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Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009

New Leadership, New Priorities

State Rep. Barbara Toles talks about the new Legislature

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After Democrats won control of the state Assembly in November, it was assumed that Milwaukee’s representatives would hold more power. Yet, once the secret ballots were counted, Milwaukee’s Democratic representatives were shut out of top leadership positions. But Milwaukee Democrat Barbara Toles said that new Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) intends to help Milwaukee in the next session. Toles introduced Sheridan to the Milwaukee County Labor Council recently, where he listened to concerns about job creation and retention. Toles talks about Sheridan’s visit, as well as her priorities as chair of the Workforce Development Committee, in this ShepherdQ&A.

Shepherd: What can you tell us about new Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan?

Toles: When he was here, when we were together, we were really focused on Milwaukee. I was happy to see and to hear that we have a speaker who is going to be responsive to people. I believe that he will be responsive to the Milwaukee delegation and is looking forward to working with us to address the issues that Milwaukee has to deal with, as well as the statewide issues. To have a speaker come to Milwaukee and talk to the labor groups—it’s new to us. When I say that, it may not be new to the Republicans in Milwaukee, but as a Democrat, it was new to me. I don’t want to make it appear that [former Republican Assembly Speaker] Mike Huebsch never came to Milwaukee. But he wasn’t here with me.

Shepherd: What do you make of Sheridan’s visit?

Toles: This demonstrates to me that [Sheridan] really intends to help us address some of the issues we have here; certainly, the work-related issues. When you think about the GM plant closing, he knows firsthand, based on the community he lives in, what happens to people when they lose their jobs. I said, “This just happened to GM. But this has been going on in Milwaukee for decades.” He definitely understands that. I think that [Sheridan] gets it. That to me is critical, when you know what’s going on in the lives of everyday people.

Shepherd: Many people were concerned about Milwaukee being shut out of the Assembly leadership this session. Does that concern you?

Toles: Sheridan may not understand some of Milwaukee’s issues the way that we do. He probably doesn’t even know about all of them, the way that we do here. But I think that’s where the Milwaukee delegation comes in. We need to be more unified and come together. We have different personalities in our delegation, different thoughts. We don’t always agree on everything. That’s OK. But we need to get together on the issues that affect Milwaukee and learn how to set some of our differences aside and look at how we can work together.

Shepherd: You are going to chair the Assembly Workforce Development Committee. What will be your priorities there?

Toles: You hear people say that there aren’t any jobs in Milwaukee. But there are jobs. Then you hear people say that there are jobs, but they can’t find people to fill them. I’m going to try to connect with CEOs at companies and talk to them about their employment needs, the skills they’re looking for. I’ve got a technical college background [as a former adjunct faculty member] and I understand their mission to prepare a skilled workforce.

[…] Of course, we are looking at a $5.4 billion deficit, so there will be some cuts. We have some challenging times ahead of us and we’ll have some tough choices to make. So the Milwaukee delegation has to come together to see to it that the programs that are helping the people of Milwaukee do not get cut. That would be devastating to Milwaukee.

What’s your take?

Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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