Andrew McKinney of the Town of Cottage Grove and Melissa Sargent of Madison are competing in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary for Wisconsin’s 16th Senate District. The winner faces off against Republican Scott Barker of Sun Prairie in November.
Sen. Mark Miller of Monona, who has represented the district for nearly 16 years, is not seeking another term.
The district includes Cottage Grove, Monona, McFarland and part of Madison.
McKinney is president of the Monona Grove School Board, and Sargent represents the 48th Assembly District.
What will be the first piece of legislation you will introduce, and why?
McKinney: Continue to improve on policies on ending racial disparities, equity and social-economics. Wisconsin is ranked No. 1 in racial disparities, which means that nothing has been done to address this. I’m a black man who has lived in racial disparities all my life, and I honestly don’t see that happening, and this has been proven in our current state. I’ve been fighting for racial disparities to end but never had my voice heard, as well as other people of color. I’m their voice and I will fight.
Sargent: The first action the Legislature must take when back in session is COVID-19 response legislation. We know that this virus will persist and be a detriment on our society– and quite frankly will kill people in our state– until a vaccine is available. Wisconsin is already behind in implementing policies that support its residents during these difficult times. We must take action to support our health care heroes and other frontline workers, reform our unemployment insurance system, provide financial assistance to the hardworking people of our state and more. I am committed to working on legislation to address these areas, so that we can move forward as a state out of this pandemic and truly have systems in place that support Wisconsinites for the long-term.
Candidates often talk in generalities when it comes to issues – improve health care opportunities, strengthen workers’ rights, clean up the environment, etc. Identify one single issue and address specifically what you would do to change it.
McKinney: The COVID pandemic has forced many small businesses and our schools to close their doors. We need to make our priorities to support public schools, nonprofits and other companies to provide access to capital, as well as arranging for state and federal emergency funding to ensure the survival of our community. The strength of our workforce in these areas will be integral to improving our economy as we navigate losses due to the COVID pandemic. Also, we will need programs that increase the skill set and education of Wisconsin’s citizens to be supported.
Sargent: One issue I have been dedicated to working on in the State Assembly, and plan to continue working on, is the full legalization of cannabis. Simply put, the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it is illegal. From medicinal benefits to economic opportunity, addressing racial disparities and criminal justice reform, and much more, full cannabis legalization will bring multifaceted and tangible relief for our state. Marijuana legalization offers boundless positive impacts for Wisconsin that we as a state must take advantage of, rather than continuing to be an island of prohibition. I am proud to have introduced my full legalization bill multiple times in the State Assembly and will continue to prioritize this issue and work to legalize opportunity once in the State Senate.
What is the single most important change that must occur to reduce racial inequality in Wisconsin?
McKinney: As a black male who has been marginalized, we must fix the racial disparities in our criminal justice system that disproportionately marginalizes, arrests and incarcerates African-American adult males in the excess of 43% of its 7% of the general population, resulting in 46% being incarcerated in the Dane County Jail. The juvenile arrest of black males is just as alarming; it went from 49% in 2004 to an outrageous 66% in 2018, according to an article in the Capitol Times in March of this year by Steven Elbow. We need legislators that look like me to not only introduce bills but work to get them passed, to eradicate the laws that enable these disparities that place a socioeconomic burden on minority households.
Sargent: The unfortunate reality is that racism is a systemic issue that pervades every corner of our society. This means that we must be willing to take a tough and critical look at our current systems– including public education, policing practices, the criminal justice system, housing and human services, the workforce, small business and entrepreneurship opportunities, and more – to create real change that works to reduce racial inequities in our state. Without looking at the deep-rooted systemic issues in our society, we cannot achieve the true social and economic justice that communities of color throughout our state deserve.
I am committed to working on policies that seek to truly transform these systems and that work toward a more equitable future for all Wisconsinites.
Many elected officials talk about transparency in government operations at all levels, yet allegations of backroom dealings continue. What would you specifically do to strengthen Wisconsin’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws?
McKinney: If elected as state senator for District 16, I would be sworn in as an elected official entrusted by my constituents to serve and adhere to the current Open Meetings and Open Record laws. My sworn oath would be to abide and be knowledgeable of these laws and not only adhere to them but hold others accountable for not adhering to them and if necessary introduce bills that would impose a higher penalty, which could be defined by the public for recall of an elected official if so warranted.
Sargent: Having an open and transparent government is critical for our democracy, and as such it is vital that Wisconsin has strong open meetings and open records laws. I am committed to supporting legislation that works to strengthen these laws.
One issue I have seen in my time serving in the State Assembly is the financial burden that Wisconsin’s open records laws place on those seeking records. Under current law, there are charges for copies if the requester wishes to take the physical records with them – for larger requests, these copying costs can add up to hundreds of dollars. This is just one example of ways in which our open meetings and open records laws should be re-evaluated to ensure the utmost access and transparency for Wisconsinites.
What qualities do you bring to the table that would enable you to work with your Republican colleagues?
McKinney: I am a founding member of the Madison NAACP Chapter, one of the first members of the 100 Black Men of Madison, lifetime member of the VFW Post 7591 and current officer, current two-time president of the Monona Grove School Board, formerly elected to serve on the Dane County Credit Union board of directors. I am currently serving on the Dane County Youth Commissions Committee and countless other committees. These relationships will and have always been a part of my lifelong commitment to have a well-respected collaborative voice across our many communities. I work across party lines to work for the people, who vote us in office, to do the right thing.
Sargent: My time serving as a state representative gives me unparalleled experience working with my Republican colleagues. Being a state legislator in the minority party, and under the Walker era, meant that bipartisanship was essential to getting things done. While there are certainly areas where my Republican colleagues and I will never see eye to eye, I am proud to have formed strong relationships with my fellow lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Now, under split governance and the leadership of Gov. Evers, we have a renewed ability to find common ground and work together on the issues facing our state. I am proud of my track record of working in a bipartisan manner, and will continue to build and maintain these relationships in the State Senate.
Why should a voter choose you over your primary opponent?
McKinney: I’m a product of the failed policies that have been a burden on the minority community, especially to black men. From being raised in poor, polluted areas and the failing school system of Gary, Indiana, to the same systemic racial injustice of Wisconsin, I’m living proof. My opponent can’t comprehend what life is as a black man and/or minority. Now, it is time for minority voices to step up, be heard and take action. Many of our legislators, like my opponent, have taken the easy road of not being confrontational, which has left our minority community in peril. Although I’m not a politician, I am a change-maker and it is time for a change.
Sargent: As a candidate for the 16th Senate District, I’m confident that my experience, compassion and proven leadership will serve our community as we continue to move forward together.
I’m proud to be a progressive Democrat and to champion bold policies that will provide a better future for the hardworking people of Wisconsin. As a lifelong resident of Dane County, longtime public servant and single mother of four amazing boys, I’ve always been committed to moving our state forward and doing all I can to help improve the lives of all Wisconsinites.
My work ethic, experience, and passion distinguish me as a leader for all families and neighbors across the 16th Senate District. I would be honored to earn your vote on Aug. 11.