In some local elections, voters must really drill down into the issues to find the subtle differences between candidates. Often, the distinctions are in the nuances of policies.
Then there are those monumental elections, in which profound directions of a community, state or nation are at stake. They are turning points.
Voters in the City of Waukesha will face one of those elections with epic consequences on Tuesday, April 6. The race between Mayor Larry Nelson and challenger Jeff Scrima won't be your garden variety mayoral race.
What's at stake? Only the most fundamental element of life: water.
Waukesha has been ordered by the federal government to make its water radium-compliant by 2018 and is in the process of trying to obtain permission to pipe clean water from Lake Michigan through Milwaukee. Radium is known to cause cancer.
Nelson and Scrima recently outlined their positions on the issue by answering a questionnaire posed by the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce (WCCC).
Nelson agrees that the Lake Michigan solution is best for Waukesha.
"I agree with the Sustainable Water Supply Coalition that Lake Michigan water is the most environmentally sound and cost-effective solution to Waukesha's long-term water needs. I think what we're proposing, which will include return flow in an environmentally positive way, can send a message to businesses that southeastern Wisconsin will have successfully solved water issues for the next 100 years," Nelson said.
"Wouldn't it make more sense to bring your business to somewhere in southeastern Wisconsin than to go somewhere like an Atlanta or Phoenix that is having serious water problems and doesn't really have a solution? I'm proud to have been a leader in working with both political parties to pass the historic 2008 Great Lakes Water Compact and to help successfully negotiate a radium settlement that gives Waukesha adequate time to develop our future water supply.
"I've partnered with the Waukesha Water utility Commission, its General Manager, and the Common Council to meet with state and federal elected officials as well as DNR staff to make sure our application as well as our process for Lake Michigan water sets a high standard."
Scrima disagrees with the Lake Michigan approach.
"In the interest of Waukesha's maintaining sovereignty (the ability to self-govern and control the future of their own community), Waukesha should not pursue Lake Michigan water. Milwaukee has already resolved to use water sales to dictate Waukesha's business, jobs, housing and transit (Milwaukee Resolution #080457)," Scrima said.
"Even if Waukesha can negotiate a better water deal with Milwaukee or any other municipality, these deals are always up for renegotiation. This would be something Waukesha would have to fight about for generations. Whose ever hand controls the faucet, controls Waukesha's future. Waukesha can provide a long-term safe and cost-efficient water source. Waukesha can do this with long-term sustainability and environmental sensitivity.
"There is a solution. Further water conservation, combined with the resources of the Fox River, quarry reservoirs, shallow wells, and a few deep wells with radium removal facilities, would provide the adequate supply (totaling 18.5 million gallons-per-day maximum-day-demand) for Waukesha's future. This balanced-approach would not drawdown any one of these sources, instead allow each of these sources to naturally recharge, and allow them to balance each other out in various weather conditions.
"The question is simply who controls Waukesha's future? Does Waukesha want to be rewarded for dependency or innovation? Some day the world could be coming to us, Waukesha the historic Spring City, as the model and experts of multi-faceted water solutions."
The WCCC has not endorsed a candidate in the mayoral election.
However, the chamber agrees with Nelson that the Lake Michigan solution is best for the city.
"We think the water issue is the most important issue facing the community at this time," said Suzanne Kelley, president of the chamber.
Still, Nelson faces a challenge in a year in which incumbents seem to be fighting an electorate with a scorched earth mindset. Furthermore, Nelson is generally regarded by Waukesha insiders as a more liberal candidate than Scrima in solidly conservative Lake Country.
To view the candidates' complete responses to five questions posed by the WCCC, click here.
The two candidates will debate the issues on Tuesday, March 23, at 7 p.m. at the Waukesha Civic Theatre, 264 W. Main St., Waukesha. The event is free and open to the public.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.