Two candidates for the vacant 10th District seat on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors came out clearly and without reservation for putting the county’s bus system, parks, and EMT on dedicated sales tax funding, at a candidates’ forum sponsored by Organizing for America at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center on West Vliet Street, February 10.
Cavalier “Chevy” Johnson candidly said that despite Milwaukee County voters passing a referendum for dedicated sales tax funding in November 2008, its going to be a tough fight to make it happen, after Republicans who have by and large opposed the measure took control of both the state senate and assembly, and the governor’s office. It was, he observed, a surprise that Governor Doyle vetoed the half percent dedicated sales tax for transit when the legislature did pass it in 2009, which has put the county’s commuters in a world of hurt, but there are no easy answers for how the county recovers from that now.
Eyon Biddle, highlighted the need to provide full funding to the bus system when asked about jobs, because if people can’t get to work, companies won’t locate here. He noted that bus service has been cut twenty percent in the last eight years. Politically, he agreed with Johnson that the dedicated funding Milwaukee County voted for isn’t going to happen without some grassroots organizing. He suggested that property owners are the key.
While knocking on doors in the district, he recounted “Two gentlemen shovelling snow stopped me, and asked, what’s happening with the sales tax?” They were expecting relief on their county property tax bills. “It will be hard for Walker to say no when property owners are saying ‘we want tax relief, and we want quality services for people to get to work’.”
Three other candidates were less committed to this solution. Charisha Allen said the sales tax proposal “is some deep talk” but its “not working for me. Organizing is where we should be, getting our minds right.” Ieshuh Griffin, who is also running for County Executive, got the content of the advisory referendum voters approved backward, remarking that “the property tax is not a dedicated funding source” and that Milwaukee is one of the few communities that use a sales tax to support transit, then blamed legacy costs from county pensions, and concluded “I do not believe in messing with property taxes.”
Tearman Spencer wouldn’t take a direct position on the question at all, but responded “Keep it real,” calling for “integrity” to “stand up and call someone to the carpet” making legislators accountable. “If we get it done, we get it done” he concluded.
All candidates talked at very high speed, to get in as much as possible within the strictly enforced two minute time limit. Allen is running as founding organizer with Mothers of the Struggle who told voters in attendance “I know the district.” Spencer introduced himself as “a product of Milwaukee” with a law degree, an MBA and an engineering degree, concerned with infrastructure. Griffin, like Allen, highlighted that this is the poorest of the 19 county supervisor districts, advised voters to “looe at who’s backing the candidates” and emphasized issues relating to women.
Johnson, emphasized his experience volunteering in many aspects of the local community, his years of work with the YMCA locally and internationally, including response to Hurricane Katrina, introducing himself as a man who didn’t go off to Atlanta after getting a college degree, but came back to Milwaukee, where he grew up.
Biddle introduced himself as a husband and father who grew up at 15th and Highland, organized for Service Employees International Union, worked with Barack Obama’s campaign for president in East Chicago, Hammond, and Gary, Indiana, and has built up working relationships to be able to get things done.