Mike Glabere, a Milwaukee activist, was the treasurer for Ed McDonald’s mayoral campaign this spring. He is now running for State Assembly District 18. This district is currently represented by Rep. Tamara Grigsby. She is resigning at the end of the current term due to health issues.
Glabere is running in the Democratic Party primary this August 14th. He has 7 primary challengers including: Lisa Erin Brown (who we recently interviewed as well), Jarett Fields (no campaign website thus far), James Dieter, Evan Goyke, Ty Jackson, Andrew Parker, and Lashawndra Vernon.
You can learn more about Glabere at his campaign website.
WI4US: Tell us a little about your background.
MG: I’m a 23-year resident of the 18th Assembly District. I’ve been a community organizer with various organizations. I also organized one union, the UWM graduate students union when I was a graduate student. I’m a progressive. I’ve always voted Democratic, now I’m running Democratic. I truly am a family man. I raised two kids.They both graduated from Milwaukee Public Schools. One has graduated from UWM in Biology, the other is still there. I’m happy that I raised two more activists. My daughter was part of Occupy the Student Union for 6 or 7 days.
WI4US: Could you name some of the community organizations you’ve worked with?
MG: East Side Housing Action Committee (ESHAC), Harambee Ombudsman Project, Sherman Park Community Association, Midtown Neighborhood Association, Cooperative Westside Association (which isn’t around anymore), Federation for Civic Action, Citizen Action, and Milwaukee United for Better Housing. Those are they grassroots organizations I’ve worked with. I worked with the Social Development Commission. I worked with the Private Industry Council, which is a public-private partnership. I also worked at Wisconsin Community Services. That’s a sampling. I served on the Board of Highland Community School, where my kids attended. I also taught at Highland Community School, I was a teacher in MPS. I did some contract schools with MPS, Wings Academy, Spotted Eagle High School. You can get all this from my resume. When I first moved to Wisconsin I came here as a canvass director for what was then Wisconsin Citizen Action, which became Wisconsin Action Coalition.
WI4US: Why are you running for Assembly?
MG: I’m running for Assembly because I think I can be a voice for real progressive change in Wisconsin. Because the opportunity was there with an open seat. Rep. Tamara Grigsby was doing an incredible job and I wouldn’t have even considered running against her. She was an outspoken voice for human rights, civil rights, and the progressive agenda. With her stepping out, I decided that I could do a good job keeping her agenda going and pushing it even further. I’m well qualified. I also think that I have the age and wisdom to deal with the stupidity that is Madison right now as far as the ideological camps that don’t know how to negotiate or how to compromise. The left side comes in and gives a compromise position to start so then they get pushed even farther away from that and they get far less than any ever wants to have. You have to not be afraid to actually ask for the world you want to live in. If you want social justice, you want economic justice, you want significant changes in the way things are done, say it.
WI4US: How do you think that, if you were elected, you could benefit the people inside your district directly?
MG: I think that it falls in two big categories. One is paying attention to jobs. The entire district is in the city of Milwaukee, with 50% black male unemployment. You just can’t build community like that. And every other racial and gender characteristic, high unemployment. I think you bring back resources is one way you create jobs. You also change the rules. An example of some of the rules that need to be changed: the city of Milwaukee needs to be allowed to discriminate and hire city residents first. They’re not allowed to do that now because of the changes that Walker made. The city of Milwaukee needs to be able to do procurement with city-based employers. They’re not allowed to do that under the new rules coming out of Madison. Community benefits need to be part of all investments. Anytime you are subsidizing the private sector, there needs to be a community benefit in writing that means jobs, that means hiring, that is attached to that. No more eating at the pig trough. There’s no more free lunch for the corporate world. So jobs is one big thing. Paying attention to jobs, creating jobs in the district, and bringing back resources so jobs can be created in the district.
The second place is education. Education from kindergarten through college. Several things need to be done. First of all, eliminate state funding of private education and eliminate vouchers. The flawed thinking that market mechanisms are going to make education better has been shown to be false all across the county and all across the world. Let’s stop experimenting with our kids. Secondly, fund MPS and eliminate public school charters that MPS may have. That’s roughly 50% of their expenses. It’s been declining over time. We need a goal of having class sizes no higher than 25. No matter what the quality of the teacher, if you reduce class size, they just get better. College needs to be affordable. We need to put more money into the UW system, both technical colleges and 4-year colleges. The way to do that is by promising graduates of public schools in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin that they’re going to get to go. The other way we do that is by increasing the sales tax in the state. Increase it from 5% to 6%. That would make us equivalent with what’s happening in the surrounding states for the most part. Most people won’t even see it. I’d also raise taxes on the top wage earners in the state. I’d also revoke the giveaways that were just done in the last legislature. If they’re not revoked, they need to be rewritten so there’s a community benefit for them getting a tax break and they have to create jobs here, not someplace else.
WI4US: What issues do you could work with members from both major parties to create positive legislation on?
MG: I think we can get agreement on education. I also think we can get agreement on job creation. The third area where it’d be hard to disagree is the concept of looking at bills from a human rights perspective. This falls into three categories: respecting human rights, protecting those human rights from the state and anyone else, and fulfilling them. You have a right to a job and a decent wage. You have the right to arts and culture. You have the right to religion. You have the right to a political voice. Those are all parts of the state’s responsibility. I think that looking at community-driven accountability in those places is something both parties can look at. Looking at local control. I think that Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) would be very happy to say “local control is better, big government is bad.” So why don’t we give the city of Milwaukee and every other municipality the power to have a human rights commission? Why don’t we give the city of Milwaukee the power and authority to have different rules that regulate landlords and tenants than the state? If that local community wants to have stronger rules, so be it. If that local community wants to hire its own residents first, so be it. So I think that those are some of the areas that I could find areas of agreement with people from a different ideological viewpoint.
I also think it’s a process. In negotiations, you don’t come in with your weakest hand. You don’t throw away all your strong cards. You need to come in and say “this is my ideal,” or “these are the things I won’t give up, but the rest of this we can negotiate.” You have to come in with that mindset. There are different needs across the state. My biggest focus is going to be the city of Milwaukee because the entire district is in the city of Milwaukee. So I’ll bring some resources and some strength to the city of Milwaukee.
From a human rights perspective, the city of Milwaukee benefits when small farms are preserved. The city of Milwaukee benefits from parkland and clean waterway. That requires a regional perspective. We need a regional transit authority, not just in the city of Milwaukee, but that wouldn’t benefit the city of Milwaukee. Those are places I would look for consensus. Look for ways to incrementally implement what I’m trying to do.
WI4US: This is a crowded primary with 8 candidates running to represent the Democratic Party. What distinguishes you from your opponents?
MG: Besides from Andy Parker, I’m the only other long-term resident of the district. Another thing that distinguishes me from my opponents, and I don’t know all of their platforms yet, is that I’m unabashedly left. I have a long experience working with private sector, public sector, negotiating agreements, writing legislation. I’ve done that and I’m out here in the community. I’ve worked throughout the district. No other candidate has done that. I’ve worked from the north side of the district to the south side of the district either as a paid staff, or as a volunteer, or as a parent. I think that this perspective and this experience gives me a handle on what the district’s needs are and also how to organize the district so their voice is powerful. By myself, I can’t get much done. A thousand people showing up at the Capitol, because I let them know something was going on, that makes a difference. I have no fear of, in fact, I want, a mobilized, organized, and informed district both holding me accountable and being a partner, pushing reforms and changes in the legislature.
WI4US: Speaking of accountability, how will you be accessible to constituents outside of answering phone calls and emails?
MG: I would set up an office in the district and staff it at least 5 days a week. Also electronically. I would also still live in the district, spending at least a day or two every week going into the community and talking to people. I would set up monthly meetings where people from the district can come ask me whatever they want. It’s old-fashioned knocking on doors type of work. It’s more than just answering the phone. Phone calls don’t get answered very well, people take messages that don’t get responded to. I think being visible in the district and the manners I talked about.
WI4US: The last year, the Assembly has been sort of a circus, with 72 hour long session, etc. How would you seek to return a sense of sanity to the Assembly?
MG: I can only do my little part, being one out of a hundred [the Assembly has 99 members]. We need to make sure there is transparency in the process. Give people room to disagree, even 180 degree disagreement, but not be belittled. That’s an important part of the process. People got cornered into “you’re a Nazi” or “you’re a communist.” No. Everybody is there trying to do their best and you have to work from that assumption. I still think the Assembly will be pretty toxic if it doesn’t turn over. But if the Assembly were to turn over and be controlled by the Democrats, I think that you start by really cultivating an atmosphere that it’s not payback time – it’s time to be adults and talk like adults.
WI4US: How would you seek to balance the state budget?
MG: The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future has a number of budgets they put together. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout’s alternative budget is actually quite good. Again, I’m going to come from a human rights perspective. I think that we need to raise sales tax. I think that we need to raise taxes on corporations and get rid of loopholes and giveaways. And I think that we need to raise taxes on the top earners in the state, probably making over $250,000 per year. That has to be put down in dollars and cents in order to make investments in education and jobs that are necessary to move the state forward and preserve our infrastructure. I would balance it by both raising taxes and cutting tax breaks. I’m not afraid to say that. But it’s raising specific taxes. I would actually prefer not to raise sales tax, if I can get away with it. While it’s not felt a lot going from 5% to 6%, it’s still a regressive tax in comparison to using an income tax, which really taxes people based on their ability to pay. What I want to get away from is things being based on property tax, which is probably the most regressive tax in terms of really hurting the poor either when their rent goes up or their property becomes unaffordable.
WI4US: A couple years ago, Milwaukee County had a referendum to raise the sales tax by 1% but Gov. Doyle vetoed it. Would you be in favor of increasing the tax levy in Milwaukee County so we could have a dedicated funding source for public transit?
MG: I would be in favor of establishing a regional transportation authority and then having that regional transit authority have a dedicated tax base in the 7 county region to fund transportation. Rather than Milwaukee County having to pay for transportation which then gets used to access the suburbs. I would also be in favor of local control. If people of Milwaukee County want to raise their taxes, they should have the right to do it. If the people voted for it, the state shouldn’t say no.
WI4US: What methods to we have to restore funding to public education in the upcoming budget?
MG: Shifting all of the money away from the voucher system. Changing the funding formula for MPS so it’s not screwed. Eliminating Chapter 220, which essentially just drains money to the suburbs while MPS loses funding. And raising the sales tax and dedicating that raise to education.
WI4US: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MG: There is another piece on human rights that is a big focus which is civil liberty. Women’s rights need to be respected. The state shouldn’t be passing laws getting between a woman’s conversations with her doctor. The state shouldn’t be dictating one religious viewpoint over any other religious viewpoint. That’s one of the reasons I’m against vouchers. I don’t believe that the state should be funding religious institutions. I also think we need to give voting rights back to every felon in the state. Mostly because of the racist application of the laws. A grand majority of people who are incarcerated are felons are racial minorities. In the city of Milwaukee, a huge portion of people just don’t have the right to vote. To me this is simply 21st century Jim Crow laws. You take away people’s rights and make them a felon. Now you discriminate against them in the workplace and they can’t work and then in the end, you’re just locking them back up again. It’s the reason we have a prison industry. I would say that we have to pay attention to civil rights in this state.