By Ben Rodgers
BROWN COUNTY – Of the 24 races this April for seats on local boards The Press Times covers, there are 20 that are uncontested and even one with no candidates at all.
But officials say the candidate turnout for this April’s election is nothing to worry about, in fact, it’s normal.
“I would say that’s probably a true statement,” said Sandy Juno, who is in her sixth year as Brown County clerk. “When people are satisfied or content, we don’t see a lot of opposition. Sometimes all it takes is one specific issue within the jurisdiction to get people to want to see something different and that’s when we see opposition.”
Juno’s job as clerk entails ballot coordination for all municipalities in Brown County.
“As a public official, once you are elected I think you give up a part of your privacy because you are under scrutiny, and as we can see on the national level, you are prone to criticism,” she said. “Unless somebody is really motivated I think they would like to protect that part of their life.”
Though races around Green Bay are more uncontested than contested this year, the race for Green Bay mayor has eight candidates.
“It is easier to run for an open seat, and I think in the case of Green Bay, they haven’t had change in a long time,” Juno said. “So I think they’re looking at different things and what each candidate has to offer and the direction they’re going to take them.”
But incumbents in most races have an easy path to victory this April, partly because Wisconsin has more local government than anyone else in the country.
Reid Magney, public information officer with the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said Wisconsin has 1,852 municipalities, by far the largest number of any state in the country.
That number doesn’t include the 421 school boards either, most of which hold elections as well.
“It’s not unusual for many races not to have a primary, as well as for some races to be completely unopposed in a spring election cycle,” Magney said. “It is what it is.”
He said when Wisconsin formed as a state, it adopted the New York model of government, opposed to the Pennsylvania model.
The New York model has far more units of local government and therefore more elected officials.
“There’s a lot more local control, there’s a lot more local officials, that way when people have an issue with something, chances are it’s one of their neighbors who are on the board,” Magney said. “So if there’s an issue, they can go and complain, they can easily run to oppose the person, that sort of thing. As a result, those positions tend to be very much part-time positions, as opposed to a county supervisor in Iowa, which is a full-time job almost.”
He said local government in Wisconsin still works fine as a result, even if some races are uncontested.
“It’s not uncommon for some races to go unopposed and it’s not uncommon for editorial writers to lament that situation,” Magney said. “But again, I think our system of government stills seems to work, still seems to function.”
Howard Village Administrator Paul Evert said it comes down to a finite resource – time.
“If people are spending more time with their families, I guess that’s a good thing,” said Evert, who has been administrator for seven years. “If someone chooses to spend their night taking their kid to practice and spending more time with their children, as opposed to going to our board meeting, I can’t really say that’s a bad decision.”
Howard has one empty race in April, where a write-in candidate will likely become one of the next village trustees.
Evert said the lack of candidates is also due to a lack of controversy.
“We don’t have a big issue in Howard right now that would cause people to run,” he said. “Often you see a bunch of people run if there’s been a big tax increase, or a big project was approved that people oppose, so we don’t have a controversy.”
The De Pere Common Council will see the only primary on Feb. 19 in The Press Times’ readership area.
“I can’t remember the last time we had a primary for an alderperson position,” said Mike Walsh, De Pere mayor since 1996. “There may have been, but I can’t remember one off the top of my head.”
Like Howard, not having controversy keeps candidate numbers low.
Walsh said those currently holding office are doing a commendable job.
“A lot of it I think has to do with the people in the positions are doing a good job, or that the interest in running isn’t there,” he said. “Sometimes people don’t want to put their name out there and have to go through an election.”
Walsh also said having more people in office means more opportunities for citizen feedback.
“When you have that number of offices, I think it breeds familiarity with the elected officials and also I think provides a comfort level,” he said. “People feel free to give me a call as mayor and talk to me, which is a good thing. It’s something that I kind of pride myself in, that people feel comfortable enough to give me a call and ask about things and find out about things.”