Mahlon Mitchell

In the crowded Democratic primary for Wisconsin governor, all candidates are running against Scott Walker’s record. But Mahlon Mitchell stands out in the momentum he’s built in the home stretch of his campaign.

“Governor Walker has fractured our state. We gotta make sure people realize that. But I don’t want to go around and talk about what’s wrong with Scott Walker. I want to talk about what’s right with us,” Mitchell told Grit Post on Monday. “We have a message that resonates. Not just with Democrats, but with all people in the state of Wisconsin.”

As Grit Post reported in November, when Mahlon Mitchell launched his bid for governor, the president of the Wisconsin Professional Fire Fighters Union may be the candidate who best exemplifies the grassroots anger of the Badger State’s working-class population since Walker became governor in 2011.

One of Gov. Walker’s first actions as governor was to blame the state’s labor unions for Wisconsin’s lagging economy (which was, at the time, suffering from the Great Recession just like everywhere else) and pushed for legislation known as Act 10. The bill sought to terminate all agreements organized public sector workers had in terms of their pay, benefits, healthcare plans, and sick leave.

Mahlon Mitchell
Act 10 protests at the Wisconsin state capitol in February of 2011 (Photo: Wisconsin State Journal)

Act 10 was so unpopular it drew out hundreds of thousands of protesters who surrounded the state capitol in the dead of winter to oppose it. Democratic state senators even fled the state in order to deny the quorum needed to have a vote on the bill. Nonetheless, Act 10 passed, and nearly all public sector unions (police and firefighters’ unions were exempted from Act 10) were crippled. Since Act 10 was signed into law, collective bargaining for nearly all public sector unions has been abolished, and Wisconsin public workers make less now than they did seven years ago.

In 2017, teachers made, on average, 8.2 percent less than they did 10 years prior, according to a Center for American Progress (CAP) study. Retirement and healthcare packages plummeted by an average of $6,000 per teacher. Additionally, Wisconsin teachers are, as a whole, less experienced today than they were prior to Act 10’s passage. CAP found that in the 2010-2011 academic year, for example, the percentage of teachers with six years of experience or less was 19.6 percent. That figure has since jumped to more than 24 percent.

The firefighter’s message as he’s campaigned across the state since November has been that of restoring the dignity of Wisconsin’s working class, in both Republican and Democrat-leaning counties.

“It’s not just about the urban areas. Rural areas, they’re hurting too,” Mahlon Mitchell said in a phone interview. “Our governor talks about a 2.8 percent unemployment rate, which is comparatively low, but what’s an unemployment rate when people are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet?”

“Whether I’m in Superior, Wisconsin, or Eau Clair or Lacrosse, Kenosha, Racine, and everywhere in between, struggle is struggle, no matter where you are,” he added.

According to the most recent polling data available on RealClearPolitics, Mitchell is tied for fourth place in the primary, behind Wisconsin Education Superintendent Tony Evers (30 percent), former state senator Kathleen Vinehout (10 percent), and former state representative Kelda Roys (7 percent). Mitchell is at just five percent, along with political activist Mike McCabe and Madison, Wisconsin mayor Paul Soglin.

However, the Mahlon Mitchell campaign has been quietly snowballing into a force to be reckoned with, attracting high-profile national endorsements like that of U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) — who is believed to be a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Last month, Mitchell’s campaign sent out an email telling supporters they had out-raised all of their primary opponents.

A chart from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel confirms that figure, showing Mitchell has raised more than $1.2 million, while frontrunner Evers has still not surpassed the $1 million mark. Kelda Roys has the second-highest fundraising total out of all candidates behind Mitchell, though she’s personally contributed approximately $350,000 out of her own pocket just to keep her campaign alive.

Mahlon Mitchell
2018 fundraising totals for all Wisconsin gubernatorial candidates (Chart by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

If he wins Tuesday night’s primary, Mahlon Mitchell is confident he’ll be able to bring in more moderate voters across the Badger State to give him the edge over Walker, despite his incumbency and bottomless campaign war chest.

“I’ve got people who have endorsed my campaign who voted for Scott Walker the last three times. We’re talking about all Wisconsinites. Our motto is, ‘together we rise,’ ” Mitchell told Grit Post. “People in the state of Wisconsin, they want to see a change in government.”


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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