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Spheres of influence: 2015 most influential people in Greater Madison

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Maurice Cheeks: Innovative Thinker

Maurice Cheeks is the director of the Wisconsin Innovation Network, a program of the Wisconsin Technology Council that serves Wisconsin’s high-tech business sector, but in truth he’s an innovative thinker in all of his endeavors. While he’s immersed in the challenges faced by technology-based businesses in Wisconsin, he’s also a Madison alder, representing District 10 on Madison’s west side, where his innovative thinking has been evident in his support of measures to aid criminal justice reform.

Case in point: His support of a ban-the-box initiative that means people with conviction records would not have to check the box asking about their criminal records on job applications. That’s not to say employers can’t still research people’s backgrounds at some point during the hiring process; rather, it’s to prevent them from using criminal records as an early screening tool. To give people with conviction records a chance to reform, the city of Madison has adopted this policy, and someday it could be required of private employers.

Cheeks is also hard at work on proposals to curb gang violence and strengthen youth mentorship. He’s not only an innovative thinker, he clearly doesn’t believe in just sitting back and watching problems unfold.

Kevin Conroy: Lifesaver

Kevin Conroy earned a spot on this list, for the second consecutive year, before we knew that Exact Sciences’ new headquarters could be part of a $125 million mixed-use development for Judge Doyle Square. The possible boost to an already vibrant downtown is one more thing on his side of the Most Influential ledger. Talk about pouring it on!

The molecular diagnostics company has already had quite a year, as Cologuard, its non-invasive test for the early detection of colon cancer, received Food and Drug Administration approval. The introduction of Cologuard to the market is driving the company’s rapid workforce growth, bringing the need to relocate from its current headquarters on Charmany Drive to a larger facility. If the JDS project is approved by year’s end, hundreds of employees eventually will work in a new 250,000-square-foot facility in downtown Madison.

Conroy, IB’s 2015 Executive of the Year, has also been influential with his outspoken opposition to proposed UW System budget cuts, and he’s also not done exploring business opportunities, as evidenced by Exact Sciences’ new partnership with the MD Anderson Cancer Center to develop blood tests for the early detection of lung cancer.

Barbara Crabb: Constitutional Judge

When U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the state of Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage, the cries of judicial activism rang out. Despite the fact that Crabb applied a constitutional rationale — the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment — as the basis for her ruling, she was accused of promoting her personal political beliefs, not the Constitution.

Yet the clause guarantees equal protection under the law for every citizen, and there are no exceptions for sexual orientation. Yes, it was passed in the 19th century, so it didn’t institute gay marriage as a constitutional right per se, but marriage is governed by law. The authors of the 14th Amendment could not have foreseen what laws would be passed after they helped modify the Constitution, but a fair reading of the Equal Protection Clause would lead anyone to believe that no matter what future laws were passed, they wanted them to be applied equally.

By ignoring charges of social activism and applying constitutional principles, Crabb not only defended the rights of same-sex couples, the UW–Madison Law School graduate illustrated an important point of law — that marriage isn’t just between a man and a woman.

Jack E. Daniels: Disparity Fighter

It hasn’t taken long for Madison College President Jack E. Daniels to shake things up. Taking over as the college’s new president in August of 2013, he’s proposed some dramatic steps the college’s board isn’t quite prepared to support, including the sale of its downtown campus. He’s also asked the board to create a task force to examine plans for a new south-side campus because of that area’s poverty and because of the disparities faced by people of color.

Daniels is keenly aware of such disparities, having been a community college president for more than 15 years, most recently at Los Angeles Southwest College, a school with 8,000 mostly African-American and Latino students. He’s also taken a leadership role in the Our Madison Plan, a blueprint for racial progress developed by five working groups, including an economic development group co-chaired by Daniels, state Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Ray Allen, and Annette Miller, emerging markets and community development director of Madison Gas & Electric.

The group focused on both high unemployment among African-Americans and the scarcity of people of color in many professions. Among its goals are providing career and job training opportunities for African-Americans in high-demand fields.


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