MONONA, Wis. - The spring election is in two weeks and community members attended a community forum Sunday to learn more about the candidates.
The candidates for Dane County Circuit Court judge, attorney Jill Karofsky and Judge Marilyn Townsend, addressed their strategies to reduce incarceration rates and racial disparities.
“If you are a judge and your only option is to incarcerate someone or to fine someone, those aren’t very good options,” Karofsky said. “If your options include being able to help someone through a drug treatment court, an OWI or a mental health court, that will go a long way in helping us address these problems.”
"You have to be sure you have checks and balances in place so that folks are not contributing to letting unconscious bias surface,” Townsend said.
Both candidates have identified themselves as progressives and supported similar standpoints on increasing mental health services and keeping 17-year-olds out of adult court.
Townsend said she has a strong record for being fair and just. She said she understands the needs of the poor and people of color and will work to implement change. “We don’t need another prosecutor as a judge,” she said of Karofsky.
Karofsky said she is uniquely qualified for the position because Townsend has never appeared in a criminal court. She said “the legal system is not interchangeable” and appointing a municipal judge to handle criminal court cases would be the equivalent of asking a dentist to do knee surgery.
The circuit court judge will see criminal cases for at least two years of their term.
Next the hosts of the forum, the East Side Progressives, welcomed candidates for the Madison Metropolitan School Board. Nicki Vander Meulen is running for Seat 7, and Ali Muldrow and Kate Toews are running for Seat 6.
Vander Meulen discussed her mission to “give voice to the voiceless,” referring to those with special needs or need extra help to excel in school. When asked about her plans to address MMSD’s academic achievement gap, she said she would focus on keeping children focused on learning rather than using suspension and expulsion as behavioral punishments.
Muldrow is a graduate of East High School and said her firsthand experience with MMSD’s racial disparities makes her capable of addressing them. She said she wants to help make young people fall in love with learning and take a holistic approach to ending the achievement gap, including providing extracurricular opportunities for all students and employing passionate instructors.
Toews said she believes in supporting public education and is optimistic about MMSD’s ability to make positive changes. Her strategies to address the achievement gap included focusing more resources on early childhood education, as many children are coming into school already years behind. She also said it was important to hire diverse staff members and provide onsite mental health services.
Voting for Dane County Circuit Court and MMSD school board will take place April 4.