Wisconsin Capitol
The Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

“People say, ‘I don’t do politics.’ Now, politics is doing you,” Francesa Hong, who represents the 76th Assembly District, told UpNorthNews.

Who is Francesca Hong? Google her, and Wikipedia is the first result. Mom. Wife. Chef. Business Owner. Feminist. Badger. Environmentalist. Democrat. Member of the state Assembly. Hong must have more hours in her day than the rest of us! 

Still, Hong, 33, made time to sit down with UpNorthNews to talk about the importance of reaching across the aisle, fighting for what most Wisconsinites want, and voting in next month’s midterm elections.

[This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Christina Lorey, UpNorthNews Editor: I got tired just reading all the jobs you have. I’m not going to ask that question that no one ever asks men. [“How do you balance it all?”] Instead— Which job is the easiest and which is the hardest?

Francesca Hong (D) 76th District, Wisconsin state Assembly: [laughs] The easiest job is being an environmentalist because you can do things for the climate every minute of every day. The hardest job, always, is being a mom. It’s the hardest because it’s the most rewarding.

Christina: You have a very interesting backstory: You were born and raised in Madison, went to the UW, and now represent the area you’ve always called home. Do you remember the moment you decided to run for office?

Francesca: Like so many women, I had to be asked many times. They say you have to ask a woman to run for office an average of six times before she’ll seriously consider. 

I had been making a lot of noise with how disappointed I was in the state legislature and its impeding and obstruction of the governor trying to do the right thing for public health [during the COVID-19 pandemic]. 

There wasn’t exactly one moment, but when a colleague of mine in the restaurant industry asked me, I thought I could be a good representative because I have so many opportunities to connect other communities who don’t always intersect.

Christina: What’s been the most rewarding part of representing your home?

Francesca: The work on the ground in the community. A couple of weeks ago,  I was leading a cooking class at Centro Hispano and talking about how–even though I didn’t finish college and was someone who washed dishes for a living–I ended up here. To tell my story to students who see themselves in me–that’s always going to be the most rewarding part.

Christina: As an Asian-American, the daughter of immigrants, a woman, and a small business owner who had to endure a pandemic, your life—like many people’s—hasn’t always been easy. What advice can you share with people who still feel like they’re being left behind?

Francesca: I fully affirm that they’re solid in those feelings. But here’s the thing: the opposition, the people in power right now, want us to feel this way. 

Right now, there is an incredible amount of hopelessness, but the way to combat that is to choose hope. Hope is a powerful choice. In choosing hope, then you want action, and the action everyone can take is to vote.

Christina: But many voters are frustrated with how little our state representatives have been working… 

Francesca: Their frustrations are completely real. But there’s no power in conversation. 

I sat down with a Republican representative yesterday for coffee. We talked about the importance of having new representation in the Senate. We talked about PFAS regulation and how clean water is something all of our communities deserve access to. 

There are absolutely conversations happening across the aisle. But the people making the big decisions, like the speaker and the leadership, want control. 

The people in power right now in the legislature don’t want us to see that they’re obstructing a lot of things the governor can do to help people. We’re sitting on $5 billion of surplus funds that should be going back out in communities to help folks.

I don’t want to demonize the other party, but I do want to recognize that there are Trump Republicans and full-on Trump fascists who want to remain in and retain power and that’s a real threat to our Democracy and people who just want to live their lives.

Christina: If you take out the big races–governor, attorney general, Senate– it doesn’t seem like the makeup of Wisconsin’s legislature is going to change all that much. Is there any solution to this division?

Francesca: There are multiple solutions. Voting to ensure there are enough Democrats to secure the governor’s veto, that we continue to build, organize, and empower voters to make sure they’re voting again in April in a critical Supreme Court election that could help us enact and gain fair maps. The gerrymandering of our state is one of the worst in the country.

Outside of voting, it’s making sure you’re organizing inside your neighborhoods. It’s not just going out on Election Day. It’s staying informed. 

People say, “I don’t do politics.” Well, now, politics is doing you. What you care about is at stake. There are people in government who care about what you care about. So let’s make sure those folks continue to represent and let’s build power around them.

Christina: How do you stay so optimistic?

Francesca: There are more of us that are greater than a lot of the fear that people in power are perpetuating. And the way we overcome that fear is by voting.

We vote for freedoms. I say “freedoms” plural, and I always connect voting with freedom because it’s something every single one of us has an unalienable right to. 

I believe every Wisconsinite, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, deserves agency and the ability to care for themselves and their family the way that they want to. That is all part of the freedom and care network I know Wisconsin is all about. This election cycle, you vote for freedom because you care.

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