A former lawmaker and lobbyist is riding a wave of construction industry support into the Feb. 15 primary election for Dane County executive.
But even the union leaders who support Joe Wineke, the son and grandson of laborers, aren’t exactly sure what he can do for them from the county executive’s office.
“Through Joe’s entire career, he’s stood up for working men and women in the state,” said Michael Bolton, a director for the United Steelworkers Union District 2.
That was easier to do, though, when Wineke was a member of the state Assembly and then the Senate, voting on bills that specifically affected the industry. A county executive is more dependent on the state and municipalities in the county to initiate development.
Steelworkers, carpenters and Teamsters Local 695 all have expressed support for Wineke, but officials from those unions struggled to cite specific ways Wineke could help their members.
“I don’t know if there’s one particular issue,” Bolton said. “But I know there will be a voice there for the working class.”
That voice, Wineke said, might be the county executive’s most powerful asset.
Wineke is among a crowded field of candidates to succeed County Executive Kathleen Falk, who isn’t running for re-election. State Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison; Dane County Board Chairman Scott McDonell; Zach Brandon, former Department of Commerce deputy secretary; and County Board Supervisor Eileen Bruskewitz are others in the field.
Following Falk’s four terms in office, Parisi said, the successful candidate will have latitude to reshape the position.
“I think we’re at a point where the role of the county and the county executive is going to be evolving,” Parisi said. “The county’s going to have to be more involved in economic development than it has in the past.”
Wineke, though, said he’s the only candidate in the race who understands construction.
“Some of the candidates in this race talk about they’re going to create all these jobs at the county level,” he said. “The county is a creature of the state. But one area where we can be useful is to make sure land use and zoning are done properly because there’s no reason something like the Edgewater Hotel in Madison should be taking two years to get approved.”
Although Falk had no jurisdiction over the Edgewater project — an issue for the city of Madison to decide — Wineke said he could have “used my bully pulpit to help it.”
Parisi and Bruskewitz both want to create economic development corporations, as many other counties have done. Such a board, Bruskewitz said, would give Dane County more power over the region’s business growth.
“We’re the hole in the economic donut,” she said, “and we’re going to stay that way unless someone like me gets elected.”
Wineke, though, said there are things a county executive can do on his or her own to spark development.
“I’ve talked to many of our larger contractors, and I must tell you they are uniformly miffed about how they get treated in Dane County,” he said. “One told me in every bid they do in Dane County, they know they must add money to the bid because there will be a million change orders. That’s not the way we should do business.”
Wineke wants the county to stop using best value contracting, a system that takes into account both price and technical qualifications when assessing bids rather than simply awarding a project to the lowest bidder.
But Parisi said he would maintain best value contracting, and he cautioned the county should not be too quick to break down justifiable barriers for contractors.
“Sometimes, when people talk about cutting red tape, the result of that is less environmental protection,” Parisi said. “We have to be careful when we do this. I’m certainly open to ideas for streamlining the process.”
Aside from the ability to change rules and regulations, though, Wineke said the next county executive can help Dane County by exercising the influence that comes with holding the top job in the county.
“I think leadership is a function of where your priorities are,” he said. “My priority is to grow this county through building things.”