses, investing in green jobs and “greenifying” existing businesses. I think it’s areas like that that can provide for jobs. Making sure that Dane County residents have jobs and maintain them is central.
Dane County currently has the lowest per-capita number of domestic abuse shelter beds: 1 bed per every 19,000 residents. The state average is 1 bed per 7,300 residents. Last year, there was an over 100 percent increase in the number of women seeking help. It’s believed that the economy may play some role in this increase. How does the county address the problems of the low number of beds and the increasing occurrence of domestic abuse?
I think in order to address it, we have to talk about it and it is very much a sensitive subject. But the reality is that it happens and that it is happening, and that the women and men who seek shelter because of domestic abuse situations need somewhere to go and have resources. I do not think that has necessarily been a priority. The domestic abuse services are consistently underfunded while the people need these services. We need to make sure we are providing for Dane County residents, and if that means some funding then I will advocate for it and I am advocating for it. People need them.
The 5th district’s current board member is Wyndham Manning, who has come under criticism from a number of sources for being almost nonexistent in the student public. How would you improve communication between yourself as a board member and the student constituent?
It’s one of the reasons I’m running, to increase student presence on the board and so students know the decisions the board makes. I think it’s about opening the lines of communication. I will have a blog on my website, which is still under construction. If elected, the site will transition to an informational website: what’s coming up in the meetings, what I think about it. I want to hear from students. There’s 10,000 of them in the 5th district. Its about opening communication with student papers. We have two with a lot of readership. In the past, we didn’t see a lot reported. I want to change that. If that means working with the editorial boards in some way, or writing a guest column. Face to face contact is important, and so I’ll hold office hours before every meeting- there are two a month. We need to have an open dialogue between constituents and their representatives. It comes down to making yourself available. It’s not fair if your constituents elect you and you ignore them- it’s not right!
What do you feel will be the major three developments in the next two years for Dane County? How should the county board respond to those developments?
The biggest one is the RTA, which the board created, but they need to put together a task force to look into everything, and it comes down to the voters and what changes will be made. It’s incredibly important. I was supportive of the RTA when the board discussed it and I will continue to support and advocate for it. As of right now, cities outside Madison “rent” the ability for buses to head out there. By taking it to the county level, we can address the disparities between cities, streamline everything, provide more routes and allow people without cars to get to work, get to the store. With more people riding buses, there’s less cars on the road, which can lead to improved air quality, which is pretty important. Biodigesters will come to fruition in the next two years. I already said I support funding for that and making sure that’s something we have in Dane County to improve our quality of living. I’m not anticipating anything, but things happen and I’m prepared to deal with them as they arise. So two for three ain’t bad.