Maps by Jade Iseri-Ramos and Martin Rakacolli.
“I think I’m okay,” says Francesca Hong. Last night she beat out six other challengers in the Democratic primary to represent downtown Madison, for the state Assembly seat formerly occupied for nearly a decade by Representative Chris Taylor.
“You’d think like a couple of hours after, I’d be more eloquent, but I’m seriously still just in shock and overwhelmingly grateful that folks want me to represent this community.”
Hong eked out a victory last night, receiving a little more than 28% of the vote to narrowly beat out six other candidates. Runner-up candidate Tyrone Cratic Williams trailed by about a six percent margin.
Hong has made equity issues a cornerstone of her campaign.
As a restaurateur and co-owner of Morris Ramen, her theme is “Share the Table,” which she says is about elevating under-represented voices and giving them an active role in policy making.
“We were able to engage with so many people who want things to be better, and I’m ready to fight and to work and to be held accountable to that,” she says.
Hong also advocates for labor rights and the reversal of Act 10, the 2011 bill introduced by Scott Walker that undercut collective bargaining rights for unions throughout the state. At the start of the pandemic, Hong called for the state government to do more to help restaurants that had decided to close to protect their workers.
While her restaurant Morris Ramen is in the district, Hong will need to move to the district before November, satisfying a state requirement that representatives must reside in the district they represent.
She currently lives on Madison’s north-east side and says she plans to move by the end of the month.
Come November, she’ll square off against Republican candidate Patrick Hull to represent downtown Madison in the statehouse.
Hong came to the election with minimal political experience, but an activist background, and her victory pushed out several current elected officials with more political experience, including Madison school board member Nicki Vander Meulen and Madison Alder Marsha Rummel.
Hong is also the most progressive in the race, and has been vocal about reforming the state’s police forces. She’s pushed for the dismantling of the state’s police unions, one of the few state employee unions unaffected by Act 10.
The race’s runner up, Tyrone Cratic Williams, took a parting swipe after congratulating Hong. Williams, a former police officer, argued that “An attack on one union is an attack on all unions.”
In yet another seven-way race, Kelda Roys soundly edged out six other Democrats to represent Wisconsin’s 26th Senate District, with more than forty percent of the vote. Progressive competitor Nada Elmikashfi, who had pressed Roys and other candidates on numerous issues throughout the campaign, trailed Roys by thirteen points.
With no Republican candidates running for the seat in November, Roys will be the next state Senator for Madison.
In a brief victory speech on Tuesday night, Roys thanked her family and supporters.
“Thank you so much for the trust you’ve placed in me by voting for me. I will work every single day to be worthy of the opportunity you’ve provided me with and to enact the big structural changes we so desperately need,” she said.
Roys will represent Senate District 26, which composes most of Madison. That seat has been held for 57 years by Democrat Fred Risser, who is widely cited as the longest-serving state legislator in the nation. Risser, now 93 years old, announced he would retire in March.
“Sen. Risser’s decades-long commitment to public service, to civility and to the law and to upholding the institution of the Wisconsin State Senate will be dearly missed,” Roys said. “He’s really a reminder to all of us that politics can, and should, demand the very best from our representatives; that we act like statesmen and women, that we carry ourselves with dignity and we hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity. His shoes are very big to fill.”
Roys previously served in the state assembly from 2010 to 2012, representing Baraboo, Sauk City and surrounding areas. She left that seat in a bid for the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated by Mark Pocan in that primary election. She also ran for governor in 2018, but was defeated by Tony Evers in the gubernatorial primary.
In a comparatively less-crowded race, Madison Common Council member Samba Baldeh gathered about fifty percent of the vote to beat his fellow city council member Lindsay Lemmer, as well as two other democrats, for State Assembly District 48.
District 48 consists of significant portions of Madison’s northeast side, swaths of which Baldeh already represents on the common council.
Baldeh says that watching the election results roll in yesterday evening made him think back on the events that led him to Wisconsin.
“It was very emotional,” he says. “As you may know, I am an immigrant from a small village in West Africa. I was the first person in my family to go to a Western school. And so to move from a village of less than a hundred people to eventually live in rural Wisconsin, reflecting on all of that was emotional.”
Baldeh will face Republican candidate Sam Anderson this November.
The winner of that race will replace outgoing Democratic Representative Melissa Sargent, who is now running for a state Senate seat.
Yesterday, Sargent gathered more than three quarters of votes cast to edge out competitor Andrew McKinney, the current Monona Grove School Board President, in the race for state senate District 16.
The state Senate seat includes much of the north side Sargent has represented in the Assembly — but adds on much of eastern Dane County.
In November, Sargent will face Republican Scott Barker for the right to represent the district, which Republicans haven’t won since the 1940s.
“Certainly, we can’t forget that Wisconsin is a very gerrymandered state, and this district is very blue,” Sargent says. “However, I’m not taking anything for granted and I look forward to connecting with the folks in the district and earning their support.”
And finally, Democrat Lisa Subeck secured her seat as the state representative for the areas immediately south of Middleton. Subeck, who’s served in the same district since 2015, secured over ninety percent of the vote, a solid defeat over challenger Robert Slamka.
Since there is no republican running in that race, Subeck will remain the State Representative in that area until the next election in 2022.
Despite not having a challenger, Subeck says she’ll be working hard in the run-up to the November general election supporting Democrats in contentious districts.
“Being in a very Democratic district, I know all of my colleagues are not in the same boat. We need to work hard to make sure that we keep our numbers up and continue to grow in the legislature. So I will be working alongside some of my colleagues in those districts that Republicans are targeting to be sure that we bring them back to Madison in the fall,” she says.