There were no big surprises in the spring election this week. With few competitive races on the ballot and no statewide elections, turnout was down in Dane County from recent spring elections and not a single incumbent on the ballot lost reelection.
In the only Madison school board race with two candidates on the ballot, Laura Simkin defeated challenger Shepherd Janeway (Joyner) with 70 percent of the vote. Janeway did win most of the voting wards on campus and some downtown, but Simkin led by large margins in the rest of the city. Simkin’s campaign finance report (which accounted for activity through March 28) shows she spent nearly $4,000. Janeway’s campaign confirms they didn’t have to file a report because they were under the $2,000 limit.
Former Madison district administrator Nichelle Nichols will join the board after running unopposed. She was the only candidate this cycle to be endorsed by the Madison Teachers Inc.
Simkin was the only board candidate to express support for bringing back police officers to the district’s high schools. However, she doesn’t expect the board to reconsider its 2020 decision to end its contract with the Madison Police Department. Apart from that, Simkin and Janeway did not differ radically on most issues. Simkin did not respond to a request for comment.
The ideological divide was vast in the (sorta) contested race between one-term incumbent Ali Muldrow and write-in, protest candidate David Blaska — who Muldrow handily beat with 88 percent of the vote. The former conservative county board supervisor railed against what he describes as “woke culture” run amuck in the Madison school district and promised to bring “discipline” back to the classroom. This left Muldrow, as the current school board president and only incumbent board member running for reelection, to defend recent decisions made by the Madison school board while also promising more support for teachers and an expansion of arts education.
Parents and educators have concerns about the direction of the district, student safety chief among them, but Blaska failed to galvanize any proportion of the electorate that was looking for a change. Blaska’s loss was not from lack of attention and he did better than most write-in candidates. But mean-spirited comments — like calling East High School “Fight Club East” at a school board forum — probably didn’t help Blaska win over any liberal voters potentially willing to look past his Republican politics.
“Apparently, I didn’t go far enough out of my way to provoke enough liberals to win,” Blaska told Isthmus.
Since Blaska was a write-in candidate, we won’t know the exact number of votes he received until the Board of Canvassers meets on Friday. Even assuming every write-in vote went to Blaska, he failed to win a single ward. He did best in the town of Burke and the village of Maple Bluff, although Muldrow still won with at least two-thirds of the vote in those areas. The total number of votes for write-in candidates in the race was 3,480.
It was (kind of) a repeat of the 2019 race where Muldrow also faced Blaska, who was a full-fledged candidate and on the ballot in that matchup. Muldrow still soundly defeated Blaska that year with 69 percent of the vote. In that race, both candidates spent more than $20,000 on their campaigns. This time around Blaska told Isthmus he received donations to pay $1,100 for two ads in the Wisconsin State Journal the week of the election. Muldrow’s March 28 campaign finance report shows she spent a little over $1,200.
Muldrow and Nichols celebrated victory at The Rigby on election night with supporters and quite a few incumbent Dane County supervisors, the vast majority of whom were re-elected without opposition.
“I want to thank the voters for the opportunity to serve another term and I’m excited to continue the work of giving every kid in Madison a chance to thrive and succeed,” Muldrow said at the election night party.
Turnout of registered Dane County voters was down significantly from recent spring elections; Early data shows just 22 percent of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot. That’s down from 31 percent in 2021, 56 percent in 2020, and 43 percent in 2019.
All 37 seats on the Dane County Board of Supervisors were on the ballot Tuesday but there were just 10 competitive races despite 11 incumbents not running for re-election.
In deep blue Dane County, a handful of seats (which are nonpartisan) did have candidates who have recently donated to Republican politicians. None of these candidates managed to unseat a left-leaning incumbent. The only competitive supervisors’ race in Madison was between incumbent Anthony Gray and challenger Amanda Noles. Gray won with 70 percent of the vote.
Gray, who was at the election night party at the Rigby, showed Isthmus a late-in-the race mailer from Noles’ campaign that read, “Crime is out of control in Dane County but Anthony Gray voted to defund the sheriff.”
“I’m really proud my district is above this kind of Trumpian dog-whistle politics,” said Gray, who is African American. “[Noles] was trying to associate Black people with crime. I hate to say it but sometimes that works.”
Noles rejected Gray’s charge in an email.
“At least 30 percent of voters tonight agree that crime is out of control in Dane County. Mr. Gray’s voting to decrease positions and remove funding from the Sheriff Department was a poor choice. I’m sorry he felt he needed to attack me personally for pointing this out to voters,” wrote Noles. “I consider myself a middle of the road, common sense person. I have voted on both sides of the ballot. I was hoping to be a voice of reason and offer some new ideas on a board that is almost unanimously progressive/far left.”
Incumbent Jeff Weigand, one of the only supervisors who could be called a conservative, survived a challenge from Scott Michalak, who was backed by the Democratic Party of Dane County. It was one of the closest races in the spring election. Weigand defeated Michalak by just 33 votes.
Editor’s note: This article was corrected to note that David Blaska received campaign donations to pay for two ads in the Wisconsin State Journal.