As president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin union, Mahlon Mitchell has become organized labor’s pick to challenge Gov. Scott Walker for his seat this fall.
Mitchell has racked up endorsements — and campaign cash along with it — from a slew of prominent labor unions nationally and in Wisconsin. He rose to prominence during protests ahead of the passage of Act 10, and ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for lieutenant governor during the 2012 recall election. A native of Milwaukee, Mitchell grew up in Delevan, attending the same high school as Walker. He has worked as a firefighter in Madison for more than 20 years.
Here are his responses to The Daily Reporter’s questionnaire:
1. If elected, how would you manage the state’s existing deal with Foxconn and development expected to follow the company to southeast Wisconsin?
As I’ve said from the beginning, Foxconn is a bad deal, period. The state passed legislation that was signed into law, along with a contract between the state and Foxconn. I’m not going to be a governor who will actively cost our state millions through costly litigation by ripping up the contract. That demonstrates impulse, not leadership as we saw when Scott Walker broke the contract with Talgo and cost the state tens of millions of dollars without anything to show for it. We need to ensure that when the development is complete, and the jobs start to come in, that Foxconn is held accountable to the Wisconsin taxpayers that are footing the bill. That means creating regional transit authorities to ensure those employed in the state have access to the jobs, family-sustaining wages, high environmental standards and their promise to generate jobs for Wisconsinites remains intact.
2. Does the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. effectively shepherd economic development in Wisconsin? Why or why not?
We’ve seen WEDC become an unaccountable entity with very little transparency along with payments given without the return on jobs that were promised. I do not feel the WEDC is a functioning entity and we should return this responsibility to the newly-established Department of Commerce that is held accountable by the people of Wisconsin.
3. What role do private sector unions play in Wisconsin’s economy? What policies would you enact or support to further this view of them?
Unions of any kind are the backbone of the middle class and we need to enact strong protections for every working person in Wisconsin to have a seat at the table and have the ability to negotiate wages, benefits, and standards in the workplace. Wisconsin once had a strong progressive tradition of respecting working people that has since vanished upon Scott Walker taking office. I plan on creating regional sectoral commissions that will bring employers, employees and members of the state together to make negotiations across the board in order to raise wages and create a stronger Wisconsin for generations to come.
4. Would you seek to repeal Act 10? If so, how would the state pay for the higher costs associated with a stronger bargaining position for public sector unions?
I stood strongly against Act 10 when it was proposed, when it passed and continue to oppose it. Act 10 was not about a budget hole. Act 10 was about unchecked power, and crippling political opponents of the governor. Whether Republicans control one or both houses, I know that repealing Act 10 will not be a quick or easy task. However, I am confident that I can and will work with with our state legislature, Republican and Democrat, to move forward legislation that will improve the lives of working families and expand our working class.
As Governor, I would look to restore collective bargaining for employees in Wisconsin. Since Act 10, our workers are falling behind in terms of wages and benefits. For example, the median salaries for teachers in our state have fallen by roughly 2.6% and median benefits have declined by 18.6%. This is unacceptable, seeing as education is vital to the future of our state. If Wisconsin wants to have a 21st century economy, we need an education system to get us there. Collective bargaining doesn’t work unless both parties are true to the process. Neither party gets to unilaterally make changes, the process is coming to the table to talk about common goals and solutions.
5. Do you support reinstating prevailing wage on state construction project? Why or why not?
Yes. We’ve seen the Walker administration strip away wages, protections, and good-paying jobs in the name of corporate interests and donors. That’s not the Wisconsin I know, and it’s not the Wisconsin I plan to lead as governor. We’re going to reinstate prevailing wage, end “right to work,” and restore Wisconsin’s strong progressive history of labor and fighting for the middle class. We need to ensure that people who work are making a family-sustaining wage and nobody, regardless of the sector, needs to work more than one job if they’re working full-time to provide for themselves or their families.
6. Does Wisconsin need new or higher taxes to pay for infrastructure projects? If so, what taxes would you enact or raise to pay for these projects? If you would not add or raise taxes, what parts of the state budget could be cut to pay for new infrastructure?
As Governor, I will increase funding for transportation. Wisconsin has far too many delayed infrastructure projects. We need leadership that prioritizes funding for transportation projects to expand the Wisconsin economy. The unfinished Zoo Interchange has had a negative impact on an area that I consider to be the state’s economic engine. Our communities are rightfully up in arms with the poor condition of our roads and infrastructure. Instead of taking care of our municipalities, resources are mismanaged and wasted on foreign corporations at the expense of taxpayers. Transportation Secretary Dave Ross said it himself, “It’s a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” Moreover, across our state we have a number of communities which would like to develop regional transit authorities, which have been opposed by the current administration. Wisconsin needs real leadership when it comes to our transportation system, which is why I support options such as regional transit authorities as a way to increase revenue for local transit systems. I support indexing the gas tax to the Consumer Price Index. If we want to build a 21st century economy, we need a 21st century transportation system. Since the repeal of state law which indexed the gas tax to inflation in the mid-2000’s, Wisconsin has lost millions of dollars that would have funded vital transportation projects. Scott Walker’s failed leadership on transportation has left Wisconsin less connected and less able to compete in today’s economy.
7. What is the solution to Wisconsin’s shortage of workers?
The first step is investing in new sectors of our economy, but also providing training for these new jobs. As an example, as governor I plan on making Wisconsin a leader in renewable energy. But we need the workforce to fill these jobs, so we’re going to create new robust programs for anyone to enter to be trained for 21st Century employment. We also have to ensure that we have the workforce to fill the jobs that already exist, or ones that are soon to come such as Foxconn. Our current leaders in Madison have not been aggressive enough in job training programs, promoting the trades such as electrical workers that pay good family-sustaining wages, or increasing funding to our technical college system after having made cuts. As governor, I’m going to focus on ensuring Wisconsin has no shortage of workers to fill the jobs we already have, and prepare us all for the future.