The UNN Candidate Interview: Amani Latimer Burris of Senate District 26
Amani Latimer Burris is one of seven Democrats competing to replace retiring Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, in Tuesday's primary. (Photo provided)

Seven Democrats are vying for long-time Sen. Fred Risser’s seat. Here is a look at one of the 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. Seven democrats are vying for his seat. They will square off in the Aug. 11 primary. With no Republican or Independent registering to run for the seat, 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. Read what Moe and Roys had to say here. Answers from Elmikashfi and Imes can be found here, and answers from Benford and Davis can be found here

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

Amani Latimer Burris: Freedom – whether it is freedom from economic insecurity, COVID-19, political instability, or social justice discord. My platform is freedom first, and I get that freedom starts with economic dignity; that is economic security for all of us whether you are middle income, no income, moderate income, or are fortunate to have a little more than that.  

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

Amani Latimer Burris: Losing everything financially and having to go through the painstaking decade-long process of putting my life back together. It’s actually why I was motivated to go into politics and finally decided to run.  

In this painstaking, decade-long process, I saw first-hand how our system leaves us unprotected in our everyday lives. In trying to solve a complex problem (that tanked my life financially, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually) and work my way out of survival mode while protecting my family, I realized that we, as everyday people, have all of the responsibility but none of the protections. I will work to change this. I will advocate for your freedom and for the things that we all want and need on a basic level and the issues we are all so deeply affected by. 

As an advocate with a depth of experience in law,  more than 15,000 hours, I will work to merge the law and policy with real life.  

In this, I know that we have to work together, #UnitedInOurDifferences, to find common ground solutions in regards to the issues that affect us –whether it be around healthcare, voting rights, saving small businesses, social justice reform, the environment, or whatever challenges come our way. 

Together, in diversity, in inclusive change, we will come up with excellent solutions. It’s what I discovered from previously working on campaigns from Kathleen Falk to Shelia Stubbs to Pete Buttigieg. It’s what I found working as a community organizer working for the Wisconsin Democratic Party in Waukesha and Milwaukee County, as a journalist where I first started my career, as a lifelong educator and most importantly, as a mama to two wholly different kids. It’s the reason I earned Mayor Soglin’s endorsement as he knows I am running for not just you, not just me, but US.

UNN: Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes introduced a package of nine bills on June 19 aimed at reforming police transparency and accountability in response to ongoing protests over the murder of George Floyd. Do you believe this package does too little? Explain. 

Amani Latimer Burris: I support Governor Evers and Lieutenant Governor Barnes, and I know it is a complex issue that doesn’t have a simple or neatly packaged answer. Again this is an issue that requires more than a tagline or doing a photo op. It requires deep thinking and a willingness to go beyond yourself and into another  person’s world.  

The bottom line is we have to work on this and a whole host of issues including social justice reform and equity, policing, implicit bias and the criminal justice system. As an African-American, as a Black mama in America, I get it and I’m ready to work on it because these issues have plagued us forever. It’s time.  

This is why diversity matters, not just for the sake of diversity, but because, as a former small business owner I know that the best solutions are found in diversity.  We have got to get beyond taglines, photo ops, policy pundits and into real life.

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?

Amani Latimer Burris: Take a look at what you would need if you were in that position and find a way to fund it.  On a policy level, we can work to balance out aid to all schools by looking for ways to offset under advantaged schools. That is, working to support urban and rural schools which for various reasons may not have the tax base to support funding initiatives. This sharing, if you will, strengthens Wisconsin’s schools on the whole and creates better cities which creates better economic stability for all Wisconsinites.

Additionally, we can start working, now, on initiatives to change the way the school budgets are effectively controlled by the legislature so that financial decisions (driven by revenue and spending) are controlled on a local level, rather than the state. In short order, schools can do what is best for the constituents who have to live with the decisions that are made for them.

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

Amani Latimer Burris: As senator, given that this issue impacts people in my community,  I know that I can work to bring awareness and understanding just by being myself. That is Amani.  

In the past, there have been programs, operating on a smaller scale that have worked but were cut because of funding. We can take a look at those programs, work with our partners to assess and understand the data, talk to the experts and also talk to the people impacted by the issue (and those people who have worked on the issue or understand the issue in real life) to come up with workable solutions. This requires an advocate who understands the issue and can work to build coalitions.  I will do that – I will be that advocate.