The head of the state’s firefighters union promises to bring principles that guide his profession to state government if voters elect him Wisconsin’s next governor.
Mahlon Mitchell, who last week joined the crowded Democratic field of candidates hoping to unseat GOP Gov. Scott Walker, brought his high-energy campaign to Eau Claire on Monday and sprinkled firefighting analogies throughout his 20-minute speech to about three dozen supporters at The Oxbow Hotel.
A centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign is a mantra that guides firefighters — “All hands working” — that Mitchell explained means everybody at the scene of an emergency works as a team to do something to make the situation better.
“I want to bring ‘all hands working’ to the state of Wisconsin and to the statehouse,” said Mitchell, 40, of Fitchburg, who has been president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin for the past six years.
One way Mitchell hopes to do that is by bringing people together and seeking compromise instead of pursuing divisive policies guided by ideology, as he charged has been Walker’s style as the state’s top elected official for the past seven years.
Jeff Dykes, a captain with the Eau Claire Fire Department who introduced Mitchell at Monday’s campaign stop, said he was inspired by Mitchell’s leadership six years ago when, to show solidarity with other public sector workers, he led firefighters in protests of Walker’s Act 10 at the Capitol even though firefighters were exempted from the law. Act 10 stripped collective bargaining rights from almost all public sector employees in Wisconsin.
As a firefighter, Mitchell said he knows what it means to put the safety and well-being of others ahead of himself.
That’s what it means to be a leader, he said, adding, “In my line of work, we never leave anyone behind.”
The same principle applies to the economy, he said, vowing to fight to bring good-paying jobs to Wisconsin, raise the minimum wage and make the investments necessary to improve education. Mitchell maintained such priorities would help lift everyone up and give them the spending money to buy goods and services.
“We are the economy,” he said, contrasting his philosophy with an approach he claimed Walker and the Republicans prefer that calls for tax breaks and policies that favor the rich in the hope they will share the bounty with the masses. That trickle-down approach defies logic and history, Mitchell said.
State Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman, however, pointed to Mitchell’s loss in the 2012 recall race against GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch as a sign of weakness.
“Union Boss Mahlon Mitchell is still stuck in the past,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “After already being rejected by voters for standing on the wrong side of hard-working families, he’s offering more of the same failed policies that took our state backward — and reading off the same talking points as the rest of the flawed Democrat field for governor.”
In addition to Mitchell, more than a dozen other Democrats have registered to run as Democrats in the 2018 governor’s race, including state schools Superintendent Tony Evers, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, state Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire, former Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn, Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik and government reform advocate Mike McCabe.
When asked how he would separate himself from the pack, Mitchell said he knows and respects the other candidates but just plans to focus on his positive message emphasizing leadership and the economy.
“I’m not a career politician or a political pundit or a political insider,” Mitchell said. “I want to put people over politics, and I believe I am the leader to do that.”
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 member Glenn Roloson of Osseo, one of several area union members who wore bright yellow vests and hard hats as they stood alongside Mitchell during Monday’s speech, said he is impressed with Mitchell’s passion as well as his message.
“He’s strong for the unions, strong for the working man and strong on education,” Roloson said. “He’s not just trying to get ahead himself; he’s trying to help everyone else get ahead too.”
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