Angela Cunningham of Kenosha is one of three Democrats running for the nomination to take on Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, for the 1st Congressional District. (Photo courtesy of Angela Cunningham campaign)
Angela Cunningham of Kenosha is one of three Democrats running for the nomination to take on Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, for the 1st Congressional District. (Photo courtesy of Angela Cunningham campaign)

Ayn Rand mindset would be replaced by Angela Cunningham’s community activist ethic

[Editor’s Note – This is the third in a series of stories about candidates for Congress in Wisconsin’s 1st District. Roger Polack was profiled Monday, and Josh Pade was profiled Tuesday.]

Angela Cunningham is no stranger to public service, being actively involved in a smorgasbord of community organizations throughout southeastern Wisconsin. She never thought of taking her service to a higher level until a close friend approached her with a proposition: Why not run for Congress?

After some soul-searching, Cunningham filed to run in the 1st Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, Paul Ryan’s handpicked successor. She is one of three Democrats hoping to take back a seat Republicans have held for 25 years.

“At the end of the day, all of our programs that we were trying to do to better our community were band-aids,” said Cunningham, a 40-year-old Kenosha defense attorney. “I’m ready to take that step to be the person who runs and steps up to be a voice for the community.”

Cunningham is on the board of directors for the Urban League of Racine and Kenosha, and Catholic Charities. She also is involved with the Coalition for Dismantling Racism and Kenosha’s Lincoln Park CommUNITY Conversation program. 

In the past, she was on the board of directors for the Kenosha Community Health Center and Hope Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse. She also formerly sat on the Kenosha County Department of Human Services Mental Health Committee.

As the only person of color and only woman in the 1st Congressional District race, Cunningham said she is uniquely positioned to appeal to the district’s diverse population. 

“I think I’ll be able to reach communities who have historically not participated in the elections and decided to stay home,” Cunningham said. “I think that will help make a difference in flipping this district to blue.”

Cunningham first moved to Kenosha County when she was 12. Her family built a house through Habitat for Humanity in the unincorporated rural community of Trevor. 

She attended Xavier University of Louisiana for a year until she got pregnant with her son and returned home. She continued with her education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning a master’s degree in social work. A few years later, she attended Northwestern University for law school.

She became a staff attorney for Legal Action of Wisconsin before landing at the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office as an assistant DA. In 2019, she started her own law firm in Kenosha.

One of her top issues is ending mass incarceration, something her Democratic opponents Josh Pade and Roger Polack don’t mention on their campaign websites. 

A 2013 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study found that the state incarcerates black men at the highest rate in the nation. She said she has seen the effects of it firsthand both personally and in her work as a former prosecutor and current defense attorney.

“We got to the point where we are now because of federal laws and incentives. States jumped on board in order to get funding,” Cunningham said. “I’m of the opinion that if federal law goes in the opposite direction and incentivizes states going the opposite direction to reduce mass incarceration, that states will follow suit.”

She also wants to see the minimum wage be increased to a living wage and health care to be affordable and accessible to everyone, regardless of income. 

She would not commit to a specific plan to expand health care coverage, instead saying, “My top priority is making sure that everybody has equal access to health care, whatever that may look like. It’s not just about the price, but it’s also about the quality.”

As the student loan crisis and college tuition costs balloon, Cunningham said she wants “evaluate” the issues but said she had no current opinion on how to best solve it. She said she had to take out loans to put herself through school.

“It’s not a fair decision, that people with means can get all the education and not worry about the financial burden, but people without the means have the choice of either not reaching a certain level of education or being saddled with debt,” she said.

To improve childhood education, Cunningham said she wants to see more investment in public, neighborhood schools so parents don’t have to use the School Choice voucher program to give their kids a quality education.

Pade and Polack have both pledged to not take money from corporate political action committees, a move in line with a growing trend among Democratic candidates. Cunningham did not directly answer whether she would take money from corporate PACs.

“I will not accept money from anybody, whether it’s a corporate PAC, special interest or even any individual who’s outspoken about issues that are not in alignment with my priorities and what I’m fighting for,” she said.

The 1st Congressional District includes all of Racine and Kenosha counties, most of Walworth County and parts of Rock, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. Its three largest cities are Racine, Kenosha and Janesville. The primary is Aug. 11.