University of Wisconsin-Madison senior Jeffery Hynes is the only candidate currently running in the District 5 supervisor election taking place on April 5, meaning he will likely assume the role of representing the interests of the student body on the Dane County Board.
However, Hynes drew criticism last month from constituents and greater-Madison area residents alike for not publicizing his candidacy or campaign platforms, leaving some community members unsure of his background and goals as a student representative in local government.
Student representative on the city council, Juliana Bennet, even took to Twitter to encourage write-in candidates to run against him.
Hynes recently discussed his bid for public office in an interview with The Daily Cardinal, where he described his motivation for running for the position and what he hopes to accomplish if elected as District 5 supervisor.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Why are you interested in the District 5 position?
It's interesting to me, just because I do want to either be a lawyer or work in the government. This position is going to allow me to see how the budget in Madison, or, I guess, in Dane County is allocated and how I can help sort of tailor to the interests of students because that is a big part of my district. But I do want to also tailor it to everyone [in district 5]...[this position is] just something that I think I'm a good candidate for.
I think I am very approachable and I will talk to you about anything. Anything you want, any concern. I think that's why I'm also open to hearing both sides of arguments before I make a decision. Obviously, I do have my views, but at the same time, I do want to hear both sides before I make a decision.
What issues do you hope to address as the future District 5 county supervisor?
The main [parts of my policy platform] are public safety, homelessness, affordable housing… and then the environment. I can talk a little bit about each of them. With public safety. I've just kind of noticed — or at least on my street, as I live a little bit off campus — that there've been two shootings and someone had a knife. So I just don't think that those acts of violence should be anywhere near my district because it's heavily [populated by] students. So with that, I am going to work with the Sheriff's Department, the UW-Madison police and also the Madison city police to hopefully make not only my district, but all the districts safer. Another thing is that I've talked to a lot of the people in my district, and they've said one of the main things is walking home and feeling safe at night. To work with that, I know there's a program called SAFEwalk currently on campus, but I don't think a lot of people really know what that is. So I think just making more awareness to that would be positive and be able to help the people in the district feel safer.
Then, unaffordable housing and homelessness. With that, again, like last year, when I was looking for somewhere to live, these rents in Madison around State Street are pretty high. I would like to work with the landlords to possibly lower the rents, and if I can't get that, even though that's what I'm [trying to accomplish] because affordable housing for students is a big thing... If I can't really get them to lower it, I would want to talk to them to make sure that they are responsible and do everything that they say they do on the leases, and I think they'll make sure the residents living there are safe and comfortable.
And then homelessness… I kind of always fight for the underdog, I would say. And so with that, I kind of believe that our district or county is only as strong as the weakest among us. What I mean by that, is we can progress as a district altogether and allow [the district] to bring these homeless people with us. So, some of the things that are important to me [are] investing more money in homeless shelters that provide daily necessities, such as food, water, shelter. Another thing that I'm interested in is trying to find programs that reintegrate homeless people back into society, because not only will that decrease the homeless population, but it will also hopefully allow them to get money, work and also give more money back into the actual Dane County economy.
Then, my last thing is the environment. My district has a lot of green space parks, and, of course, the lake. Green space parks, Picnics Point are kind of like the backbone of my district. It not only provides aesthetically pleasing images to the people living in my district, but also I think it can encourage people from outside to come here and just go here for school. I think it is very important. Also watching the water quality and the watershed and what flows into the lake is very important because if we don't have safe water and drink, it's probably not good for the residents. And so, I would support any efforts to sort of regulate the water because there's these forever chemicals that stick around and can't ever really go away. So any efforts to regulate the water, make sure that those aren't in the water, I would definitely support.
And then lastly, I've talked to a few of the members of the board, and they're sort of leaning towards [efforts] to make Madison more sustainable. The way they're going to do that is by building another landfill [where they plan to] emphasize recycling, because, at least in my apartment building and some of my other friends' apartment buildings, there's not really a place to throw away recyclables versus trash. I think if we are more proactive on recycling, because these apartment buildings have hundreds and hundreds of people, and they're always throwing away stuff, [we can] decrease a lot of the trash.
Currently, the county board is working to construct new jail facilities, a project which has been met with some controversy. As a county supervisor, do you plan on supporting the current project to construct a new jail?
I do support the jail. The project is going to take away the top two floors of the City-Council* Building, where the conditions for those inmates are really horrible. There's [currently] solitary confinement cells, and I just don't believe that they should have solitary confinement. In addition, in this new jail proposal, there's going to be plans for mental health clinics for people who have mental health issues [who] I don't think should go to jail. I think they should be able to go somewhere else and get the help they need. In addition, I do want to invest in programs that reintegrate these, quote unquote, criminals back into society. I know that process is hard, but I think we need to start somewhere on these issues. Otherwise, they're never going to succeed. Look at a more rehabilitation type of incarceration instead of incarceration as it is today. If we move to more rehabilitation, I think that would be positive in the future. I respect that the jail compromise proposal recently was passed 29 to seven, a supermajority.
Traditionally, the UW-Madison campus has been critical of agencies associated with law enforcement. The current District 5 Supervisor, UW-Madison senior Elena Haasl, and the District 8 Alder, UW-Madison junior Juliana Bennett, both have voiced criticisms of police agencies and the current efforts to construct the jail. Do you feel that your perspective on law enforcement and the construction of new jail facilities is reflective of your constituency?
I guess there's two parts [to] that. With the police, I think the biggest thing for police to do is to have training. I would emphasize heavy training on learning what mental health is and how to approach situations because, obviously, if someone has mental health issues, they're going to approach it [in a] different way than if someone doesn't. In addition, I also would say that they should learn and be educated on how to use non-violent force first, and then avoid excessive use of force and try to de-escalate situations, because it can be dangerous for the officer and also the person being accused. I would say I do reflect most of the people in my district, because the things that I support in the jail, I think a lot of people would support, [such as] the mental health clinics and also the reintegration back into society. To keep people in jail, it does take a lot of money. So if we can sort of get these people back into society, I think that's going to be beneficial.
Going forward, what are your plans to conduct outreach with your constituency?
So I actually just got all my signs and stuff. I'm going to post those and ask people to put them up in their windows. If [my constituents] want to talk to me, then that's great. Also, at the same time, I am going to have my email and everything [available] so they can reach out to that. But I also am going to make fliers obviously, coming up for my election, and I'm going to be passing those out. I think the best way to get to know me is to reach out to me. If [my constituents] don't [reach out to me] then I am planning on making a place they can go and find all this information out about me. I haven't done that yet, but it's in the works.
What experiences or traits do you have that makes you qualified to take on the role as the Dane County district 5 supervisor?
I think I'm qualified. As I said before, I do like to talk to people. I like to hear both sides and in these meetings, it's important to hear both sides and not just, sort of [say], ‘I only believe this, I'm only going to vote this way.’ I think being able to hear both sides is important in that way. I guess what qualifies me is, I've done internships at the Capitol. So I've kind of seen how these meetings go and how I can contribute and stuff like that. I did an internship for LaKeshia Myers at the Capitol last summer, and so that’s why [I am qualified].
Currently, do you believe you will serve more than one term as a Dane County supervisor?
I've talked to a lot of people about this, because I’ve got to think about my future. Honestly, if I think I'm doing well, and my peers think I'm doing well, I'm not opposed to trying to do this for more than one term. With that being said, I am going to try to get into law school. If I get into law school, I might defer. Because I'll still be in this position and I want to put in as much time as I can, being deferred, I can then go [to law school] the next year or maybe in three years. I'm not opposed to taking gap years in between undergrad and law school. I just got to see how I fit into the system.
Is there anything in particular you would like to say to your constituency prior to the upcoming April fifth election?
I think a big thing for me is to reach out to me if you have anything, questions, concerns… If you want to debate something, I'd love to talk to you about it, and [I would] love to get to know everyone in my district, which is a lot of people, but I'd be willing to talk to every single one of them because they're the people that I'm representing. If they think something's not good or they have a concern, just bring it to me and I will talk through it with you.
*The jail is located in the City-County Building.