MILWAUKEE COUNTY 10TH DISTRICT ELECTION: 20 QUESTIONS WITH CAVALIER JOHNSON

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1. What is your current occupation?

I am currently employed full time as a Follow-Up Specialist with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board (MAWIB) and part time as the Interim Collegiate Services Director for the Sponsor-A-Scholar (SAS) program offered by the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee.

2. How old are you?
I am 24 years old.

3. Please tell us a bit more about yourself.
I am a Milwaukee man, born and raised. When I was born, I was brought to a flat in the Washington Park neighborhood where my parents and great grandmother lived. My folks split when I was about three years old and I lived primarily with my mother over the years. I was fortunate in that my father has always been a constant in my life even after parting ways with my mom.

We didn’t have much growing up. I can remember moving from home to home when I was younger. Going past today, many of the places where my family and I lived over the years have either been torn down or are boarded up. It wasn’t until I was a middle school student that I was able to remain at one school from start until finish. I finished K-12 education by graduating from Bay View High School here in Milwaukee – the school where my father also earned his high school diploma.

Just before entering high school, I was selected to be a part of a pre-college program for low income MPS students called Sponsor-A-Scholar. The program, offered by Milwaukee’s Downtown YMCA, pairs each participant with adult, professional mentor and really presents urban youth with the idea that they too, can achieve a college education. SAS, in my opinion, also helps to groom young people to be mindful of the community that surrounds them and to realize that we are all partners in moving our community forward. Active service to Milwaukee is a key function of the program and has largely helped to make me into who I am today.

After working and/or volunteering in places like Madison, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Chile, London and New York City, I went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin.

4. Why do you want to be a County Supervisor?
I want to be a County Supervisor because at a very young age, I realized that active participation in our politics is the key to creating effective change in the lives of ordinary citizens. I’ll never forget the day that I discovered this. I was 14 years old. Now, at 24 years, that same mantra of service to people and service to my community has driven me to this point in life.

5. Why are you the right candidate for the job?
I think that I am the right candidate for the job because I possess an unwavering commitment to Milwaukee. I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively in my days but the beginning and the end of every adventure is the same – Milwaukee. This is my home, and I care deeply about its future and the people that reside here.

When we look at tough choices, I’ll make informed decisions with proper counsel and with the people of Milwaukee in mind. I’m the right candidate for the job because I will do what is best for Milwaukee and include our residents in the process.

6. As County Board Supervisor, what would your main priorities be?
As a County Board Supervisor:

I’d look to work on development both in Park East as well as the Milwaukee County Parks.

I look forward to working with partners to tackle the problems facing the Milwaukee County Transit System. Steadily increasing fares and cuts in service are not engines for growth.

I want to work at finding and eliminating duplicity in services that are offered by Milwaukee County and the several municipalities.

I’d want to establish a Milwaukee County-wide Youth Supervisory Board that gives young people that really want to work at addressing issues that face youth throughout our county a platform to do so. This tool will also help to hone the skills of young people that desire to serve the public through government.

I’d work closely with Milwaukee County workers and the taxpayers that pay their wages to find real, long term solutions to the fiscal order of Milwaukee County.

I would focus attention on economic development and ensuring that Milwaukee County is doing all that it can to make sure that businesses not only set up shop here, but that they are able to grow and create new spaces and new jobs in Milwaukee County.

I’d also like to work side by side with residents, and engage the constituency by getting them involved in the politics that govern them.

7. What are your main priorities for the 10th District specifically?
I want to work at addressing the issue of boarded homes in our neighborhoods.

I’d like to work with area businesses and law enforcement to encourage cleaner, safer streets.

I want to study the Neighborhood Investment Club model in place near 24th ST between Locust ST and Chambers ST and encourage this sort of neighborhood engagement throughout the district.

I look to work where we can to make district neighborhoods more inviting by tapping into resources that help to create improvements to homes and neighborhoods.

I would like to create an active Q&A session inspired by Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ) that takes place each Wednesday in the Houses of Parliament in London. The sessions that would take place here would be monthly at the outset, and will allow for district residents to be able to have direct, unfiltered dialogue with me, their elected representation on a whole range of issues with respect to our community and our county governance.

Outside of this, I plan to work as an active representative that isn’t only accessible in a monthly Q&A forum. I will definitely be both visible and approachable on the streets and in neighborhoods throughout the district.

8. What will you bring to the County Board that you feel it currently does not have?
I’ll bring to the County Board a young perspective and a willingness to try, try again until we find solutions to the problems facing our community. I dreaded math so much in high school that it was my mission to make sure that I never had to pick up a math course while studying at college in Madison. Even though I didn’t like math all that much, I still kept at it. I worked with a tutor and found that through all of the frustrations associated with math, there is an equation to every problem – no matter how big or how small.

9. Who are your role models?
Role Models for me are far ranging from family to friends to folks that I have watched over the years. It was my intention to serve as the first Black American President of the United States. Obviously that can’t happen now, but Barack Obama is a role model because he is the embodiment of a dream that hope to reach one day. Also, President Obama has stubborn faith in and support of the American people that I think is inspiring.

A good friend of mine, who is an MPS teacher, Victor Amaya is also a role model. Victor is a role model because his successes are the hopes and dreams of millions of people that have come to United States over centuries. Folks come to the US because there is no other place where your dreams are as attainable. Victor came to the United States and is now giving back to the community as a teacher – exactly what he wanted to do. He is living his American Dream.

My parents are role models, each for their own respective reasons. My mom has fought through years and years of hardship and is still standing ready. My father taught me an important lesson that I have been spreading since I learned it. That lesson is that if you’re young and especially a Black male, you should get off of your block. Take the time to travel and to experience new environments so you know what the world has to offer. Sometimes Central City youth are trapped to the confines of what happens on “the block”. My dad taught me that it’s important that we don’t allow this perception to become our entire worldview, and that’s why he is a role model.

10. Which locally elected official, if any, would you pattern your legislative style after?
I don’t know if there is any one official in particular that I would pattern myself after. I like Common Council President Willie Hines’ presence at community functions; I enjoy Senator Taylor’s passion; I’m a fan of Alderman Donovan’s active role on the streets of his district. Being able to pull from traits of several officials would help me to find a more concrete and direct answer.

11. What would you do to uplift the black community?
To uplift the Black community, I would tell my story and help Black Milwaukeeans to realize the connection. From childhood through to adulthood, I’ve faced challenges and have been able to overcome. Sometimes, folks assume that I am not a Milwaukeean judging by the sound of my voice alone. Time and again, folks wonder what connection that I have to the struggles of Black Milwaukeeans.

Like I mentioned before, growing up in Central City Milwaukee was not always a joy. I’ve seen and heard it all – shootings, stabbings, stealing, stompings, swear words and everything else that a rough life can throw at you. After living in a family on the brink of poverty and being a transient student, I went on to graduate from a great college and travel around the world.
What makes me different from anyone else in our community? I can’t tell. So what I’m saying is that if I can overcome the struggles facing the Black community, if I can recognize that your surroundings don’t make you who you are, but your tenacity, your will and your character are what define you, then I am confident that folks in our greater community can do it too.

12. Milwaukee County is facing extreme short-term and long-term budgetary pressures while trying to maintain and/or improve county services. As a County Board Supervisor, what would you do to tackle this dilemma?
Well, I think that what we have seen is that these so called “quick fixes” are not the answer to budgetary woes facing Milwaukee County. Reports show that without overhaul, every dollar of the county tax levy will be focused on pension and healthcare compensation.

We cannot move forward without really looking at viable corrections to the county’s obligations – obligations that allow for the county to award its workers with what they have earned over years of service. In the future, these costs need to be reconciled with what Milwaukee County taxpayers can afford to pay.

I think that working to get government on a balanced approach where we streamline services, eliminate duplicity, provide better economic development solutions to expand our tax base, and work to make tackling the rising costs of healthcare and pension benefits are among the things that we can focus on to secure financial footing at Milwaukee County.

13. Numerous individuals have floated the idea of downsizing Milwaukee County government or consolidating the county with municipalities and with the state. Where do you stand on this issue?
Let me start this answer by saying that more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Places like Maricopa County, AZ and San Diego County, CA each have five County Supervisors with populations of at least one million more residents than Milwaukee County.

Reducing the size of the Milwaukee County Board may serve to allow for more cooperation, and more business for Supervisors to tend to. If the County Board has not been producing intended results with a number as large as 19 then downsizing the size of the board to encourage greater productivity is something that I would support.

14. Would you approve of the privatization of any county services? In what circumstances? Why?
I am not in fully in favor of privatizing services provided by Milwaukee County but in some situations, I think that it privatization should be deemed allowable as a cost cutting measure.

I don’t support privatization entirely because in some cases, what privatization results in is people from elsewhere being appointed to take jobs from Milwaukee County residents. Otherwise, what happens is that those that have already been working for Milwaukee County are forced to do the same day’s work for less pay and less coverage.

I am not of the opinion that, to give a scenario, a middle aged Milwaukee woman that makes $11.00/hr sweeping floors afterhours at the Courthouse should, after years of service, be forced to sweep the same floors but now for $8.00/hr because her job was privatized.

If we somehow were able to work with separate organizations and/or trusts to operate some of our cultural institutions while protecting the compensation of employees and simultaneously cuts costs for the county, I’d support that.

15. Metro Milwaukee is arguably the most segregated metro area in the country. Is this a problem? If so, what would you do about it as a County Board Supervisor? If it is not a problem, why not?
I think that integrated neighborhoods are excellent. These neighborhoods show that people of different religions and races can live in harmony. Diverse neighborhoods help people living in them to adapt to the customs and traditions of the world that surrounds us. They are great!

But that’s not to say that ethnic neighborhoods need to be merged into one another. I think that having distinct neighborhoods allows for culture and flavor to blend together and really give a neighborhood its own unique feel.

So long as we can all coexist with one another, I don’t see any absolute necessity as to why we all need to live right next door to one another. Diversity is great, and I encourage it. But ethnicity is great too, and I also support that.

16. The recent census will provide Milwaukee County with the opportunity to engage in redistricting. Meanwhile, many people have called for downsizing the size of the County Board. Where do you stand on this issue? In the event of a downsize, would you be willing to put your own seat on the chopping block?
To reiterate what from question 13, I would support a downsizing of the Milwaukee County Board because more doesn’t always mean better.

The way that I think redistricting and a smaller board would work is that new lines are drawn, and every elected official would have to go before voters in order to earn a spot on the new, smaller Milwaukee County Board. So in essence, all Supervisors would be giving up the seats that they hold.

Yes, I’d be willing to put my own seat on the chopping block because I’m interested in doing what is best for Milwaukee. If doing what is best for Milwaukee means putting the seat that I’ve been elected to on the chopping block to create a more productive government, then so be it.

17. It is estimated that in six years, the county’s pension and healthcare obligations will eat up every dollar of the county tax levy. Meanwhile, there is talk of changing the county’s pension system to a 401(k) style system. Given the alarming fiscal issues that the county is contending with, where do you stand on this pension issue?
I think that it is so important that we get a grip on costs that the county has to endure where it relates to pensions, healthcare and other legacy obligations. I’ve read that there are three big public systems in Wisconsin – one for state employees; one for employees of the City of Milwaukee; and one for the employees of Milwaukee County. If we have models at the state level and municipal level that, as far as I know, operate with solvency, then why can’t we implement something similar for Milwaukee County?

I mentioned before, we need to work to reconcile Milwaukee County’s financial obligations with what taxpayers in Milwaukee County can afford. The financial problems at the county level remind me of a lesson from the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both sides possessed such a vast array of weaponry that if one side escalated their tensions into an all-out Hot War, there would have been Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). You can only tax folks so much and that is why we need to get the financial house in order at Milwaukee County. If we don’t get our books in order, then instead of global superpower vs. global superpower, we’ll have residents of Milwaukee County vs. Milwaukee County government – and since modern society cannot function without some form of governance, and a government cannot function without support of the people in its jurisdiction, we arrive at Mutually Assured Destruction.

18. Define Milwaukee in five words or less.
Promise, Potential, Home

19. Define Milwaukee’s challenges in five words or less.
Jobs, Education, Appreciation, Opportunity

20. As County Supervisor, how would you encourage active citizen participation within the county and within your district?
Here I would revisit my fascination with Prime Minister’s Questions. Rather than PMQ, I’d call these informative town hall-style meetings SQ (Supervisor’s Questions) sessions. This straight to the point sort of dialogue I think, will really allow me to find what the residents of the 10th District want addressed by their elected representation at the level of County Government. It has the workings to be a great tool to pull people into the conversation and really get them involved in what happens in their government.

This outreach shouldn’t stop with current voters though. Extending the opportunity for young people to get involved in our politics with a Milwaukee County Youth Supervisory Board will not only help to create awareness in a demographic that is usually out of tune with what happens in politics, but also will help to mold future leaders in Milwaukee.

If elected, I’d really enjoy my duty of taking to the streets of my district and speaking directly to residents there. I’ve always found it alarming when our elected leaders are only seen on television but never in the grocery store or even walking down their district’s main street. It makes it seem as if we’re represented by folks that aren’t actually a part of our community. I will be different. If elected, I can promise you that I will continue to be on your streets and in your neighborhoods.

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6 responses to “MILWAUKEE COUNTY 10TH DISTRICT ELECTION: 20 QUESTIONS WITH CAVALIER JOHNSON

  1. QUESTION 6. As County Board Supervisor, what would your main priorities be?
    As a County Board Supervisor:
    “I’d look to work on development both in Park East as well as the Milwaukee County Parks.”
    – Can you be more specific, what does that look like, what and how would that look like and how would it be funded?

    “I look forward to working with partners to tackle the problems facing the Milwaukee County Transit System. Steadily increasing fares and cuts in service are not engines for growth.”
    – In your opinion what is causing the increase in fares and cuts and what is the solution?

    “I want to work at finding and eliminating duplicity in services that are offered by Milwaukee County and the several municipalities.”
    – What are the top three services that you would focus on and how much could be saved?

    “I’d want to establish a Milwaukee County-wide Youth Supervisory Board that gives young people that really want to work at addressing issues that face youth throughout our county a platform to do so. This tool will also help to hone the skills of young people that desire to serve the public through government.”
    – Who would be on this board, how would you measure success and how would it be funded?

    “I’d work closely with Milwaukee County workers and the taxpayers that pay their wages to find real, long term solutions to the fiscal order of Milwaukee County.”
    – What are the solutions you advocate?

    “I would focus attention on economic development and ensuring that Milwaukee County is doing all that it can to make sure that businesses not only set up shop here, but that they are able to grow and create new spaces and new jobs in Milwaukee County.”
    – Specifically how would you do that and what do you think the obstacles are?

    I’d also like to work side by side with residents, and engage the constituency by getting them involved in the politics that govern them.

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