Madison Area DSA’s February 16 Primary Voter Guide

Madison Area DSA has endorsed two candidates for Madison Common Council who will be on the ballot for the February 16 primary. For more information on registering to vote and absentee voting, Madison residents can refer to the Madison City Clerk’s website.

What is On the Ballot?

The February 16th election is a non-partisan primary. You are allowed to vote for one candidate in each race. If you live in districts 9, 16, or 18, there will be a City Council race on your ballot.

Everywhere else, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction will be on your ballot.

Madison City Council

There are 20 wards in Madison, but only 3 races have primaries on February 16: District 9, District 16, and District 18. Unsure of which ward you live in? You can either check your upcoming ballot on My Vote WI, or by taking a quick glance at this map.

Vote Nikki Conklin for District 9

From Campaign Website

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Madison Area DSA is proud to endorse Nikki Conklin.

Nikki is an organizer with the Neighborhood Organizing Institute (NOI) who has lived in the Wexford Ridge area for 10 years. She has worked with the Lussier Community Education Center, as well. She says, “For me, it’s the community. … I think my community will help me and they’re gonna support me all the way to the finish line.”

We asked Nikki, do you consider yourself a democratic socialist? “I do. I do consider myself a democratic socialist, because I am trying to build a better place for the oppressed — for them, for the oppressed to thrive in — and also building inclusive spaces that do not include racism, sexism, bigotry, or other oppressive power structures.”

Nikki Conklin has also received endorsements from Progressive Dane, Our Wisconsin Revolution, the mayor, and many other current and former alders.

Vote Rebecca Kemble for District 18

Photo by Vanessa Tortolano

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Madison Area DSA is proud to endorse Rebecca Kemble.

Rebecca has been the alderperson for District 18 since 2015, serving on many committees including Finance and the Common Council Executive Committee.

When asked if she considers herself a Democratic Socialist, Kemble explains that she identifies more closely with anarcho-syndicalism. “That’s out of my background with the cooperative movement. So I believe in collective worker power that is distributed amongst reasonably-sized groups of workers, basically, that are networked – that’s the syndicalist part – that are networked together with shared values of humanity and justice. Democratic Socialists have a lot of those same values,” Kemble says. “What I believe is that we have collective responsibility to care for everyone in society. There are better and worse ways of doing that. I think democratic socialists and people like me who call ourselves anarcho syndicalists, we share that value of making sure that number one, collective needs are met and the needs of those who can’t care for themselves are met and that we do it in a just way.”

Kemble also explains how she stays connected to the community and movements as an elected representative. “My approach is to always be consulting with people most affected by an issue that a decision is to be made on. I consider myself a representative not only of my district, but of the ideas that I ran on, and of those who support me. I will say that my job is much, much easier to do when movements and residents are engaged. I can’t do this job if they’re not. And I wouldn’t want to.”

She has also received endorsements from Tessa Echeverria, Brandi Grayson, Heidi Wegleitner, and many more.

District 16

Incumbent Michael Tierney is not running for re-election. Check out WORT’s virtual debate for District 16 and The Cap Times’ Election Q&A for District 16.

Madison-Area DSA did not endorse any candidates in this race.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

This is a non-partisan position. The incumbent, Carolyn Stanford Taylor, is not running again. Taylor succeeded Tony Evers in the position after he stepped down following his election as governor of Wisconsin in 2018. 

No candidates approached us for endorsement in this race, however as part of Madison-Area DSA’s commitment to creating equitable schools, we’ve highlighted some relevant candidate positions and endorsements from other sources to guide voters in making an informed choice.

Special thanks to the Teaching Assistants’ Assosciation-Madison for compiling resources on these candidates.

Candidate InterviewPublic Sector UnionsIndependent Charter schoolsVouchersSelected Endorsements
Sheila BriggsSupportOpposeKeep as isKara Bobroff of NACA, Ananda Mirilli
Joe FenrickSupportOpposeOppose
Troy GundersonSupportOpposeOpposeRon Kind, Steve Doyle, Michelle Kloser
Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams SupportSupportSupportFreda Russell, Ashanti Hamilton, Dr. Robert Davis
Deborah KerrUnclearUnclearUnclearKaren Ebbers, Todd Gray
Steve KrullSupportOpposeOppose
Jill UnderlySupportOpposeOpposeWEAC, John Matthews (ex-MTI), Nikki Van Der Muelen, Nada Elmikashfi
Positions in this table come from the Madison Teachers Inc. interviews linked in the TAA details for each candidate.

Addressing Racial Disparities

The Wisconsin Public Education Network / League of Women Voters of Wisconsin asked each candidate: “Wisconsin currently has the widest gaps in the nation between black and white students, regardless of income. What will you do as Superintendent to address and resolve these disparities?

Here are the first parts of each candidate’s answer (full responses linked in the TAA details for each candidate):

Sheila Briggs: “I am unapologetic about my equity focus and my urgency to reform the education system so that it works for ALL our kids. All of my priorities are rooted in equity, and I would argue that most of my colleagues feel the same about theirs. But in order for us to be successful in enacting such an agenda, we need someone with real experience and a willingness to shake things up. Change will not be easy, and it’s going to take modifying our standard operating procedures. It’s going to take bold leadership and a lot of work, and it’s probably going to upset some people. It’s going to take changing our accountability system, the way we assess students, and the way we teach skills like reading. It’s going to require us to improve educator preparation and diversify our teacher pipeline. And of course, it’s going to take some serious funding changes. But if we really want to make schools work for all kids, every challenge will be worth it.”

Joe Fenrick: “Closing the achievement gap is one of the most important concepts that we can do in education. It’s a long term problem that demands long term solutions. It means that we need to make changes in ourselves and within our schools. Not just over one day or a week or even a year, but over a generation and carry on for multiple generations. It means that we set high standards for every child, in every school, and lift them up to reach their goals.”

Troy Gunderson: “This issue is partly rooted in a dominant social culture established by the European and Scandinavian settlers who made Wisconsin their home. While we all enjoy the positive quirkiness of a state known for bratwurst, cheese, and the Packers, the flip side of this dominance is a rather troubled history of simply expecting those from different cultures to conform to the dominant culture. The African-American experience in our state is one such example. From redlining and systemic racism, to an expectation of conformity in our schools and a plethora of other hurdles too numerous to list, we’ve made academic and social success by African-Americans in our state extraordinarily difficult. The tragic events of 2020 have further exposed systemic racism across our nation and in Wisconsin. As noted in earlier forums, I am no longer interested in apologies and promises, I want action. We can do this. If elected as the next State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I will make the closure of this achievement gap a top priority. I will use the platform of this elected position to continually focus the entire state on this issue. This is a “we” problem with a “we” solution that affects everyone.”

Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams: “One of my “Bill of Rights for Wisconsin Students” is that Wisconsin students have access to high quality full day K3 and K4 that is developmentally appropriate. All research shows that high quality early education programming is advantageous for children. This must start even before the age of three. We must support the programs that are in place and implement others to fill the gaps. We currently have the YoungStar rating system that sets criteria for high quality child care centers when parents need external childcare. The DHS has programs that provide additional support to infants and toddlers, training parents at home and following up with visits. We will partner with DHS in their efforts for increasing school readiness for the state’s PreK population. We also have outstanding Birth to Three programs that are available for children with special needs. On a very personal level I have experienced the power of the Birth to Three program. My son participated in the Curative program which was absolutely life altering for him.”

Deborah Kerr: “As Superintendent of Brown Deer Public Schools, I was honored to lead a team that got impressive results and closed achievement gaps with a laser focus on reading. The school board, leadership team, teachers, and staff at Brown Deer achieved these promising results by spending more time on teaching the science of reading, especially for struggling students, setting high standards, and making those high standards stick by providing individual attention. As we all know, kids who don’t learn to read by the third-grade risk getting left behind, which profoundly affects their lives and their future livelihood. And now we have to contend with recovery from a pandemic that is widening these gaps and creating significant social-emotional learning issues for all stakeholders in our school communities. By measuring what matters and putting in evidence-based practices to get results in terms of time, talented teacher/staff interventions, and on-going support in and out of school, it was an all-hands-on-deck approach. The systematic changes we put in place were: acknowledging the gap; daily professional learning community time with intentional focus, school improvement teams, monthly professional development time for staff; teacher-designed and teacher-led equity and diversity training, hiring diverse, talented staff all across the organization, and district-wide intervention time in all schools. The Brown Deer team was “all in,” and as a state, we need to be “all in”…”

Steve Krull: “Since I have been leading Garland school, we have made great strides to personalize and individualize learning for all students. We focus on providing a positive/proactive culture/climate, standards based learning, differentiated instruction based on data, and emphasize higher-depths-of knowledge lessons. Our work has shown great success! We are ranked highly by the Department of Public Instruction and have received numerous awards. Also, it is a priority for me to ensure that children from all backgrounds succeed. At Garland 12 of 12 subgroups had a higher growth rate than the state in English Language Arts and 11 of 12 higher than the state growth rate in Math. Under my leadership, we will take the successes we have at Garland and extrapolate them to the state. Our proven methods can help reduce the achievement gap we see in Wisconsin. We will ensure districts have the support they need to operate a successful academic program.”

Jill Underly: “I feel that it needs to be said first that these disparities are a result of decades of racist public policies and inadequate public-school funding, and racist policies for public social services. And as a result of these practices, systemic racism is ingrained in our public institutions. Schools need to fix it, but they cannot fix it alone. I would: 1. Create a cabinet-level position that would focus on equity and closing the achievement gap between black and white students. This cabinet-level position would oversee the practice of analyzing our systems through the lens of “Equity Audits” in the agency, and in each of our 421 public school districts. 2. Invest in early childhood education so that ALL children can get a strong start. This would be especially true for low-income children and children without access to high quality preschool programs. Let us invest in kids in their early years rather than invest in corrections in their teen and adult years. 3. Work together with our schools and colleges of education to actively recruit and retain teachers of color and more diverse backgrounds, including LGBTQ and race in all levels of public education. 4. Analyze academic achievement to measure the gaps, but I would not penalize schools like we currently do. (We know that more resourced schools with greater opportunities and lower-poverty will almost always have higher statewide school report card scores). Instead, I would actively advocate for different metrics to measure student engagement in our schools and use metrics in the equity audit, such as the representation of students of color in extra-curricular activities, in STEM classes, AP classes, and in areas of discipline such as suspension and expulsion. We must rethink our systems….”

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