Mahlon Mitchell – Firefighter’s union president and Democratic nominee for governor has message that resonartes with all
Wisconsinites regardless of color
By Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
When asked what he thought of his chances to become the state’s first Black governor, Democratic candidate Mahlon Mitchell points to his current position as president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin (PFFW).
“Three times in a row they voted me president,” said Mitchell during a recent interview, adding he’s usually the only person of color in the room, especially at the organization’s conventions.
Mitchell also has the distinction of being the first and only African American state president in the International Association of Firefighters, the parent organization of the PFFW.
“It’s about the message; how people respond to the message,” he said.
At a time when issues of race and racism have again come to the fore locally and nationally, Mitchell is waging a gubernatorial campaign that’s ignoring barriers, stereotypes and naysayers who think he has only a sliver of a chance—at best—to come out on top among nine other Democratic candidates in the August 14 gubernatorial primary.
“I’m tired of talking about race,” Mitchell admitted, adding it was not an issue when he ran for lieutenant governor as the Democratic nominee in the 2012 recall election.
“Now they talk about: ‘is Wisconsin ready for a Black governor?’ I believe the answer is yes! It’s up to the people to decide. To me, it’s all about the message and how you interact with people and how they perceive you as a person.”
Mitchell is focusing on, betting on, and getting out a message he believes resonates with state voters –of all colors, classes, nationalities, religions, gender and gender preferences—the way his message as president of the PFFW resonates with its members: fight like hell for their interests and leave no one behind.
Mitchell (no relation to this article’s author) said regardless of where he has gone in the state, the message he has heard from voters—whether they’re living in Green Lake or in Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code—is the same: the economy, family, education, justice system reform, and healthcare—issues Mitchell called “bridge gap issues.”
“I was in Green Lake recently and we talked about the high African American incarceration rate,” Mitchell said. “There’s not many Black people in that area, but they got it. When you spend over a billion dollars a year on prisons, that’s a concern for all.”
While he wants to bridge the urban and rural divide, Mitchell understands that to win state-wide in August and November, he will need people who look like him to vote. “Black people have to come out and vote,” he said, stressing his campaign plans to get 50,000 more Black people out to the polls on election day.
“The Republicans know that. It’s why they’re trying to suppress the vote even further (in the state).”
When asked about his main target, Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, Mitchell described two Walkers: candidate Walker and Governor Walker.
“He over promises and under delivers,” Mitchell said, pointing to funding shortfall in public education, despite Walker’s sudden reinvestment in it after making drastic cuts during his first term in office.
According to his website, Mitchell would fully invest in K-12 education and the UW-System, allow refinancing for student loans, create a loan forgiveness program, support the state’s technical colleges, and devote resources to apprenticeship programs.
Mitchell said he believes in putting public dollars into public education, adding Wisconsin doesn’t have enough funds to adequately fund two school districts: one public, the other private-voucher (Parental School Choice).
However, Mitchell said he would not, as he put it, “pull the rug from under children and parents involved in the voucher school program. That would turn their lives upside down.”
He added, Walker’s attack on education—cutting state funding for schools and taking away the ability for school districts to raise funds through raising the tax levy—will require educational stake holders on both sides to come to the table and make the state’s schools equal and adequate for everyone.
Like education, Mitchell slammed Walker for flip-flopping on healthcare. “He (Walker) didn’t accept federal dollars for Medicare and BadgerCare, which left over 300,000 in the state without healthcare. Now, he wants to shore-up the ACA (Accordable Care Act) after years of trying to “repeal and replace.”
Mitchell would expand Medicaid, which would cover over 80,000 Wisconsinites, make BadgerCare a public option, support women’s health, expand the SeniorCare program, expand family care, lower prescription drug costs, and fight the opioid crisis.
Calling for an “all hands working economy,” Mitchell says he wants to build a state economy that works for everyone.
He would start by raising the minimum wage to $15-an-hour, expand the child care tax credit, end the manufacturers and agriculture tax credit, pay off the state debt, empower local governments through shared revenue, strengthen food assistance programs, expand program eligibility for renting assistance, and support the state’s veterans.
Mitchell called the state’s justice system broken. He said the state’s prison system is designed to house 16,000 inmates. Currently, roughly 23,000 inmates are incarcerated in Wisconsin, which has the highest number of incarcerated African American males in the nation.
The candidate said he would reform the state’s justice system by ending “truth in sentencing,” expand the early release program, and eliminate the need for released felons to list their criminal convictions when seeking employment, which is known as “ban the box;” strengthen gun safety laws, legalize marijuana, invest in job training and workforce development, and reform the juvenile detention system.
“People in the state are wise to the fact Gov. Walker does what’s right for Walker; he does what’s best for his political ambitions. He ran for president (and failed); now he’s ready to ‘focus’ on Wisconsin, his ‘Plan B.’ But we can do better.”
Despite being in a crowded Democratic primary field of 10 Democratic Party candidates, Mitchell believes he will win in August and November because “I’m the only candidate with callouses on his hands who runs into burning buildings.”
Mitchell said the response to his campaign has been encouraging. He attributes the positive response to his innate ability to bring people together for the common good.
“I’m not a career politician—and I don’t want to be! I care about the people in this state deeply.”