MADISON – Democratic state Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee is facing a primary challenge from Michelle Bryant, a longtime aide to another Milwaukee Democrat.
The two will face off in the Aug. 11 primary for Senate District 6 on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Johnson has held the position since she was elected in 2016, after being a part of the state Assembly for two terms.
Bryant is a staff member for Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, who represents an adjacent district.
Republicans are expected to keep their hold on the state Senate this year, despite seven of the state’s 33 senators stepping down or not seeking reelection.
But while the partisan makeup may remain the same, the fall elections will reshape the Senate and introduce some new personalities.
Bryant would be one of them if she defeats Jonhson in the primary and Republican Alciro Deacon in the Nov. 3 general election.
After Milwaukee offered only five polling places in the April election for state Supreme Court, as opposed to its normal 180, and seeing her district turn into a “hot spot” for COVID-19, Bryant said she’s ready to make some real change.
“I felt like our current representative has been silent on a number of issues. The role of a state senator, even though the primary role is to affect law, (is) to advocate and provide information to your constituents,” Bryant said.
“I like Sen. Johnson as a person — but as an advocate, I needed something different.”
Bryant said a lot of her policy positions are similar to Johnson’s. Where they stray, however, is on mandatory minimum sentencing.
Johnson sponsored legislation in the Assembly in 2015 that created mandatory minimum sentencing for violent offenders caught with guns. It was signed into law later that year.
Bryant said she “vehemently disagrees” with the senator’s position.
“It was completely frustrating watching an African American woman advocate for mandatory sentences when we understand the disparities in incarceration and policing in communities of color,” Bryant said. “Decisions are being made in Madison and don’t reflect what’s happening on the ground.”
Johnson said her track record speaks for itself.
In her freshman term as a legislator, she passed 13 bills into law and is one of four Democrats on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee — the most powerful committee in the Legislature.
The upcoming state Senate term will be extremely important, according to Johnson, because of the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest in Milwaukee.
Her goal for another term would be addressing the disparities that have “been allowed to fester for decades” in the African American and Latino communities brought to light by the pandemic, she said.
“We’re going to need someone at the table who has the ability to negotiate and compromise in order to get things done for Milwaukee. I have that,” Jonhson said.
“Ms. Bryant is running on the assumption of what she believes she will be able to do.”