Last Night’s Assembly District 19 Democratic Candidate Forum

Jul. 30, 2014
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I’m still processing all that was said during the Shepherd’s forum last night for the candidates running in the Democratic primary for Assembly District 19. This is an open seat, one long held by Jon Richards, who’s now running for attorney general. The district runs long the Lake Michigan shoreline from Bay View through the Third Ward, the East Side and UW-Milwaukee. 

There’s no question that all of the candidates are highly qualified. Among them are two seasoned attorneys (Dan Adams and Sara Geenen), a progressive mover and shaker (Jonathan Brostoff), and the chair of the Milwaukee County board of supervisors (Marina Dimitrijevic). All of them could handle the job. The question is who will do it best.

When crafting the questions for the forum, my boss, Louis Fortis, tried to really get at what voters in this district want to know. It’s an overwhelmingly Democratic one, liberal, and very high profile. The district’s constituents are highly engaged, educated and want their representative to be more than just a solid Democratic vote. They want a legislative leader. Richards has delivered on this throughout the years and set the bar pretty high.

Here are some highlights from the forum:

Question: If you’re so far down in the minority and the Republican majority has absolutely no desire to work across the aisle on moderate legislation, how are you going to move the ball forward in a meaningful way?


 Adams: Whoever is elected is going to be grossly outvoted by the majority in the Assembly. That is a fact. But I’m not going to shy away from what I believe the duty of the job is. Ultimately this is a very extended and at times painful job interview and I think the job that we’re interviewing for is to be a legislator, to go into the Assembly and if it means beating your head against the wall again and again and again you do it. I have experience in this in the adversarial court system on both sides of the bench, being a district attorney and a defense lawyer. What I’ve found in my experience is that the best way to persuade even when people are not predisposed to agree with me is to marshal your facts, be respectful and be diligent and keep going and going and going until you get your point across. It may be incremental change over time. It may be just the nuts and bolts of one particular bill or amendment, but you as the employers deserve that whoever you elect.


 Brostoff: I have never beaten my head into the wall and I have no intention to start now. I think that the seat that is represented by the 19th provides a very unique opportunity and that’s why I’m running for this seat. The reason why I’m running is because, and the reason frankly why I’m giving up a better paying job, eight months of salary, time with my wife, eight months of benefits, is because we are in crisis mode. We need every hand on deck. If elected I will be a loud and proud advocate for all of the progressive issues that the Shepherd Express advocates for and that people in this district are interested in. I’m also going to be working in the neighborhood tirelessly and putting in those 40-, 50-, 60-hour weeks. I’m going to continue.

And in my off hours I’m going to be working to win back a progressive majority and this is the best opportunity we have in this whole state. And that’s what we need so that we’re not just beating our heads against the walls as they say or giving these useless votes that aren’t going to do anything. We don’t need to continue to be ineffective. We need a leader who is going to take us back into the majority at least in the Senate so we have some leverage so we can build progressive legislation once again.


  Dimitrijevic: I want to talk about my time on the county board. Seven of those ten years I had to deal with Scott Walker as county executive. And I was still able to get some victories and even some progressive victories. One was the signature environmental piece of legislation called the Greenprint, which I was lucky to have unanimously adopted and signed into law by Scott Walker at that time. So that’s being effective.

But building on that, we can be effective in the minority. I am asked all the time, are you sure you want to go into the Assembly in the minority right now, how can you represent Milwaukee? Evan Goyke, the state representative, just got some signature foreclosure bills done for Milwaukee. What I plan to do every single day is to remind everyone in the state of Wisconsin, especially my Republican counterparts, how important Milwaukee is. We have the largest population. We produce some of the largest amounts of revenue that go to the state. They need to hear that this is the economic engine of the state of Wisconsin. And that every law that is passed in Madison has a giant impact in Milwaukee. That’s something I’ve been talking about since I’ve been elected and will continue to talk about.


  Geenen: In this post-Act 10 Wisconsin, as a labor lawyer, my back is against the wall an awful lot in terms of trying to represent my clients and trying to get a good deal for people who had the ability to get a good deal taken away from them. I think that kind of experience puts you in a position that limits the common ground, but it does exist. I’ve had the same experience in bankruptcy court where you are working with laws that favor corporations over individuals. That’s certainly beneficial. But more than that, when you get yourself into a situation like that, where two people who are diametrically opposed to one another need to come to a solution or a resolution that is beneficial, you need to convince the other side that you need to come to a solution. You need to approach it thoughtfully and creatively to try to find out what might work. You can’t take any options off the table but you need to know that you are headed in a certain direction. I think that’s really important.

I’m sick of the partisan politics. The divisiveness isn’t accomplishing much. We need to make sure that Wisconsin has a strong future. We especially need to make sure that Milwaukee has a strong future. Because Wisconsin can’t have that strong future without Milwaukee having the same.

On vouchers:

Brostoff, Dimitrijevic and Geenen are all strongly anti-voucher. Adams wouldn’t say that he was pro- or anti-voucher, just that he supported high-quality schools no matter where their funding came from.

On their legislative priorities if they were in the majority:

Brostoff said he wanted nonpartisan redistricting reform. Dimitrijevic said she wanted to end the vouchers and invest in public education. Geenen said she wanted to make sure that Milwaukee had a secure future with good jobs and quality public education. Adams said he wanted to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage.

On a time when they failed and how they coped with it:

Dimitrijevic said she would take back some votes in previous county budgets, but didn’t specify which ones. Geenen said she’s a perfectionist and feels that she fails in trying to balance it all in life. Adams said that he had too much bravado as a young attorney. Brostoff said that when he was starting out at Pathfinders, he didn’t handle some cases as well as he could have.

On the state Legislature usurping local control:

Adams said he was the only candidate who supported Act 14, which gutted the power of the county board in favor of the county executive. He said he would have cosponsored it if he had been in the Legislature. He said the board had been “completely captured by special interests.” Brostoff said that some of the most important decisions are made at the local level and that process needed to be respected. He said that the locals have been under attack by wealthy special interests, especially in the areas of environmental regulations and MPS being required to sell off its unused buildings. Dimitrijevic said that attacks on local control were wrong at all times. She said that Act 14 has had devastating effects and concentrated too much power in the hands of one person and reminded the audience of what could have happened if Walker had had that power as county executive. She said that local governments need checks and balances and was proud of the diverse board that represents the county. Geenen said that the attack on local control wasn’t limited to Act 14, but included a new state law that prohibits locals from enacting a minimum wage that’s higher than the state’s.

I’ll have the rest of the story in another blog. Stay tuned.



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