One of the more exciting side effects of the biased redistricting of Wisconsin’s various political units has been the appearance of new progressive voices on the scene. One of the most visible races in this new environment is the Wisconsin 11th Assembly District. The newly drawn lines for the 11th include a large swath of the City of Milwaukee’s north side and the western portion of the City of Glendale.
And bringing a strong articulate progressive voice to the 11th AD race is community activist Mandela Barnes. Until deciding to run for state assembly, Mr. Barnes was a Lead Organizer at Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH). His experience with Micah provided him with insights on the things that aren’t working in Milwaukee. Mr. Barnes is taking on Democratic incumbent Rep. Jason Fields.
About a month ago I sat down with Mr. Barnes and we talked about his candidacy and a few things about Milwaukee and Milwaukee politics. (and I apologize to Mr. Barnes for procrastinating on getting this published).
I asked Mr. Barnes why he was running for office…and he sees three prominent issues that aren’t being fairly treated in Madison: Employment, Public Education and Public Transportation.
He also felt that the district isn’t receiving the progressive leadership that it deserved.
Mr. Barnes supports dedicated funding for public transportation because we can no longer afford rate hikes and service cuts and still effectively serve the community. Along with dedicated funding he would like to see a new RTA to co-ordinate transportation planning throughout the region and not just Milwaukee county.
Obviously jobs are still a major issue for the state but particularly the City of Milwaukee. Although session after legislative session last year was tagged as jobs creation sessions, the underlying issues of actually creating jobs in Wisconsin remained unaddressed. Providing opportunities for work will be the major focus for Mr. Barnes term in Madison.
A key employment issue in Milwaukee would be programs to help find jobs for felons who are returning to the community, currently the least employable portion of our population.
His ideas on public education have gotten the most attention for the 11th AD race. Mr. Barnes supports public education. Although public education has some serious problems, it isn’t fair to intentionally underfund it or try to dismantle it. He’d like to restore the state funding cuts to public education and reduce the injuries inflicted on public education by the voucher school program. And he would demand that voucher schools be held to the same level of accountability as public schools.
Rep. Fields has been a strong proponent of voucher schools. A position that is popular and easy to justify with many minority parents who want better opportunities for their children.
So voucher schools have become the major battle ground in this race. And it has drawn the attention of American Federation for Children, a voucher school advocacy group that generally supports conservative candidates. But this time it has come out in strong support of Rep. Fields including mailings to voters in the district. As a progressive (disclaimer: and former candidate for Milwaukee School Board) and supporter of public education, I see AFC’s support as a significant red flag.
One issue with Rep. Fields that Mr. Barnes has mentioned in a number of interviews and during a recent debate, was Act10 which abolished collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. This may have shifted the management/labor and possibly the political balance of power in the state. In 61 hours of debate on the Assembly floor, Rep. Fields did not offer one single amendment to the bill. A night when the entire Democratic caucus was trying to soften the blow that Act10 would have on our economy. Now, I don’t think that’s as important as does Mr. Barnes. But I am probably more involved in politics that the average citizen, I had never heard of Rep. Fields before Mr. Barnes entered the fray. That lack of involvement with Act10 may indicate an overall lack of involvement in Madison and a reason I haven’t heard of him.
Back to the redistricting: Normally an incumbent has an advantage in name recognition with the electorate…but the way the district has been redrawn Rep. Fields has to sell himself to a large group of new voters who probably know nothing about him. This may level the playing field for Mr. Barnes.
When we publish our list of endorsements before the August 14th primary, Mandela Barnes will be my endorsement for the Wisconsin 11th AD.
Disclosure: I have known Mandela for almost two years as a result of our involvement with the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County and I know him to be a strong progressive with a sincere interest in Milwaukee.