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Coroner candidate addresses criticism

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Ted Sullivan
August 27, 2010
— The woman hoping to be Rock County’s next coroner said her ties to a pathologist who publicly criticized her opponent has nothing to do with her candidacy.

Terry Holder, 43, Milton, worked closely with UW-Madison forensic pathologist Michael Stier while employed as a phlebotomist and autopsy assistant at William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison.


Stier wrote Rock County Board members in April, saying he’s had problems working with incumbent candidate Jenifer Keach. Stier urged the board to switch from an elected coroner to an appointed medical examiner.


Holder said she had worked with Stier for five years and considers him a mentor, but he has nothing to do with her running against Keach. She said Stier had no idea she was entering the race until she filed her election papers.


“He has never given me a dime, nor have I ever asked him to,” Holder said.


Holder, a Democrat, admits she has come under suspicion because she moved to Rock County weeks before the election’s July 13 filing deadline. This race also is her first step into politics.


Holder said she had planned to move to Rock County for more than two years but waited for her youngest child to graduate from high school. She didn’t want to move outside the school district.


Holder didn’t register to vote until July, and she didn’t register with the Democratic Party until Aug. 12.


The single mother of two said she has been busy raising her children for several years and hasn’t had time to get involved with activities outside her family. She also has been working full time.


Holder filed for bankruptcy in Arizona in 2002, another source of criticism. She said she was the victim of identity theft, which ruined her credit and finances. She said the thieves had cell phones, apartments, medical bills and other items in her name.


Holder said she reported the theft to police, but she couldn’t remember which police department. An investigation wasn’t opened.


She said some of her own family’s medical bills were part of the bankruptcy because she didn’t have health insurance at the time.


Holder resigned from her hospital job this month because of the Hatch Act, which prevents federal employees from running in partisan elections. She said she didn’t know she was violating the law.


Holder was employed with the hospital when she filed her election papers, but her candidacy remains valid. The Hatch Act was a violation of her employment agreement, meaning she had to resign or risk being suspended or fired.


“It has nothing to do with me running for office,” Holder said. “That’s why I had to resign.”


Her salary at the hospital was about $40,000 a year. If elected, Holder would receive a large pay increase. Keach makes $57,503 a year.


Holder said she has enough savings to be unemployed for about a month until the primary election is over. She also could apply for jobs with her former employer after the primary.


Holder said she wouldn’t have quit her job in a recession if she didn’t believe she could win.


“I feel I’m a strong candidate. I feel I have a lot of support from people in Rock County,” Holder said. “If I didn’t think I had a good chance, I wouldn’t have taken the risk.”


Keach said she is unsure why Holder suddenly entered the political arena.


“Whatever the truth is about why she is running, the fact remains that Holder violated the federal Hatch Act and state election rules,” she said.


“Holder has admitted that she does not have the education or experience for the position that she seeks,” Keach said. “The voters will decide what is important.”


When Stier wrote the county board, he stated he was upset because Keach wanted autopsies done at non-university facilities.


Keach called his personal attack “grossly inappropriate.” She said she has authority to decide who does her autopsies and where they’re done because they’re Rock County cases.


Keach said she has autopsies done at different places to share business and create flexibility for her caseload.


She said Stier was upset because he fears he could lose Rock County business to the Dane County Coroner’s Office, which plans to hire its own forensic pathologist.


Keach and Holder will face off in the Democratic primary Tuesday, Sept. 14. The winner will be unopposed in November, when voters also will decide in a referendum whether they want to continue electing a coroner or have the county appoint a medical examiner. A change would not be effective until 2014.



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