Statewide, women held just 18 percent of the seats on county boards throughout the state coming into the 2018 election cycle, according to the Wisconsin Counties Association. In Dane County, however, after the elections last week, women now far exceeds state and national averages for representation holding a whopping 17 of 37 (45.9 percent) Dane County Board seats.
Dane County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs hopes that percentage continues to grow.
“I’m excited about this. This is cool to see. I know that things get done when women are in the room and women are at the table,” Stubbs tells Madison365. “We’re not afraid to have some serious conversations but, at the end of the day, we know how to get in the room and how to get the job done. We know how to work together and we know how to get through things. I’m looking forward to even more issues being addressed and more policies being changed.”
To put the current 46 percent representation in perspective, only 6 percent of Dane County Board members were women in 1970.
“I’ve been on the board for 12 years and I can remember when I first started there just weren’t many women with me,” Stubbs remembers. “In last week’s election, we picked up more women for seats – which is awesome. I’m very excited about one of my former colleagues, Analiese Eicher (representing northeast Madison and Sun Prairie), returned back to County Board, in particular.”
Other women that were elected to the Dane County Board last week included Tanya Buckingham representing Monona and Julie Schwellenbach in northeast Dane County. Schwellenbach replaced long-time Supervisor Dennis O’Loughlin who did not seek reelection, Kelly Danner also defeated long-time Supervisor Al Matano in the area representing Madison’s near-west side.
Dane County is far outpacing the state of Wisconsin, which ranks 29th out of the 50 states in terms of women serving in the Legislature, with 24.2% of seats held by women at the beginning of 2018. Alos, women only hold just 71 statewide elective executive offices across the country out of 312 available positions – 22.8 percent.
“Dane County has been leading the way on diversity and inclusion for some time and these election successes continue to build on that momentum,” says Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan of Middleton in a statement.
“If I can speak for my colleagues, we are certainly excited about adding some new voices to the County Board as we move forward on important issues including protecting our environment, overseeing vital human services and reforming the criminal justice system,” adds Corrigan.
Stubbs, who earlier this year announced that she is running for Wisconsin State Assembly where she hopes to replace retiring Representative Terese Berceau in the 77th District, says she’s excited for the new county board to start tackling serious issues when they convene on the third Tuesday of this month.
“One of the really critical issues that we are faced with in Dane County is the construction of the county jail and making sure that we have the stabilization unit together for people that are having mental illness. How does the community address mental illness and make sure people are getting the proper help and care they need? The answer cannot be jail. That’s a really critical issue,” she says. “I think that we will be really focused on our youth moving forward, too. We will continue our [Dane County] Youth in Governance program. I’m looking forward to getting more youth involved in Dane County government through programs and internships. It creates a pipeline.
“Housing and homelessness we will continue to address … and another issue that the County Board will be working on is racial disparities. As you know, Dane County is one of the worst places in the nation for people of color,” Stubbs adds.
That – like with women’s issues – would also be helped with proper representation, right? For a while now, Stubbs has been the only African American currently serving on the Dane County Board that, let’s be honest, really lacks racial diversity. Last week, Yogesh Chawla became the second Indian American ever elected to the Dane County Board, replacing former Board Chair Supervisor John Hendrick on Madison’s near east side.
“We are overdue to be represented. We did gain a person of color on the board [Chawla] this past election, so we now have four people of color on the Dane County Board. Out of 37 supervisors on the board, that is not a good percentage. It’s a start, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near the end,” Stubbs says. “The more people you get in a room – involved and engaged – the more voices you will be able to hear collectively. We’re still missing some key voices in our community – we’re missing Latinos; we’re missing Hmong, and we’re missing other voices that are still not being represented.
“I hope that we continue to embrace our diversity by bringing these voices on board in the future,” she adds.
All newly elected supervisors will be sworn in at the County Board’s organizational meeting on Tuesday, April 17.