RACINE — When the organization 24/7 Wall St. put out a story naming Racine as the fourth worst place for blacks in America, Alderman John Tate II decided he needed to act.
“Knowing the challenges that Racine has faced over the last 10, 20 years … my community is now couched in the national spotlight,” Tate said. “I felt compelled to speak on behalf of people who look like me.”
After that report, Tate threw his name into the ring to become the next state representative for the 66th Assembly District after Cory Mason announced he would step down after being elected Racine mayor. The Democratic primary election is scheduled for Dec. 19. There are no candidates running under the Republican banner.
The 33-year-old was elected to the City Council in April, and says during his time as alderman he’s learned, “a whole lot about the limitations that are imposed upon municipalities by the state Legislature.”
“Our solutions and our ability to be creative are directly impacted by the state Legislature and the laws that are in place to restrict the flexibility of municipalities,” Tate said.
Tate believes his experience as an alderman gives him some intuition on how legislation could help or hurt local municipalities and plans on using that experience if elected.
Sister had impact on him
Before getting involved in politics, Tate said became a social worker and was driven to help people because of the experience his sister had growing up.
“She had some challenges … she was bullied badly in middle school,” Tate said. “My sister has been all throughout the system; she went to Lincoln Hills, she was in group homes … I saw the way the system works or doesn’t work, and how it has this profound impact on families.”
After graduating from The Prairie School in 2003, Tate went on to earn degrees in sociology and psychology from Marquette University and a master’s degree in social work from Loyola University.
Tate’s decision to run for alderman came from his experience working as a social worker in a group home for young men with behavior disabilities and mental disorders.
“What I was finding, as they were transitioning out of the youth services to adult services, what was available for them to meet their needs, their behavioral needs, their family’s needs, their daily living needs was significantly less than what was funded,” Tate said. “I understood that was a result of policy decisions, more often at the state level.”
From there he said he was driven to “want to be at the table advocating for people who are otherwise ignored or underrepresented.”
With a majority Republican state Assembly, Tate realizes that, if elected, many of his ideas would be “more or less dead on arrival,” but he would be interested in changing several things.
Tate said he would look to repeal the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program that was put into the 2017-19 biennial budget that would start the process of potentially breaking up the Racine Unified School District if it received a failing grade this year. That legislation is still technically in place for the district and could apply in the future.
“I don’t think that anvil needs to be hanging over the head of the Racine Unified School District,” Tate said. “That’s unnecessary and clearly the district has been working hard for years to reverse some trends.”
Tate said he would look to work with his Republican colleagues to improve the transportation system in the state.
“There’s a whole lot of places throughout Wisconsin that are struggling with their infrastructure, particularly as it relates to roads,” Tate said, adding that Racine is “so disconnected from our surrounding municipalities, there’s very little cooperation we can point to right now that says ‘This is a community,’ as opposed to ‘These are competing entities for limited resources.’ Which doesn’t have to be the case.”
With the Foxconn Technology Group building a massive manufacturing campus in in the Village of Mount Pleasant, Tate said he’ll look to make sure his potential constituents will have receive some positive results connected to Foxconn.
If elected in January, Tate hopes to make race and ethnicity something that’s considered when legislation is being voted on.
“Being elected alone, as a person of color in Racine, I think says something,” Tate said. “Race does matter and the decisions that are being made are going to affect people differently based on their race … if we’re not talking about race and the way it’s pervasive throughout our society and our politics, then we’re not talking about anything of reality.”