Political outsider hopes to unseat longtime incumbent in race for western Dane County Assembly seat

MADISON, Wis. — The 80th Assembly District is diverse, as both candidates hoping to represent it will tell you. It has Verona and Mount Horeb, and it’s both suburban and rural.

In this race a political outsider hopes to unseat a long-time representative.

“We need experienced people in there fighting for those issues,” said Rep. Sondy Pope, who is running to keep her seat, “not newcomers who are just really kind of clueless about the history of where we’ve been and where we’re going and how to get there.”

Pope hopes to show voters they should re-elect her next week, leaning on her 17 years of experience in the capitol advocating for public education.

She said voters should look at “my reputation for being a fighter and a scrapper and defending K-12 education because I feel it’s the foundation of our democracy, and I’ll fight through the end.”

Her opponent agrees on education funding, and small business owner Kimberly Smith has also made social justice a key part of her campaign, including the governor’s proposed policing reform and decriminalizing cannabis.

“I think those two things immediately can give relief to our criminal justice system,” Smith said. “I would like to see our prisons defunded to be honest.”

The two candidates agree racial justice should be tackled in the next legislative session, though they differ on what that means.

They also agree the legislature should keep working on unemployment.

“I know that people haven’t received their unemployment funding for 6 to 12 weeks, which is very concerning,” Smith said. “I have not seen a move from our government to address those issues.”

Pope and other Democrats have tried to repeal past unemployment reforms to try and speed up the claims process, but Republicans did not take up the proposals.

Smith thinks she could work with the other party better than what’s happening now.

“I get to build brand new relationships with people who I’m not at odds with but we have conflicting beliefs,” she said.

Pope has passed bipartisan bills, but she said the statehouse has changed. She said newcomers thinking everyone from both parties can come to the table to discuss policy are being naïve.

“The reality of the situation has to be taken into account,” Pope said. “We do the best we can and try to make every bill better if we can’t have our own bills heard or taken up.”

Gov. Tony Evers has endorsed Pope in this race. Whoever wins will have to face Republican Chase Binnie in November.

The primary is on Tuesday, Aug. 11. Thursday is the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots.