The UNN Candidate Interview: Brian Benford and William Henry Davis III of Senate District 26
William Henry Davis III (left) and Brian Benford are two of the seven candidates vying for Sen. Fred Risser's senate seat. Risser announced his retirement in March. (Photos provided)

Seven candidates are vying for long-time Sen. Fred Risser’s seat. Here is a look at two of the Democratic contenders. 

Editor’s Note: After 64 years in office, Sen. Fred Risser announced in March that he would be retiring at the end of this term. The Democratic candidates vying for his seat will square off in the Aug. 11 primary. With no Republican or Independent registered to run, the winner of the primary will be the district’s next senator.

The candidates are Brian Benford, Amani Latimer Burris, William Henry Davis III, John Imes, Nada Elmikashfi, Aisha Moe and Kelda Roys. UpNorthNews sent each of the candidates five questions to answer. The answers given by Benford and Davis are below. Answers from Imes and Elmikashfi can be found here, with those from Moe and Roys located here. Comments from Burris can be found here.

Wisconsin State Senate District 26

UNN: What is the top issue facing the people in your district?

Brian Benford: With two insidious diseases ravaging our world, Covid-19 — and for centuries longer — systemic racism, I believe the biggest need in the 26th district is for people of diverse backgrounds to come together in love, unity and respect to forge a new, safe, socially just, and equitable Madison and Wisconsin. 

The 26th district is the heart of Madison and for many years the most progressive district in the state.  People want change. There is a need for more diverse, informed voices within public policy-leading the charge to unite us ALL.  

UNN: Describe what unique life experiences would make you both an empathetic and effective lawmaker. 

Benford: As a family advocate, educator, activist, alderperson for the city of Madison, and past president of  Madison’s Equal Opportunities Commission; for the last 30 years I have dedicated my life to serving those that are most marginalized and vulnerable in our communities. 

During the last three decades, I have served children, their parents, families and communities to reach their full potential. In doing so, I am on a path to reaching my own. 

In the past, when I looked into the mirror, I saw the face of poverty. My commonalities with those that I have served,  offered me real “lived” and informed insights that have made me an effective advocate for all.

 I currently work as the success coach/social worker for the UW-Madison Odyssey Project. I am a proud father of five  beautiful, diverse children. My four oldest children graduated from Madison public schools. Two went on to graduate from UW-Madison and one from Edgewood College. I raised my children on a low-income wage, so instilling in them the importance of education was paramount. Last month I graduated from the UW-Madison’s School of Social Work with my master’s degree so that I might someday become a licensed therapist for underserved populations.  

UNN: Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes introduced a nine-bill package on June 19 aimed at reforming police transparency and accountability in response to ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd. What are your thoughts on this package?

Benford: I applaud their efforts as a step in the right direction, but we need to completely re-imagine policing by understanding the flawed system in which it is embedded. 

Transparency and accountability are more needed for the politicians that have created and fostered a racist, oppressive system that has led to abuses within law enforcement. The horrendous murder of Mr. Floyd should be our clarion call to action; I will bring diverse stakeholders together to work on creating a new vision for policing within Wisconsin.  

UNN: Funding for K-12 education is an ongoing issue in Wisconsin, now exacerbated by the need for virtual learning due to COVID-19. What do lawmakers need to pass to ensure that low-income students in your district are not left behind?

Benford: I would advocate for a $1 billion increase in public school funding and successive increases yearly to maintain and meet the challenges brought on by Covid-19 (and long before) and misguided policy makers.   

Property taxes cannot provide the amount of funding school districts need to provide the education and support services needed  to allow all of our students to reach their full potential. For too long, policy makers, primarily from the other side, have purposely tried to siphon off funds to give to  private schools- by claiming that public schools fail to reach all of our children. 

This does not take into account any of the visceral problems that school districts face today such as; the lack of quality, culturally informed mental health services; the lack of stable housing (causing homelessness), violence witnessed in and out of the home, and other traumas that poverty induces.  

These are a few realities  that require schools to somehow address all of these peripheral issues in addition to educating our most precious resource, our children. Unaddressed historical racism weaves through all of these issues and considerations.  

UNN: Your district includes a portion of Dane County that has the highest infant mortality rate for Black babies in the country. What could you do as a state senator to begin to address this problem?

Benford: As a longtime family advocate, I sat on the first steering committee to address infant mortality in Dane County. As senator, I will draw on my skills, experiences and knowledge as a social worker, along with my deep connections to the countless community-based organizations that I have worked within, to holistically bring key stakeholders together to protect our most valuable gifts; our children.  

What I have found in the past, is while we do our due diligence in combating infant mortality, we are not willing to take the most visceral step as a community. Those steps are ensuring that poverty’s insidious impacts are eliminated by ensuring that mothers have access to quality, culturally informed healthcare, housing, adequate healthy food, to be free of domestic/intimate partner violence, and to be safe from detrimental environmental assaults.  

UNN: What is the top issue facing the people in your district? 

William Henry Davis III: Homelessness, poverty and the minimum wage. Wisconsin citizens without an income at all and citizens with low incomes are struggling. Citizens who do not have an adequate income include our low-wage, lower-middle class, and middle-class citizens. 

They are facing economic hardships due to rent increases, mortgage payments, increased bills that are due, increased payments that are being demanded by utility companies, the cost of gas, child care costs, and parents who are attending school. 

Parents with children are having a very hard time. Salaries for our cashiers, janitors, construction workers, factory workers, teachers, nurses, CNAs, and the Army and National Guard deserve salary increases. As a state senator, I am going to fight to increase their salaries and wages. 

Due to COVID-19, this is an issue worth addressing now. Citizens have been laid off. Unemployment checks are not kicking in fast enough and even those that have received unemployment checks are not making what they need to survive daily. Their needs are being neglected.

This shady stimulus check President Donald Trump and his Republican Party gave American citizens was a disaster. He gave billions of dollars to corporate welfare, enriching well-off corporations, enriching billionaires while giving our mainstream society crumbs. As state senator, I am going to address these issues with my fellow state legislators so that we can fix this crisis.

UNN: Describe what unique life experiences would make you both an empathetic and effective lawmaker. 

Davis: When I was a kid raised by my mother, we didn’t have much. We were poor and barely made ends meet. Yet I would always pass out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless I would see digging in trash cans in my Chicago neighborhood. 

I am disabled. I suffer from depression and essential tremors. That is why, as a state senator, I will focus on legislation to help our disabled citizens. I have studied and read a lot of books growing up and political science became my favorite subject by seventh grade. 

What qualifies me to represent citizens? My inner being, my soul, my heart, my intelligence, and my rational thinking based on what is morally right or wrong. Wisconsin needs my style of leadership to address mainstream society issues. I would call out the crooked GOP at the Capitol and promote a fair democracy for our Wisconsin citizens. 

UNN: Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes introduced a nine-bill package on June 19 aimed at reforming police transparency and accountability in response to ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd. What are your thoughts on this package?

Davis: I support the package. However our police reform must include more — such as removing and restricting firearm use by street patrol officers. We must promote stricter regulations on police authority to prevent future police abuse. 

Departments need more enhanced mental health psychological evaluations, and enhanced multicultural diversity interaction training. We must rebrand our police force so that our citizens can have faith, trust, and respect for our sworn peace officer again. I still love the good, moral, men and women police officers in uniform.

As state senator, I have some interesting bills that I am going to propose to reward those with good conduct. Those in uniform that are acting recklessly and racially discriminating, arresting, beating, and killing our citizens will be punished severely under my proposals. 

UNN: Funding for K-12 education is an ongoing issue in Wisconsin, now exacerbated by the need for virtual learning due to COVID-19. What do lawmakers need to pass to ensure that low-income students in your district are not left behind? 

Davis: The ongoing crisis with Covid-19 has affected our students and teachers by putting a wedge between traditional and virtual learning.  As a substitute is new-age technology for students, which has proven to be effective. However traditional public school attendance is absent. It has taken a devastating toll on our students who miss attending classes and interacting with other students.  

As a state senator, I am going to create a bill for K-12 students called “The Field Trip School Act.” It will pay for all public school students to have free field trips. I am also going to create a bill for free lunch for all low-income students, “School Lunch for All Children Act.” 

UNN: Your district includes a portion of Dane County that has the highest infant mortality rate for Black babies in the country. What could you do as a state senator to begin to address this problem? 

Davis: My job as a senator is to protect infants of all ethnicities. I am going to pass various bills that will tackle medical health, including free health care for all. I will fight for expanding Medicaid and Medicare so that our infants, youth, teens, adults, seniors, homeless, low-income, low-wage and disabled citizens have basic health care coverage.