Representing Wisconsin’s 7th Senate District, Jeff Plale has been a reliable ally in the on LGBT rights and a leader on HIV/AIDS funding. He opposed the 2006 voter referendum that banned same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state, and he secured $1.8 million in new funding to expand the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin’s medical centers in Green Bay and Milwaukee.
But Plale has angered progressives on other issues. He is a self-described “pro-life” politician, which means he opposes a woman’s freedom to make reproductive choices about her body privately and in consultation with her doctor. Although Plale deserves credit for bringing anti-choice and pro-choice groups together over a safe haven law that allows desperate mothers to safely and legally abandon their infants, we are still troubled by his position on women’s rights.
Plale killed a renewable energy bill that was strongly backed by the League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups. Plale says he opposed the bill because it set emission goals that were so ambitious they would have raised utility bills to unaffordable levels for working-class voters in the southern part of his district, including South Milwaukee and Oak Creek.
But given the arguments to the contrary from Gov. Jim Doyle and others who pushed the legislation, we can’t help but feel that the contributions he’s taken from Big Oil interests played a role in his decision-making process. Plale certainly was not concerned about his working-class constituents when he took money from the cable and telecommunications industries and then voted for policies that raised consumer rates in those areas.
While we appreciate Plale’s support for LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues, we endorse his challenger, Milwaukee County Supervisor Chris Larson, in the 7th Senate District primary. We believe Larson will be more than a supporter – he’ll be a real champion for us in Madison.
Larson took it upon himself, without being asked, to introduce a measure last year that would have extended employment benefits to the same-sex partners of county workers. He also got a majority of his fellow supervisors to vote for the proposal, which was vetoed by county executive and Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker.
Larson speaks about equality with conviction. Asked why he supports same-sex marriage, Larson gave the best answer of any candidate WiG has interviewed during this election cycle: “When I asked my wife to marry me, I just had to ask her,” he replied. “It was enough that I had to get just one person to say yes. It’s silly to have a group that has to force everyone else in society to say yes before they can get married.”
Larson vows he’ll use his understanding on our issues to educate and lobby fellow lawmakers on equality. He says he’ll leverage the security of representing a 60-percent majority Democratic district, which includes the liberal East Side, Third Ward and Bay View, to move a progressive agenda forward in Madison on the environment, consumer protection, women’s reproductive freedom and other issues. This is something that Plale has failed to do.
Although Plale is both better-funded and an incumbent, Larson has a good shot at winning this race. The American Federation of Teachers and the powerful SEIU, both of which endorsed Plale in prior elections, have switched to Larson. The Milwaukee Police Association and the AFL-CIO went from endorsing Plale in the past to remaining neutral in this election cycle.
This is a race where LGBT support could make a difference – and should.