Tanya Buckingham and Anna Gouker are each touting their unique qualifications in their quest to succeed Robin Schmidt in representing District 24 on the Dane County Board.
The district includes all of Monona and the east side of Madison from Monona Drive to Interstate 39. Both women are Monona residents, as is Schmidt.
Schmidt, who has served the district the past 10 years, is not seeking a sixth term. The election will be held April 3.
Gouker holds a master of science degree in rehabilitation psychology from UW-Madison.
Over the last three years, she has assisted adults with disabilities in achieving their personal and professional goals at the Madison nonprofit Employment Resources Inc. Gouker previously served on Madison’s Disability Rights Commission from and is a 2018 New Leaders Council fellow.
“I really felt it was the right time to use my background to serve my community and help all people lead productive lives,” she said. “I really appreciate the opportunity to connect with people in my community.”
A challenge for Dane County is retaining the positive employment gains made in recent years, while implementing strategies that will enable economic prosperity to be seen across all demographics. With her background in employment programs, Gouker believes she is the right candidate to help address this issue.
“We have a lot of economic growth in Dane County,” she said. “There is a good amount of opportunity for people of all demographics. I would be a necessary asset to the County Board.”
Gouker believes it’s critical to provide opportunities to people experiencing homelessness.
She said 20 percent of people in the Dane County Jail can’t afford bail. Therefore, she would work with the County Board to address poverty, which can reduce some property crimes and keep these people out of the jail.
Gouker was born with muscular dystrophy. She has been a beneficiary of community services and has helped others benefit as well; therefore, she has a unique insight into how those programs work. Social services are a huge part of the county budget.
“Those experiences determine my values,” she said. “I want to help create a good, safe, clean place to live for everyone, especially in District 24. Allow people to be contributors in the community.”
Moving forward, it is imperative the County Board help residents have more affordable housing options, she said.
“There is definitely a need for more affordable housing, especially in District 24,” Gouker said.
Access to public transportation is also key, she said.
“There is definitely a need for a strong public transportation system to help people access downtown for those who live in the outer perimeter of the county,” Gouker said. “People are frustrated with the lack of public transportation in District 24. We need to explore ways we can serve the needs of these people.”
She said the county needs to fight the state for the right to create a regional transit authority to help solve its transportation problems.
Finally, Gouker is a proponent of strong environmental laws and programs to keep area lakes and streams clean of phosphorus, algae and stormwater runoff.
“Monona has a close relationship with the lake,” she said. “We need to make sure the water is safe and can be enjoyed.”
While working full-time, Buckingham completed a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology, with an emphasis on social justice.
In 2016, she joined the Vera Court Community Board and has spent the majority of that time at Bridge LakePoint Waunona (BLW) Neighborhood Center, just off of Broadway. When discussing a new facility, she realized how she could best serve.
“Since I will never have that kind of money (to build a center), the other option I have is to get involved in policy, and I can really help spread this community-based approach to serving people across the county,” Buckingham said.
The BLW is involved in many intergenerational programs, tutoring, food pantry assistance and more. In some ways, it’s similar to how the county operates.
“I think the thing that people are surprised about is the breadth of the things the county oversees, everything from the airport to the county roads to the medical examiner to all the services, to the parks and everything,” Buckingham said. “What the county is so expert at is pairing with people in a network, getting in the neighborhoods, people who are already doing some of that and elevating some of what’s happening there.”
Buckingham believes reaching out to children and young families early on can help offset more serious issues later in life, everything from criminal activity to homelessness, the latter of which is a significant concern.
“I absolutely think this is a county issue, because investing in a homeless first policy helps with all these other things we’re spending money on down the road for people who are struggling with housing insecurity or experiencing homelessness,” she said. “What’s our community responsibility to take care of our neighbors?”
She said the county needs to partner more with developers to create mixed income housing within the same development.
Buckingham also wants to explore more Bus Rapid Transit to communities or major businesses outside of Madison, recognizing there are different transportation needs in different parts of the county.
She said officials should also look at Dane County’s sister county in Germany and combine those success stories with local research into solving Dane County’s needs.
“Apply them in a way that makes sense for Dane County,” Buckingham said.
Environmental concerns and lake issues are also a top priority.
“This is a big concern to people, from the zebra mussels to the blue-green algae,” Buckingham said.
She noted the lakes are not just used by residents, but are also a big draw for tourists and other visitors.
“They’re huge in terms of bringing income into the county, because CrossFit Games or Ironman come in and they use the lakes,” Buckingham said. “If we have an issue with the lakes, and they can’t use the lakes, they’re going to stop coming here and go somewhere else.”
She also favors opening access to the lakes to the younger generation through partnering with groups that offer summer camps for children that offer instruction on how to be safe on the water, how to care for the environment and how to enjoy the natural resource that is part of the identity of Dane County.