The Capital Times held a forum last night for the seven Democratic candidates running to represent Wisconsin’s 76th Assembly District. The incumbent, state representative Chris Taylor, is leaving the seat to serve on the Dane County Circuit Court.
The 76th Assembly District contains the northeast parts of Madison, including the Truax Air Force Base. In 2016, incumbent Chris Taylor won with over eighty percent of the vote against Republican challenger Jon Rygiewicz, who is currently leading an effort to recall Madison’s mayor. In 2018, Republicans did not put up a candidate for the seat.
The candidate who wins the Democratic primary next month is expected to win in November.
The seven candidates took turns answering questions given to them by Cap Times reporters. The topics ranged from affordable housing and police reform to educational policy and economic development.
Watch the Cap Times debate:
While discussing budget priorities Francesca Hong, a small business owner who said she supported a Green New Deal during the forum, says she wants to address income inequality.
“We also need to prioritize a living wage, which can be a really effective response to the cost of living and income inequality,” said Hong. “Policies such as a fair $15 minimum wage, labor contracts for workers, affordable healthcare, tax relief for small businesses who take care of their workers with proper metrics-this can all benefit raising the purchasing power of workers, compressing wage inequality, and provide significant debt relief for the future.”
Whoever wins the election, the Assembly and Senate will still likely be controlled by Republican legislators, which is why the candidates faced questions regarding how they would get their plans passed.
Heather Driscoll has worked in the Peace Corps and a Madison energy nonprofit called Seventhwave. She says that her father died from suicide in part because of easy access to guns. She says that most of Wisconsin agrees with the gun restrictions she is proposing and that she intends to keep putting pressure on Republican leadership to act.
“Eighty percent of the state agrees with an extreme risk protection order which would remove guns in a situation where somebody is a danger to themselves or to others, and eighty percent of the state also believes that we should have background checks on every gun purchase,” said Driscoll. “Right now the Republican leadership doesn’t want to take action, but we need to continue to build allies and continue to put pressures.”
Others had different solutions to the issue of how to work with Republicans. Dewey Bredeson, the founder of a real estate company who has lived in Madison for fifty years, says the biggest problem is that current district lines reward party extremists and hard-liners. He says that he wants a nonpartisan redistricting commission in order to draw new districts.
“Both parties have engaged in gerrymandering,” said Bredeson. “I favor a nonpartisan board as exists in other states. It is the only fair way to keep politics out of what should be a non-political process. We need fair maps that should respect community boundaries. Voters should be picking their legislators, legislators should not be picking their voters. “
In the wake of George Floyd, calls to reform police have gotten louder. Tyrone Cratic Williams, a police officer who owns a company that teaches financial literacy to young people, says he wants to reform the system. He says his perspective could help him guide the project to fix criminal justice issues.
“Growing up in Dane County-one of the statistically worst counties to raise a black child in the nation-as well as being a black police officer, I understand both sides of the spectrum in terms of what’s needed for police reform,” said Williams. “And seeing our outcomes and what we’ve seen with George Floyd and other instances around the country throughout the years, it’s maddening, it’s upsetting, and it shows that the system is based on racism and needs to change. And in my article in the Cap Times, I’ve outlined all those policies.”
Williams’ article in the Cap Times calls for changes to police training, police practices, recruitment, and community outreach.
Other candidates had a different view of police reform. Ali Maresh, a mental health advocate who has previously worked with Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, says that she supports taking funding from the police and investing in mental health services. She says it would help address police violence.
“The Cahoots program was mentioned, where we have mental health professionals showing up to places first, in front of law enforcement, but we actually have a shortage of crisis intervention specialists to do that work,” said Maresh. “So what we need to do as we pull more funding into these areas is address this huge provider workforce shortage. And the way that I see that being done is one, we need to recruit and retain mental health professionals and we also need to diversify the workforce.”
Nicki Vander Meulen, a Madison school board member since 2017, touted her experience in education as one of the reasons she would be an effective representative. She says that one of her priorities would be to make secondary education affordable.
“We have to make sure that tuition is affordable,” said Vander Meulen. “We’re not doing that and providing enough services for our students. We need to put financial protections that allow student loan forgiveness, allow students to be able to afford tuition and make tuition affordable based on the income the student has, not on the parents’ income. I would keep tuition frozen if not lowered to help as many people as possible.”
Marsha Rummel has served as a Madison alder for more than a dozen years. And the district she serves on the Common Council overlaps with the district she would serve in the Assembly if elected. She says that her economic development programs in the area have also helped address racial disparities, and she would like to expand them.
“I’ve had a lot of experience as Alder spearheading economic redevelopment in the east rail corridor on East Washington and leveraged state resources,” said Rummel. “We’ve had a land banking program-which I would like to promote more of at the state level. I’ve also worked at the public market and created programs and opportunities for women and people of color to own local food businesses. These are ways we can address racial justice.”
The primary election is set for Tuesday, August 11th. See what’s on your ballot at MyVote Wisconsin.
The winner will go on to face Republican Patrick Hull in the general come November.
WORT is continuing to interview candidates in the August primary. Listen to all our interviews with candidates so far on our elections page.