By Dylan Deprey and Karen Stokes
As polling stations across Milwaukee wipe the dust settling from the recent April elections, a storm is brewing in the offices of the Democratic Party for the race in the State Senate.
The race for the 4th District State Senate was made for a shoe-in for the Democratic Party, as there is no Republican opponent. The candidate who wins this upcoming primary election would be almost guaranteed the job. With the 2016 Partisan Primary right around the corner, candidates were vying for last minute support before the polls open again on August 9.
Wisconsin Representative Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) was elected to the Assembly in 2012 and is challenging incumbent Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) for the Senate seat. She has currently occupied the position since 2004.
The stakes were high for Sen. Lena Taylor and Rep. Mandela Barnes as they were faced with a panel of journalists wielding hot ticket questions ranging from gun control to education during the Wisconsin Black Media Association’s (WBMA) community forum on July 26.
Derrell Connor (620 Radio), Carole Meekins (TMJ4), Eugene Kane (former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist) and Mary Spicuzza (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political columnist) served as panelists for the forum.
Rep. Barnes said that after Sen. Taylor’s 13 years in office there needed to be a new perspective in District 4 offices. Sen. Taylor noted that her achievements while on the senate, including her track record of authoring 101 bills passed into law, served as just the start for what was to come in the future.
“I don’t do bills just for a compromise them, but when we (Democrats) are not in control, I at least try and get something done,” Taylor said.
The Biggest Issue: Gun Control
The two candidates agreed on some issues but others, like gun control, had them on the total opposite sides of the spectrum. Barnes noted that after passing the concealed carry, open carry and Castle Doctrine in 2011, gun violence skyrocketed in Milwaukee.
“My senator voted for the most dangerous conceal and carry law in the country,” Barnes said.
The Castle Doctrine allowed criminal immunity to those protecting themselves on their property. Barnes added that he had lost friends to gun violence while in high school and even more when he graduated.
“This is a problem in the city of Milwaukee, I personally and strongly feel, like many others, that conceal and carry made a bad situation even worse,” Barnes said.
Sen. Taylor said that she was a firm believer in the constitution and in result voted for concealed carry to respect the second amendment. She said that she also voted for the Castle Doctrine because she believed people had the right to protect their property.
“I don’t shy away from the fact that I saw my momma, a little 5’2’’ woman, hold a man at gunpoint because he was trying to steal our car,” Taylor said.
Taylor also added that she had tried to add as many amendments to the conceal carry bill as she possibly could. Some of those that passed included the right for private entities to post a sign in the window to ban firearms on the premises.
Candidates Promote Small Businesses and Urban Agriculture for Black Unemployment
Panelist Carole Meekins, asked the candidates a question on the state of the economy. “Last year unemployment among African Americans in Wisconsin was the highest of any state in the country. What specifically would you do to increase jobs in District 4?
Taylor disclosed how she uses her office as an employment pipeline. Her staff works with DVR, W2 and the Department of Corrections and provides job training.
Taylor also mentioned the Love and Faith Initiative, which she works with individuals in need and teaches them to work in booming urban agriculture industry, similar to Walnut Way and Andre Lee Ellis’ We Got This program.
Barnes replied that the biggest job creators were small business owners. “If we don’t put money in the pockets of everyday people we will never sustain any kind of economy.” He offered ideas on renewable energy to create jobs.
Both candidates stated that they were planning strategies for the Northridge area.
The 53223 zip codes was once a bustling retail and entertainment district and now with every turn of the head you see vacant buildings and boarded up businesses. The area has recently lost a number of national and local businesses including Target, Walgreens, Family Christian Bookstore, Toys R Us and more.
The Lincoln Hills Debacle
At the mention of the solutions for Lincoln Hills Sen. Taylor noted that she had helped organize community visits to the boys. She also said that she felt Rep. Barnes reaction to the allegations was delayed until the press and Federal government were involved.
Barnes said that when he heard the news he and Rep. Evan Goyke went to Lincoln Hills to talk to the staff and students, especially those who were involved in the alleged abuses. He also said that from the conversations manifested a study that was used to create a bill. This bill would require the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to study other methods of juvenile justice.
“The bigger problem is not just confined to our juvenile justice system,” Barnes said. “Our entire adult correctional facilities are messed up.”
A Fresh Face and a Successful Track Record
Rep. Barnes said that he respects the work Sen. Taylor has done during her time in office. He added that new approaches for issues like education must come to the forefront.
“We are doing a disservice by not meeting the needs that they have and with their health issues,” Barnes said
Barnes stated that he was so passionate about education for the mere fact that one out of 19 MPS students are homeless.
“We will never change the outcome of education if we do not change the root issues that have the impact on the way that our students learn. I think we can do more, I think we can do better,” Barnes said.
Sen. Taylor noted that she has worked on projects like creating an additional $138 million for MPS as well as maintaining accountability for voucher schools.
“Who’s done corrections reform and didn’t think about it, did about it? Senator Taylor. Who got money for businesses in our community? Senator Lena Taylor. Who is it that goes to the wall for our community,” Taylor said.
“I believe in the constitution, whether it’s the 14th, 2nd or 1st amendment and I’m going to fight for you,” Taylor said