Democratic Socialists heading to the Wisconsin Assembly

MILWAUKEE — For the first time since the 1980s, Wisconsin will have Democratic Socialists in the state Capitol when Milwaukee sends two new legislators to the Assembly next year.

Darrin Madison and Ryan Clancy both won their Democratic primaries in August, and running unopposed in November, will represent the city’s north and east sides in the two seats vacated by Reps. David Bowen and Jonathan Brostoff.

This is not the first time either that Milwaukee has been represented by socialists. Former state Rep. Dismas Becker from a nearby district was the last socialist legislator in the Capitol until 1989 when he was replaced by now-U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore. The city also had a socialist mayor throughout the 1950s.

Madison and Clancy say they hope to take up the mantle of that legacy.

“The history of socialism in Milwaukee, and I think the state, generally is really a pragmatic one,” Clancy said.

It is not a connotation they shy away from either, even though conservatives often invoke socialism in their criticism of Democrats.

“Those who are socialists laid the foundation for so many things,” Madison said.

“The socialists in Milwaukee were labeled by their naysayers as sewer socialists, and they embraced that,” Clancy said. “These basic infrastructure things — like sewage, parks, housing.”

The modern version of that adds an economic component, according to Madison.

“It’s about ensuring that folks have access to full participation in our economy,” he said. “There’s so many access points, in which communities and working-class citizens are deprived of resources and the ability to live thriving lives.”

He added that does not preclude working across the aisle to achieve those goals.

“I’ve also worked with Republicans on several issues, as it relates to youth incarceration, as well as agriculture in our state,” Madison said.

That means, however, working within the existing two-party system.

“Folks a little bit to the left of mainstream Dems [like Democratic Socialists] are going to hold both Republicans and Democrats accountable,” Clancy said.

“I think socialism has promise in Wisconsin — is taking those big ideas, the Wisconsin Idea of great public education for everyone, the idea that we’re investing in sewers and parks and everything else, and return our focus to that,” he added.

This comes ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to Milwaukee on Labor Day, a traditional holiday to celebrate the labor movement.