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Four Democrats Vie for Assembly District 17

Open seat will be decided Aug. 14

Jul. 18, 2012
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The departure of state Rep. Barbara Toles from the state Legislature provides an opportunity for new leadership for Assembly District 17, which encompasses the west side of Milwaukee.

No Republicans have registered for this district, so the winner of the Aug. 14 Democratic primary will be sworn in next January.

All four candidates spoke with the Shepherd. Here's what they had to say.

Sam Coleman

Sam Coleman is a former communications staffer for Sen. Lena Taylor, has worked as a teacher in a church-connected voucher school within the district, and is a youth pastor at Parklawn Assembly of God.

"I have several platforms that I operate on," Coleman said. "And I have the connections and relationships I've established through them. I think it's important to have leadership and representation that reflects the majority of the district—not just the business interests or those who are politically inclined, but those who have connections to the faith community and students and the minority community."

Coleman's top issues are controlling spending without eliminating essential resources, education and public safety.

He said he would control spending by cooperating with other legislators, but he said that he did not have any specific items that he would want to cut.

"I think we can acknowledge that there is spending that exists for maybe some social development projects or, even on a state level, there is a lot of spending by state employees or state departments that are not necessarily essential spending items," Coleman said.

He said the state has low performance standards for schools and they should be raised and applied across the board for all schools. He said failing schools should lose their public funding.

"Whatever school systems work, I support," Coleman said.

Coleman said that the criminal justice system's sentencing structure needs to be addressed, especially given the stigma attached to ex-offenders when they apply for jobs or higher education.

He said he would vote to restore collective bargaining but would like to give residents the chance to voice their views on the subject.

"My philosophy and my belief is that no legislator has a magic wand to create jobs or enact dramatic change," Coleman said. "But we all require the participation of the people who elect us."

For more information, go to www.facebook.com/SamColeman4WI/info.

Tracey Dent

Tracey Dent is a former legislative assistant to state Rep. Elizabeth Coggs and is the leader of the nonprofit Peace for Change Alliance, which promotes positive behavior, education and healthy development of children and adults in Milwaukee.

Dent said that he is a community activist at heart, but that working for Coggs "on the front lines" during last year's tumultuous legislative session made him want to serve the community as an elected official.

His top issues are education, housing and job creation.

He said he wants to raise performance standards and require all teachers—whether they're in public, charter or voucher schools—to be certified. He said state funds should follow the student, so if a student leaves a charter or voucher school for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), the money for that student flows to MPS. He said he needed to study the voucher system more to determine whether he supports it.

He said the unemployment situation in Milwaukee, especially among black men, is "in a state of emergency." He said legislators needed to start thinking outside the box and that the two political parties needed to work together to implement new programs.

"Instead of being hostile, we need to work together," Dent said.

He said he supports restoring collective bargaining rights and that cuts to education don't make sense when they result in teachers losing their jobs.

"Scott Walker thinks like a CEO—he only cares about the bottom line," Dent said. "All he talks about is balancing the budget, but he's not concerned about our children's future."

Dent said he would continue building relationships to get things done. He wants to establish district-wide business, neighborhood and youth associations.

"I have experience in Milwaukee, relationships with Democrats and Republicans, and I am respected in the community, and I am on the front lines," Dent said. "We will work together."

To learn more about Tracey Dent, go to www.traceydent-usa.us.

La Tonya Johnson

La Tonya Johnson has been a child-care provider for 10 years and is the president of AFSCME Local 502, Child Care Providers Together, and the vice president of AFSCME District Council 48.

"I had a choice," Johnson said. "I could stay where I am and continue to serve the kids that I had and not be able to help them beyond providing child care. Or I could run for public office and help the almost 60,000 people in my district."

Johnson said the greatest needs in the district are quality-of-life issues and the lack of job opportunities, foreclosures, the effect of addiction on individuals and families, and education.

She said that she does not totally support vouchers, but that her daughter uses them to attend Pius XI High School. Johnson said the program should be more accountable to the public. She proposes cutting public funding for failing voucher schools and shifting that money to Milwaukee Public Schools.

"What we don't want is to create a voucher system that allows both vouchers and MPS to fail," Johnson said. "And to some degree that's what we have because we don't have accountability."

Johnson said she would vote to restore the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Child-care providers lost all of their bargaining rights under Gov. Walker's Act 10, which she said has had a devastating effect on the field.

"People say that they want educated people to become day-care providers," Johnson said. "But we have no insurance, no paid time off, no rights. We're setting the system up to fail."

She said the recalls were worth the time and effort put into them.

"It sends the message that it's not about winning or losing, but that you're willing to stand up to the powers-that-be that want to hurt you," Johnson said.

For more information about La Tonya Johnson, go to www.facebook.com/LaTonyaforstateassembly.

Fred Royal Jr.

Fred Royal Jr. is the office coordinator for the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board's (MAWIB) HIRE Center's dislocated workers' program. Previously, Royal worked at Delphi Electronics for 30 years, where he also served as the vice president for UAW Local 438. He has served on the boards of Milwaukee Area Technical College, the Social Development Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the local chapter of the NAACP.

Royal said his top priority is addressing the disparity in employment of minority workers. He said he was disappointed that the state Legislature did not act on the strategies presented by the Build Milwaukee coalition, of which he was a member, to boost employment in the central city.

"I think it was a great opportunity to bring in capital in a very impoverished area and to stabilize that neighborhood and provide opportunities for people to gain employment," Royal said.

He said he wanted to restore the caps on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Lifting the caps "is another erosion of funds from the system that has transparency and accountability," Royal said of the voucher program's effect on the Milwaukee Public Schools, which, unlike schools in the voucher program, releases its financial and performance records to the public.

Royal said he would also like to restore funding to BadgerCare and SeniorCare, because children and seniors have the biggest health care needs.

He said he would vote to restore collective bargaining rights and said that unions are willing to offer concessions at the bargaining table.

"I think collective bargaining should be a right for every individual, to have an opportunity to sit at the table and negotiate not only wages but working conditions at their workplace," Royal said. "History has shown that you have a much more stable workforce when you do have a union's presence."

To learn more about Fred Royal Jr., go to www.ivotefred.com.


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