Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine). (Screenshot via WisPolitics virtual luncheon)
Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine). (Screenshot via WisPolitics virtual luncheon)

Neubauer and Haywood say they’re trying to energize young Wisconsinites to get involved.

When Reps. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) and Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) last month became Wisconsin’s top two Democrats in the Assembly, their elections represented a passing of the torch to a newer, younger, more diverse Democratic coalition.

Neubauer, 30, is the youngest minority leader in state history, the first openly LGBTQ legislative leader, and is one of just two women to have held her party’s top post. Haywood, 22, is likewise the youngest assistant minority leader in state history (and, since his first election at age 19, he has remained the youngest serving state lawmaker), and represents a growing group of young Black leaders in the state.

The two young leaders hope to channel their experiences and youth into a new generation of voters and leaders.

“What I hope it represents to people is that there’s a space for them in this work, that there’s an opportunity for them to engage no matter how old they are,” Neubauer said in a Tuesday virtual luncheon hosted by WisPolitics.com. “And I hope that what we’re able to do is bring that long-term perspective that means that we are able to fight for Wisconsin, not just policies that will help us today and tomorrow, but in the very long term.”

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Neubauer and Haywood spoke at the luncheon of their desire to make Wisconsin a more attractive place to young people and families, increase the number of Democrats elected to the Assembly, and protect voting rights as Republicans continue to sow doubt about the 2020 election and push bills that would make it harder for some people to cast ballots.

“We’re … putting our money where our mouth is,” Haywood said. “We actually have a leadership team that reflects that and shows that, and you will see that through our policy and through our messaging as well.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) could not immediately be reached for comment about Republicans’ plans to attract support from younger voters or retain Republican Assembly seats. 

Among Democrats’ top priorities for the remainder of this year’s legislative session, Neubauer said, is ensuring the state’s historic $3.8 billion budget surplus gets put to good use. Gov. Tony Evers announced plans to spend the money on K-12 education, a $150 tax refund for all Wisconsinites, and child care. Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) rejected Evers’ proposal and said they do not want to spend the money until the next state budget cycle.

“These are crucial, crucial policies,” Neubauer said, noting that some people are still struggling from the coronavirus pandemic. “I know that sometimes the Capitol can get mired in partisanship, but I really hope that we can see in the next month an effort to recognize that these policies are in the best interest of the people of our state.”

The two Democratic leaders also called Republican bills to change the election system non-starters with the Democratic caucus. Neubauer said Democrats would be willing to support changes that make it easier to vote, but Republicans have largely sought to make it harder to vote absentee, neuter guidance from the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission, and prevent local governments from receiving grant funding to help run elections.

“If [expanding voting rights] is the common ground that we can start from, we’re very happy to have a conversation,” Neubauer said. “But if we’re talking about, again, putting partisan officials in nonpartisan bodies, if we’re talking about further restricting access to the ballot box, we’re just not going to be able to find common ground.”