VERNON COUNTY - Incumbent Justin Running will face challenger Alicia Leinberger for the District 15 seat on the Vernon County Board of Supervisors. District 15 represents part of the City of Viroqua.
Justin Running was born and raised in Viroqua, and graduated from Viroqua High School. Along with his wife and parents, he runs a taxi service which provides transportation services all across Wisconsin, including in Viroqua. Running is vice president of Running Inc., which employs about 600 people. On any given day, the company will have between 250-300 fleet vehicles on the roads.
“The service we provide has been designated an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Running said. “We have been incredibly busy transporting people to medical appointments, or to run other errands. Our focus has been on keeping the service running, and ensuring that our passenger’s and worker’s health is protected.”
Running’s wife, Amanda, and he have four children (Remington, Hudson, Annika and Makinley), and they live in the City of Viroqua. Running’s wife serves as the treasurer on the Viroqua Area School Board.
“We both grew up in the community and have chosen to raise our children here as well,” Running said. “Our oldest is starting out his career in the U.S. Army as a K9 Handler in the military police. The other children are all in school at Viroqua Area Schools.”
Running is a lieutenant in the 40-member Viroqua Fire Department, and a member of the county’s Hazmat Team. Being on the hazmat team, according to Running, has required extensive special training in addition to the regular training required of all firefighters. Running is also a member of Wisconsin Association of Taxicab Owners
“Our family enjoys being actively involved in the community,” Running said. “I enjoy being a member of the Viroqua Fire Department and serving our community in times of need as well as an elected official representing my friends and neighbors.”
When asked why he is seeking re-election to the Vernon County Board of Supervisors, Running provided the following answers:
“I am seeking re-election to the Vernon County Board of Supervisors because I understand the importance of local government,” Running said. “I believe I contribute to the board with my skills as a business owner, a member of a local volunteer emergency service, and as an involved community member. I enjoy sharing and learning along with the other county board members.”
Running had the following to say about the most important issues facing the Vernon County Board:
“Currently we are focusing on the health crisis that is happening. It is a fluid situation, however, the focus hasn’t changed, and that is to do whatever we can to make sure the residents of Vernon County are receiving the services they need,” Running said. “In the most recent months, there has been much discussion on the state of the Vernon County Landfill. These discussions are worthwhile, and will continue to be.”
Running said that he believes the board also faces challenges in making sure the revenue is available to do the things the residents of Vernon County hold as a high priority. He said that the board works as a team to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of the residents and to make both tough and easy decisions.
In response to the question “Are there any issues currently being handled that you would handle differently?,” Running gave the following response”
“I believe the county is working together right now, voices are being heard, leadership is both guiding and leading, and residents are being informed,” Running said.
Leinberger’s work at her company Ethos Green Power involves installation and service of solar electric systems. Leinberger’s other interests include land and water conservation, renewable energy, Waldorf education, and family farm groups.
Leinberger is a single mom and small business owner in Viroqua.
“I’ve been working towards greater citizen participation in our republic and our democracy for a few years now,” Leinberger said. “The most important thing to know about me is that I bring an open mind and an entrepreneurial set of skills to the county board position. I am not afraid to speak out when I believe people are being silenced, nor am I afraid of big bold ideas to solve persistent challenges.”
Leinberger says that as an employer, she values what everyone brings to the conversation, and honors the work everyone contributes. She said she will bring that same can-do spirit to the county board.
“I’m running for office because I believe in good local government, and I’d like to see the County Board closer to ‘We the People’,” Leinberger said. “While there are many wonderful things about our current county operations, and we are fortunate to live in Vernon County, I believe the challenges we will face in coming years will require new thinking and innovation. More than any other reason, I want to be part of working with all of our resources to find solutions that keep Vernon County as beautiful and vibrant as it’s always been.”
On the issues
Leinberger commented on the challenges she sees coming up for the county.
“Vernon County as a rural agricultural community is shifting, economically and socially,” Leinberger said. “It’s important that we search out new economic opportunities to form the base of our society, and ensure we can provide employment as well as quality of life for young people wanting to make a home here.”
One example of an economic challenge cited by Leinberger is the Vernon Manor, that serves people who do not have the means to care for themselves as they age. Right now the county (the taxpayers) loses money every year, according to Leinberger, and problems with funding create staffing challenges.
“The board will need to make a decision and change the way Vernon Manor functions,” Leinberger said. “One simple way to improve the situation would be to accept federal Medicare dollars that we’ve already paid into. Regardless of the outcome, this is an important issue.”
In addition, Leinberger said, if the county loses tax base in the coming years as a result of shifting agricultural economies, we will have trouble meeting basic public safety needs. And as we know all too well, county emergency management services are well worth the value, from floods to global pandemics.
“We will need either more state general funds or more property taxes. Therefore, it is in our best interest to find a new economic resource within our county,” Leinberger said. “One idea I’ve considered is to be an exporter of renewable energy, as a generator, to sell electricity to urban areas. If the infrastructure is publicly owned, it would provide revenue for services as well jobs.”
Leinberger also expressed concern for the future of the county’s rural school districts.
“Vernon County has seven rural school districts that will be challenged by changing economic landscapes. We need to help our school districts do more with less, and perhaps reconfigure our public education system,” Leinberger said. “These connections through our children are more important than ever. Our school districts should serve as community centers for everyone. We need to reprioritize education according to our values that all children deserve an equal opportunity to thrive.”
In terms of land and water management, Leinberger said, the county may be faced with increasingly large industrial scale agriculture.
“Before we are faced with pollution levels that negatively impact neighbors and the whole community, the county board needs to consider which protections are most important,” Leinberger stated. “We can learn from those who have learned the hard way, and are paying the costs. Let’s work to protect the well-being of the whole community, not give special status to a few who want to profit at the expense of their neighbors.”
Finally, Leinberger summed up, that the most important challenge the county board faces, is stagnancy and the ‘same ole same ole.’
“Government has to be reflective of our constituents, and flexible enough to meet our most pressing problems. Our county board needs to be a conduit to state government, to carry our voices into the halls of the Capitol,” Leinberger expressed. “And to do that, the board needs to hear from the people, ask important questions, open the process. And most importantly, make sure our tax dollars serve all of us.”
A different approach
Leinberger was asked if there were any issues facing the county board that she would handle differently.
“Yes, I wish there were more opportunities for us to weigh in on county and state policy,” Leinberger stated. “I would like to see more advisory referendums and community conversations. I’d like to see more candidates and more reasons to take the ballot seriously.”
Case in point, Leinberger said she had worked to get an advisory referendum about Medicaid expansion on the ballot, so that people could weigh in without the influences of partisan politics.
“There were members of the county board who I believe put their own party preferences over the greater good of giving people a voice.” Leinberger said. “In general, I believe that has to change. Our government will only be as good as the extent to which it includes all of our voices.”These ‘candidate statements’ are adapted from an article in the Vernon County Broadcaster by Angela Cina.