Wisconsin Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell visited with about 90 students at Sauk Prairie High School May 22. He shared stories about his family, work as a firefighter and his quest to be the first African American governor in the state.
Mitchell is one of nine candidates hoping to make it past the heavily contested August 14 Democratic primary to face off against Republican incumbent Scott Walker in the November election.
Mitchell addressed students in American Government and U.S. History classes at Sauk Prairie High School. Students participate in a legislative semester model where they draft bills and navigate the process of bringing them to a model legislature led by their peers.
Mitchell told the students whichever party they identify with, it’s important to be a part of the process.
“You have to be involved and engaged,” Mitchell said. “It’s how you make your voice heard. I didn’t start my career thinking I was going to one day run for governor … but when I saw what was happening in the current state government, it made me want to run actually be in charge of the change as opposed to sitting on the sidelines.”
Mitchell said politics shapes nearly every part of a person’s life.
“You might not like politics. But there’s an elected official making decisions on your behalf whether you like it or not,” he said.
Students asked Mitchell questions about everything from what was his scariest moment as a firefighter, to what his main goals are, and what the process was like once he decided to run for governor.
Mitchell said he wants to restore the funding that’s been cut to public schools.
“The current governor has cut $1.6 billion from public education,” Mitchell said. “A lot of times you see school districts pitted against unions, or administrators pitted against teachers. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. In my opinion, education should be a non-partisan issue. It should be about adequate education for kids, adequate staffing and restoring the cost of education.”
Mitchell said about 300,000 Wisconsinites have no healthcare.
“We can do so much better,” he said. “Not only with access to healthcare but in making sure everyone has healthcare.”
He also spoke about supporting a $15 minimum wage.
“I believe if you work 40 hours a week you should be able to take care of your kids and have a good quality of life or take a vacation,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think that’s a lot to ask for.”
Mitchell said President Donald Trump is about the politics of division.
“If you’re black, the answer for Donald Trump is more cops,” he said. “If you are Latino, the answer is to build a wall. And if you’re Muslim, the answer is a travel ban. We need to do much more to take care of all people. Abraham Lincoln said the role of government is to do for those who can’t do for themselves.”
One student asked Mitchell, “There are nine other candidates running, what sets you apart?”
Mitchell said he has ability to mobilize and energize the party and speak frankly with people.
Mitchell said in order for the Democrats to win, more black people, minorities and young people need to vote.
Mitchell said while he does support legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, he thinks the first step is to decriminalize it.
Mitchell said the state spends more on the department of corrections than it does on educating its kids.
“That’s a problem, right? He said. “Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican it doesn’t make sense.”
Mitchell said if marijuana was legalized, it should be taxed appropriately.
“I would use those tax dollars and put it toward the real crisis: the opioid epidemic,” he said. “That’s what’s killing our kids. I have been on calls where we have actually revived the same person twice in a 24 hour shift.”
In concluding his visit with the students, Mitchell told them life is a journey and it is filled with rough patches and pitfalls, but one day they could be running for governor.
“I could be the first African American governor of Wisconsin, so we could make history,” Mitchell said. “I could make history. But we’ve got to make it count. Making history is one thing but actually doing something once you make that history is another.”