Whether Chris Larson wins the general election for the 7th State Senate seat, he has already broken a trend this political season — embracing a liberal platform to knock off a long-term moderate Democrat.
Larson, a Milwaukee County Board Supervisor, unseated State Senator Jeff Plale, earning the right to battle for a seat that hugs the lake shore of Milwaukee from UWM south until it bulges out to cover the southeastern suburbs of the county. He will face political newcomer Jess Ripp, who is running on the Republican ticket. Larson spoke with me via phone, hitting on some of the policies he would like to pursue in Madison if elected on November 2.
You are supportive of saving the Hoan Bridge, but what is your position on other transportation issues such as freeways, bus transit, high-speed rail and the segregated transportation fund?
Larson is a co-founder of the Coalition to Save the Hoan, but he recognizes the core problem is the state’s failure to address transportation infrastructure. He would like to see not only the Hoan repaired and resurfaced, but also an expansion of 794 into Racine County, opening up more of the southern suburbs to downtown Milwaukee and ease congestion on I-94.
He is concerned with the erosion of bus service in Milwaukee County, which has seen a 20 percent reduction in routes and a 50 percent increase in fares under Scott Walker. Larson understands that roads and transit go together and 40,000 jobs that are currently unreachable due to a lack of vehicles or drivers licenses are best served by a vigorous transit system.
With that in mind, he is fully behind the high-speed train between Milwaukee and Madison.
“This is unpopular because it is a solution to transit that will be important in the future,” he said. “When gas isn’t as low we will need an option to move people. We will be behind the curve if we don’t do this now.”
Larson wants voters to decide whether they want a train that will connect us to a nationwide network of cities or have Wisconsin bypassed by the future.
What are your ideas for solving the education crisis in Wisconsin and within MPS?
Larson says if elected he will represent the schools within the 7th district and make sure that the funds that should be going to Milwaukee, Cudahy, St. Francis, South Milwaukee and Oak Creek get to them. He is opposed to the repeal of the Qualified Economic Offer, which gave teachers a guaranteed annual wage and benefit increase, and he will not vote for a state budget that continues the school funding formula that has hurt high-poverty districts.
In addition to reforming the funding formula, Larson would like see the legislature enact a dedicated sales tax to fund schools and remove some of the burden from property taxpayers.
What will you do to encourage job creation in the district and state?
Larson wants to focus on business and job creation in the area surrounding Mitchell International Airport. He recently joined 13 other Milwaukee County supervisors to endorse the Milwaukee Gateway Aerotropolis collaborative planning efforts. This plan will take advantage of the access to the Port of Milwaukee and close proximity to Chicago and its northern suburbs.
“I am proud that we are moving forward on crucial economic development and job creation around the airport,” Larson said. “This is a collaborative effort with the county, city and the communities surrounding the airport. Soon, we will have more tools to better court economic development using our low-cost, low-delay and high-growth airport in combination with the growing Port of Milwaukee. This is a prime opportunity for Milwaukee business and economic development teams to show off our competitive prowess. Successfully working together as a region is a precursor to bringing new companies here to take advantage of our low-cost airport infrastructure.”
The 7th Senate district is very diverse politically, economically and socially. How do you plan to appeal to all potential voters?
Larson isn’t intimidated by the diversity in within the 7th district. “I have found at doors that voters aren’t interested in hot button political battles, but in job creation and someone who will work hard for the district.”
He is also betting on the independence of voters, who he says don’t care what letter is after the candidate’s name, just the plan they have to get the job done.
Wisconsin will face a $2.5 billion budget hole when you take office. What items are off-limits for cuts and what items would you like to see reduced or removed from the budget?
The first priority for Larson to solve the looming budget hole is to get Tom Barrett elected as governor. “I have seen Walker’s budgets with built in deficits,” he said, as he currently sits in the middle of budget negotiations for the county. “[Walker] has made cuts to essential services, to alcohol treatment programs, to the Hunger Task Force. Tom Barrett discusses his budgets with legislators and makes sure things are balanced.”
As for what would avoid Larson’s budget chopping knife, education will be spared. “There is no way we can cut education funding,” he said. “It’s not like we can tell the kids to come back in a few years when we have the budget for them.”
Larson knows being a state senator is no jog in the park, but more like a marathon — something familiar to this marathoner. Larson says he is ready for this run and now all he wants to hear is the voter’s starting gun telling him to go.