Blogging Blue interviews Jim Sullivan

I recently had the opportunity to sit and chat with Jim Sullivan, a former Democratic State Senator who’s now a candidate for Milwaukee County Executive. I started our conversation by asked Sullivan why he decided to run for Milwaukee County Executive. Sullivan’s answer was two-fold: he wants to fix the problems facing Milwaukee County and he wants to hold Scott Walker accountable for years of mismanagement of Milwaukee County. Discussing his first point, Sullivan said he believes in Milwaukee County and the services it provides, and he wants to ensure Milwaukee County can continue to provide vital services citizens, services such as mental health services, transit, the parks, and the courthouse. Addressing his second point, Sullivan said it’s plainly obvious Scott Walker used his position as Milwaukee County Executive as a springboard to higher office, which led to Walker implementing policies that were good for Scott Walker but not necessarily good for Milwaukee County and its residents.

As we continued to discuss why Sullivan decided to run for County Executive, he also added that he has a strong sense of public service, a value that was instilled in him by his father, who served in the United States Coast Guard. Sullivan cited his own record of public service – a record that includes not only his service in elected office, but also his service in the Naval Reserve as evidence of his strong record of public service.
Jim Sullivan
Asked to describe the response to his campaign among voters, Sullivan said the most common response he’s heard is, “Really? You mean it’s February 15th?” in reference to the abbreviated campaign schedule and the February 15th primary. Sullivan said that there’s a sense of “dispiritedness” among many voters, but he was quick to add that he wants to lead the County and the party back to a better place.

As we continued to talk, I asked Sullivan to explain what differentiates him from his opponents, and Sullivan was quick to say he’s the only candidate in the Milwaukee County Executive race who wants to make Milwaukee County government work for residents. Sullivan noted acting County Executive Lee Holloway has been in Milwaukee County government for 18 years, negating his ability to be an agent of change, while Jeff Stone wants to continue the same policies enacted under former County Executive (now Governor) Scott Walker, policies which have led to Milwaukee County’s current fiscal and organizational challenges. Sullivan added that another of his opponents, philanthropist Chris Abele, seems to support dismantling Milwaukee County government, noting that Abele co-chaired a Greater Milwaukee Committee panel that issued a report calling for consideration of blowing up Milwaukee County government – a conclusion Abele has since distanced himself from.

Noting his time as a State Senator, I asked Sullivan which legislative accomplishments he felt most benefited residents of Milwaukee County. Sullivan began his answer by explaining that he believes his experience as a legislator gives him the ability to work through complex challenges with individuals from both major political parties. Sullivan noted the Milwaukee County Executive needs to be able to work across party lines, and he cited health care cost transparency legislation he submitted in the State Senate, a bill that received bipartisan support, as an example of his ability to work across party lines to find solutions to problems.

Sullivan added he’s proud of two pieces of legislation he played a key role in getting passed into law: drunk driving reform legislation, which implemented tougher penalties for drunk driving offenses, as well as payday lending reform, which he touted as “sweeping reform” that would protect consumers from predatory lending practices, adding that he believes both pieces of legislation will benefit the residents of Milwaukee County.

Turning our conversation to the challenges facing Milwaukee County, I asked Sullivan what he would do to address Milwaukee County’s very serious fiscal difficulties. Sullivan said his first order of business as County Executive would be to sit down with department heads and rank and file workers to have a discussion about how to improve the county’s fiscal situation while also preserving the four key services (parks, transit, mental health services, and the courthouse) Sullivan believes the county should be providing to residents. Sullivan said he’d also take a look at the county’s total assets and evaluate whether the county needs all those assets in order to provide the four key services he believes the county should provide to residents. Sullivan cited the Crystal Ridge ski hill as an example of a county asset he believes is not necessary for the county to provide services to its residents.

Sullivan also noted former County Executive Scott Walker’s budgets typically used sales tax revenue as operating revenue, as opposed to using it for debt service and infrastructure maintenance, as it was supposed to be used for, adding that he’d approach the county’s budget much differently than Walker.

Sullivan also acknowledged the role legacy costs such as health insurance and pensions play in the county’s current fiscal situation. If elected County Executive, Sullivan said he’d work with the people providing county services as well as other experts to find ways to manage costs in a fair and equitable manner, adding that efforts to rein in legacy costs needs to be a collaborative effort, not a “top-down mandate.” Sullivan added that he believes “devaluing public employees in an effort to divide us for partisan political gain is terrible.”

Jim Sullivan is among five candidates vying to become the Milwaukee County Executive. Sullivan’s opponents are philanthropist Chris Abele, acting County Executive Lee Holloway, community activist Ieshuh Grrifin, and State Rep. Jeff Stone. The spring primary will be held February 15, 2011, with the top two vote getters will move onto the spring general election on April 5.


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4 thoughts on “Blogging Blue interviews Jim Sullivan

  1. Guy does seem to get what’s going on, and I think ultaimtely will be pragmatic over ideological, which is exactly what the county (and the city, and the state) badly need. He’s definitely the safest pick, and perhaps sneakily strong.

    And some WOW-County Windbag on the JS site was trying to claim Sullivan was “waxed” by Leah Vukmir in November. Actually, Sullivan
    beat Angry Leah by 1,000 votes in Milwaukee County
    , and only lost because of a 4,000 vote difference in Waukesha County.

    So that means Sullivan has won in Milw. County in both State Senate elections, as well as aldermanic elections in Tosa. He’s a strong candidate.

    1. One measure of Sullivan’s strength will be his ability to raise funds, because he’s going to need money if he’s going to beat Chris Abele. I don’t necessarily like it, but it’s reality.

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