Tag Archives: representative

Amid strong field, Marina Dimitrijevic is best choice to represent Milwaukee’s 19th Assembly District

On June 6, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced to a cheering crowd at PrideFest that he was keeping the courthouse open that evening for same-sex couples to get married. Abele didn’t want lesbian and gay couples who’d been waiting for years to have to wait any longer after a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban earlier that day.

Among the first to arrive at the courthouse to lend a helping hand was Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. She stationed herself at the doors leading to the clerk’s office to hand out numbers for couples seeking a position in the growing line and to answer questions about required documentation and so on. 

It was not surprising to find Dimitrijevic at the forefront of the activity that night. LGBT equality is one of the issues she’s championed in the decade since she became the youngest woman elected to public office in Milwaukee. Her long list of accomplishments includes spearheading the effort to extend domestic partner benefits for county workers.

Now Dimitrijevic is a candidate in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary to choose a successor for state Rep. Jon Richards in the 19th Assembly District. Richards is stepping down to run for attorney general.

The district includes the East Side, downtown, the Third Ward, Bay View and parts of Riverwest, making it not only one of the state’s most heavily progressive districts but also one that has among the highest concentrations of LGBT constituents.

Dimitrijevic faces three other challengers in the primary — each of them promising in his or her own way. All three have compelling narratives to support their candidacies, and all three hold the progressive, pro-equality values supported by a majority of the district’s residents.

But Dimitrijevic is by far the most experienced candidate in the race, and experience counts more than ever for progressives in Madison. The tea party majority rules the Assembly with an iron fist, and progressives need representatives who know the system well enough to recognize and exploit opportunities to work it. 

Moreover, Dimitrijevic has a proven track record of advocating for the issues of most concern to progressives, including environmental sustainability, public transportation, public education and rights for workers and immigrants (Dimitrijevic is fluent in Spanish). She’s the strongest candidate to replace Richards. We endorse her and expect a great future for her as a progressive leader.

Dimitrijevic’s other endorsements come from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Clean Wisconsin Action and more. To learn more about Dimitrijevic, go to www.votemarina.com.

The other candidates in the race also have drawn prominent endorsements and have promising futures. They’re worth getting to know (in alphabetical order):

Dan Adams, 31, a former Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney, is the candidate backed by Abele. Adams is unique in that he expresses a willingness to work with Republicans to ensure that Milwaukee gets its fair share of revenue and attention from Madison. He stresses pragmatism over knee-jerk partisanship.

Adams believes Milwaukee has great potential for developing a knowledge-based economy, and he says he’d work on bringing capital together with the city’s educational institutions to make that happen.

Philosophically, Adams casts himself politically in Abele’s mold: “We have the same outlook on public service — it’s not about the servant. It’s really about carrying the water for the community and not just the very vocal or the very powerful,” Adams says.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Adams signs have become increasingly visible in the district.

For more, go to adamsforassembly.com.

Jonathan Brostoff, 30, is also running a strong campaign. He took leave from his current position as district director for Senate Democratic Leader Chris Larson in order to run for the Assembly. In that position, as well as through involvement in managing other campaigns, Brostoff likely knows Wisconsin politics better than any other candidate except Dimitrijevic.

Together with Larson, Brostoff co-founded DemTEAM, which has trained more than 110 progressive Milwaukeeans interested in elected office. Among DemTeam’s success stories are current state Reps. Daniel Reimer, Nikiya Harris and Mandela Barnes.

Brostoff has run a robust campaign that has focused increasingly on education. Like the other candidates in this race, Brostoff says he’ll fight to get better resources for Milwaukee’s public school system. He sees the growing voucher movement as part of the problem.

“I strongly believe that we need to not only not expand vouchers but sunset them here and now,” Brostoff says. “The experiment has played out and it failed. The heart of it is to siphon off public resources into private hands.”

Brostoff, who has a gay older brother, is an ardent equality supporter. The first of many volunteer positions he’s held was with Pathfinders, which provides services to homeless youth. Brostoff began volunteering with the agency at age 14. Among Pathfinders’ clients are relatively large numbers of gay and lesbian youth who are kicked out of their homes by disapproving parents.

Brostoff also has volunteered for many other nonprofits. He says running for office is taking his commitment to his community to the next level. He cites retiring state Rep. Sandy Pasch as the type of leader he hopes to become, and she has endorsed him.

For more, go to votebrostoff.com. 

Sara Geenen, 32, has run the most low-key campaign of the four contenders, primarily because she’s the mother of a 4-year-old and a toddler, as well as a labor union attorney. But she says being a working mother gives her a unique perspective to take with her to Madison. 

“It’s important to have people from every walk of life representing the state, because the state has people from every walk of life,” she says.

Strongly pro-union, Geenen grew up in a union family “with headstrong beliefs in progressive values,” she says. Her endorsements include chapters of the United Steel Workers, the Teamsters and the International Association of Machinists.

Growing income inequality spurred Geenen to run for office, she says, and her campaign has focused on “jobs, education and investing in community.” Geenen sees herself as an advocate for the working poor, people who are unable to move out of poverty because all the rules are stacked against them. As examples, she offers the case of a woman three months’ pregnant who’s already distressed about finding day care for her child or the family forced to live in substandard housing because of their credit score, even though they can afford better housing.

Like the others in the race, Geenen is a deeply committed supporter of equality, quality public schools and the creation of family-supporting jobs.

“I think it’s important that you start to work incrementally to make change,” Geenen says. “It’s important to keep advocating.”

For more, visit sarageenen.com.

Primary day is Aug. 12.

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Freshman rep aims to change Milwaukee’s image

Assembly District 18 encompasses an economically struggling, relatively low-profile area on Milwaukee’s North Side. It’s not home to a wealthy population, important landmarks or major businesses and industry. Most of its residents are just getting by, and some are not even managing that.

Despite the district’s humble status, when Tamara Grigsby decided to retire as its representative to deal with health problems, eight Democratic candidates entered the primary race to succeed her. But not even the large number of candidates inspired voters to show up at the polls. Turnout was a dismal 13 percent, perhaps reflecting the general sense of hopelessness felt by many inner city dwellers.

Still, one candidate generated a great deal of excitement. Evan Goyke, a 29-year-old assistant state public defender, received 37 percent of the vote by running a sophisticated and impassioned campaign that included not only knocking on hundreds of doors but also sending handwritten thank-you notes to everyone who answered.

“I worked harder,” Goyke said.

His big win, coupled with his political pedigree, made him an instant rising star in Wisconsin’s progressive movement. His parents are former state Sen. Gary Goyke and Nancy Rottier, who served as legislative liaison under former Gov. Jim Doyle. Both are active – and widely respected – in the state’s progressive community.

It’s not surprising that Goyke wound up in politics. He grew up with a bust of Robert Kennedy on the television set in the family’s living room in Madison, he said. Family dinner conversations centered on progressive philosophy and politics.

At 18, Goyke attended the Wisconsin Democratic Convention in Stevens Point. It was the year that Doyle, Tom Barrett and Kathleen Falk were vying for the party’s gubernatorial nomination, and the experience convinced Goyke that he would some day run for office.

“That process of meeting (the candidates) and seeing the party’s energy and its movement solidified my resolve to run,” he said. “When I saw behind the curtain, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

But Goyke’s path to the ballot was not a straight line. After graduating from St. John’s University in Minnesota, he embarked on a four-month world tour with savings he’d accrued from part-time jobs. He began Marquette University Law School in 2006 and took a job as a public defender after graduation.

Living in the area and working in the public defender’s office convinced him that people on the North Side were in need. “I was exposed to what the real world is,” Goyke said, “and it really changed my perspective.”

Among his new experiences was being robbed at knife point on Wisconsin Avenue. While that might have discouraged most people from moving to the neighborhood, it only increased Goyke’s resolve.

After graduation, he decided to make the area his home, believing he could influence change there by becoming part of the community. In effect, he incorporated the concepts of diversity and urban renewal into his personal life.

Last year, Goyke solidified his commitment to the area by purchasing a 5,500-square-foot Victorian home in Historic Concordia. The neighborhood is something of a mishmash that includes blighted streets of boarded-up homes as well as tidy blocks that are lovingly tended by area homeowners, neighborhood associations and churches.

For much of the past century, the trajectory of Historic Concordia has been straight down. The opulent Victorian homes where Milwaukee’s beer barons once lived in luxury now stand in dusty desuetude, their gilded past barely visible.

“One of the things about this neighborhood is there’s nowhere to go but up,” Goyke said.

Goyke’s home, which he shares with his girlfriend, a law student at Marquette, embodies the area’s rich history and decline. Originally a single-family home, it was converted to a boarding house in the 1950s or ’60s. Each of the bedrooms still has a doorbell and an individual gas hook-up. 

A previous owner renovated the kitchen and built a four-car garage. But a lot of remodeling remains to restore the home’s original grandeur and add modern functionality. Goyke estimates that he faces a decade-long project to get the building where he wants it to be. In the meantime, he has plunged into neighborhood life, volunteering with a local church to remove trash from the streets and trying to recruit new homeowners into the area. 

His engagement in the life of the community brought him visibility that paid off at the polls. Goyke’s Democratic rivals in AD 18 included three other whites, three African Americans, one Native American. Three of the candidates were women. But defying identity politics to some degree, Goyke, who is white, won a majority not only in the predominantly white wards of Washington Heights and Story Hill, but in 12 primarily African-American wards as well.

The diversity that he embraced in moving to the district more or less embraced him back. 

As a freshman lawmaker in the minority party, Goyke acknowledges that his impact during the next legislative session will be muted, Goyke acknowledged. But he hopes that he and his newly elected freshmen progressive colleagues from Milwaukee – Mandela Barnes and Danny Reimer, both 25 – will bring new energy to the Democratic Party. All three, he said, are determined to improve the negative perceptions about Milwaukee at the Capitol.

“I really like the people I’m going to serve with in the Milwaukee caucus, and I think we’re going to be so much more united than the city’s representatives have been in the past,” Goyke said. 

High on Goyke’s list of legislative priorities is changing the criminal justice system to reduce prison populations and the harm that locking up large numbers of people for low-level crimes has on families and communities.

Grigsby was one of the Legislature’s most committed public transportation advocates, and Goyke intends to take up that mantle. He’ll also focus on public education, and he plans to introduce measures to support urban farming, including offering subsidies to urban farmers, he said. This would create new jobs in the city while making productive use of empty areas, he explained.

“I have a dozen pieces of legislation floating around in my head,” he said. “Call me a wide-eyed optimist, but I think we can go pretty far. I don’t think anyone should take office with the idea we aren’t going to get anything done. Some of the ideas that came out on the campaign trail deserve to be heard.”

One of Goyke’s major goals will not be achieved at the Capitol but by reaching out to individuals in areas of the state where people have a distorted view of Milwaukee as a crime-ridden, rust-belt city. As someone who shares a cultural background with rural white Wisconsinites, he believes he can get through to them and
change their views of his hometown.

“Part of my agenda is to rebrand Milwaukee,” he said. “We’re so easily the scapegoat and so easily put aside. I get to stand up as a fresh voice and say, ‘You got it wrong. Just come to my house and meet my neighbors.’”

Missouri rep comes out, denounces anti-gay bill

A Republican Missouri House member who previously served in the U.S. Air Force came out as gay and called upon GOP leaders in the state Legislature to withdraw a bill that would limit discussion of sexual orientation in public schools. 

Rep. Zachary Wyatt, a 27-year-old cattle farmer from the rural northern Missouri town of Novinger, said on May 2 that the legislation had motivated him to disclose his sexual orientation publicly for the first time.

Wyatt was joined by nine other Democratic and Republican lawmakers in denouncing Missouri legislation that would prohibit teaching, extracurricular activities or materials that discuss sexual orientation, unless they relate to the scientific facts about human reproduction. 

“I will not lie to myself anymore about my own sexuality,” Wyatt said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “I am still the same person that I was when I woke up this morning and I will be the same person when I go to bed tonight. Today I ask you to stand with me as a proud Republican, a proud veteran and a proud gay man who wants to protect all kids addressing bullying in our schools.” 

Wyatt is not running for re-election in Missouri because he plans to move to Hawaii and study marine biology. 

A spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group that backs gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual candidate, said Wyatt is the only openly gay Republican in the nation who is currently serving in a state legislature. Other gay Republicans have served in state legislatures in the past. Two other members of the Missouri House, both Democrats from urban areas, are openly homosexual. One Democratic Missouri state senator is also openly lesbian. 

The Missouri bill appears unlikely to pass before the session ends May 18. It was referred to a House education committee last month and has not received a hearing. But the legislation has generated attention and controversy. Comedian Stephen Colbert recently mocked it on his cable TV show. 

Opponents have dubbed the legislation the “don’t say gay” bill. They contend it could forbid teachers from uttering the words “gay” or “lesbian” in the classroom or talking about bullying that gay and lesbian students face from their peers. The legislation also appears to forbid school-sponsored “gay-straight alliance” groups, which advocate for gay and lesbian rights. 

The lawmakers at Wednesday’s news conference called for the sponsor of the bill to withdraw the legislation. 

But Rep. Steve Cookson said he won’t do that. Cookson, a Republican from the rural southern Missouri town of Fairdealing, said he believes parents and family members, not schools, should teach children about different kinds of sexuality. 

“Those are personal issues that probably should be taught by people outside the school system,” he said. “We need to be focusing on what is going to provide students with the skills they need to be productive citizens in our society.” 

Cookson insisted his bill does not explicitly ban the mention of specific words. He did not say whether he intends to ban school-sponsored “gay-straight alliance” groups. 

“I think we’re headed into some very tricky waters there,” Cookson said. “There could be all kinds of different groups that could want to be sponsored by a school, and some of them you may think are good groups and some of them you may think are bad groups.”

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