What are you goals for your first term in office should you be elected?
At 6 years old, my family and I emigrated from a small farming community in Sudan to find a better life in Wisconsin. Madison offered us opportunity, but we also struggled. Growing up, I witnessed how a lack of affordable housing, educational inequity, and our crumbling healthcare system burdened my family and fellow Madison. Since then, I have made it my mission to fight for the communities I grew up in.
My goal is to fight for and pass working-class policies like BadgerCare for All, a Union Green New Deal, and funding K-12 education and the UW System. You can read my full platform on my website. However, the political reality is that any of these progressive policy agendas will be met with obstructionism by the Wisconsin GOP. It’s been 10 years since Act 10 and very little has changed in terms of Democrats’ strategy and approach. Governor Evers is a friend of education, but even he needs a strong progressive ally in the State Senate.
Madison is over 90% Democratic, we need to elect a leader who will fundamentally change Wisconsin politics. As the first Muslim and first rural immigrant of color ever elected to the Wisconsin Capitol, I will be able to relate to voters who have not been represented by the Democratic Party. Therefore, my primary goal will be to expand the Democratic electorate, flip key swing districts, and turn our purple state into a Democratic stronghold.
Please describe your qualifications and what sets you apart from your fellow candidates.
I’ve been an activist and organizer in Madison for many years. As an organizing fellow for NexGen America, I helped contribute to the record-setting 93% voter turnout in Madison for the 2018 midterms. I was appointed by the Mayor of Madison and currently serve on the Sustainable Madison Committee. I’ve also worked in the Capitol. I’ve served on the staff of Gov. Tony Evers’ Gubernatorial Appointments team and worked as a Legislative Fellow for Senator Jennifer Shilling.
Democrats, including one of my opponents, controlled the Capitol from 2008-2010 and failed to address the issues in my community. On August 11th, Madison has a choice. We can continue with the broken status quo or we can put forward the most progressive candidate in Wisconsin history. The working-class needs a seat at the table. We need a candidate who has political experience in the Capitol and the lived experience to fight for change.
As a 2020 UW graduate and an MMSD alumnus, I have experienced firsthand the consequences of the State of Wisconsin’s declining interest in our K-12 and higher education systems, and it’s continual disinvestment and neglect. By taking bold and unapologetically progressive stances on education and other policies, I will be the only candidate who can shift the political conversation to the left and give Evers more leverage in funding negotiations. I am proud to have earned the progressive movement’s support, including endorsements from People for Bernie, Run for Something, Sunrise-Madison, and more.
UW-Madison is situated in the 26th Senate District, but its role as an economic engine benefits the entire state. Please tell us how you would represent the university in the legislature and make sure your colleagues from outside Dane County understand the statewide benefit of a strong UW-Madison?
I view the role of the 26th District State Senator as dual-purpose in this regard. First, as a staunch advocate for the UW-Madison campus, and secondly for the UW System as a whole. The UW System must reclaim its spot as one of the most envied, productive, and effective systems of higher education in Wisconsin. We must work to build consensus in the legislature. One way to do this is to more heavily involve the business community in lobbying for a strong UW system. We also believe that tax reforms, in general, could help provide dedicated funding streams to the UW System that will be less readily compromised by a spending-slashing Governor in the future. We must focus on bringing suburban Republicans into the conversation as I believe the importance of higher education for suburban voters is growing.
It is equally important to work with the UW-Madison community to create long-term progressive change in Wisconsin. As a 2020 UW graduate, I found it disappointing that none of our elected officials regularly convened with students, faculty, or staff. Youth voter turnout and political mobilization are continually neglected on campus. My campaign is changing that. We have over 200 college students and young adults volunteering for our campaign. After winning the primary on August 11th, we will use our grassroots power to flip key districts across Wisconsin. By engaging and harnessing the political power of UW Madison, we can retake control of the Capitol and pass sweeping reforms for the UW System.
State funding for higher education has fallen dramatically over the past generation, resulting in a dependence on tuition and fundraising to replace decreased state support. The ongoing tuition freeze coupled with several state budget cuts has forced UW-Madison to make serious cuts, while other UW System campuses face devastating budget shortfalls. How would you address these concerns if elected?
I believe that universities need more flexibility when it comes to funding, so I am open to advocating for a variety of options that align with the interests of the students, faculty, and staff of UW-Madison.
The on-going tuition freeze has put UW-Madison in an incredibly difficult position, as they continually need to cut costs just to keep up with inflation. That is on top of the continued budget cuts and need for long term investment after decades of defunding education. At the same time, I believe that controlling tuition costs is important. Student debt is a large drain on our economy and the biggest barrier to equitable access to higher education. Students and the UW-System are being forced to foot the bill, all while businesses and the WI GOP continue to avoid paying their fair share. Robin Vos lamented government spending but then accepted $150-350k in coronavirus funding for his small business. We must call the WI GOP out on their hypocrisy and make the argument that increased funding for the UW-System is good for the health of our economy. As a result, the best remedy to the UW’s financial situation is for the State of Wisconsin to pay its fair and historical share of funding to the university.
As a legislator, I would be deeply involved in the oversight of the UW System and ensuring that instead of legislating budget cuts, we empower the Board of Regents to once again pursue the Wisconsin Idea in all its facets.
UW-Madison as an institution understands diversity to be a value that is inextricable from its other values, including educational and research excellence. Tell us about your legislative priorities on diversity, racial justice, and their relation to the values you hold related to higher education.
As an immigrant, Black, and Muslim woman, this question is very personal to me. The current Black Lives Matters movement offers us a chance to really reflect on how racism is deeply embedded within our society. We need to come to terms with the fact that Wisconsin is the most segregated state in our country. Wisconsin has not fulfilled the promise of “forward” to the Black community. This is not just Scott Walker’s fault, Wisconsin has seen decades of inaction on racial justice, primarily because our political leaders have not represented the Black community.
In order to create real and lasting change, we need leadership that takes the politically difficult positions in pursuit of justice. I am proud to have put forward a Black Lives Matter policy platform on my website that includes addressing police brutality and criminal justice reform. Additionally, the rest of my working-class platform is centered on equity and solidarity such as, expanding BadgerCare for all uninsured individuals including undocumented individuals, creating affordable housing for all, and an expansive climate justice platform.
Our budget reflects our priorities. Regarding K-12 education, we must move away from the property tax funding system that continues to perpetuate the legacy of redlining by underfunding schools in communities of color. Additionally, Wisconsin pays an incredible amount to fund the police and criminal justice system. By addressing and defunding these systems we can address racial justice and adequately fund education and invest in Wisconsin’s future.
A budget repair bill and the 2021-23 biennial budget loom large and the financial impact of COVID-19 is enormous. What are your funding priorities in the upcoming biennium?
My top priority is maintaining current funding levels for staffing for all public employees, ensuring no lay-offs or hardships, while also increasing funding for emergency medical leave, pandemic safety, and for the safe operation of every gear of the government of the people of Wisconsin. This includes providing UW Madison and the UW System the funding that they require to adequately address COVID-19 including, the continued transition to online courses, addressing revenue shortages from the lack of in person events, and ensuring the safety of all students, faculty, and staff.
I do not believe now is the time for budget cuts amidst a global pandemic, economic anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. This is the moment for the government to step in and do right by the people. We are launching our full COVID-19 platform on July 14th that will include hazard pay for essential employees, extended unemployment insurance benefits, and support for small businesses. Most importantly, we must fully fund our hospitals and invest in universal testing and contact tracing. This approach will offer the kind of stability that is necessary to successfully fight the virus and move forward.