Spencer Coggs is running for lieutenant governor to create jobs and improve how state government runs. But the Milwaukee state senator said his biggest asset may be getting Tom Barrett elected governor.
During a visit to Racine on Friday, Coggs said he could help Barrett shore up support among minority Democrats in Milwaukee who are upset the Milwaukee mayor tried to take over the city's public school system.
Coggs (right) said the same Democrats who are upset at Barrett will trust him to overlook the Milwaukee Public Schools' issue and vote for Barrett in November. (For his part, Coggs said he supported a "partnership" with the Administration and School Board to reform MPS, not a "takeover.")
"If anyone sits on their hands because of the MPS takeover, that is a vote for Scott Walker (the leading Republican candidate for governor)," Coggs said.
Coggs visited Racine Friday to eat lunch at Gus's Gyros on the north side and to meet with local pastors. It's part of his full-time, statewide campaign to win the Democratic primary in Sept. 14 and the general election on Nov. 2.
Coggs is one of six Democrats running to replace Democrat Barbara Lawton, who is not seeking re-election. Other candidates include: State Rep. Thomas Nelson, Kaukauna, Henry Sanders, Jr., Waunakee, and James L. Schneider, Gotham, Wis. The winner of the partisan primary will advance to take one one of four Republican candidates, who include: Ben Collins of Lake Geneva; Brett Davis, Oregon; Rebecca Kleefisch, Oconomowoc; and Dave Ross, Superior.
Coggs is a veteran legislator who has served 27 years in the state Capitol, including 20 in the Assembly and the last seven in the Senate. A Milwaukee native, he is part of an active political family that currently has members serving in the state Assembly and Senate and on the Milwaukee City Council and County Board.
Coggs has used his popularity in Milwaukee to reach out around the state. Often running unopposed in his own district, Coggs said he worked on campaigns throughout Wisconsin to maintain his skills and to help get Democrats elected. He's counting on his past experiences in southeastern Wisconsin, Green Bay and Madison to help get his name out across the state.
Coggs said as lieutenant governor he could focus on bringing jobs to Wisconsin, particularly small businesses, which employee 80 percent of the state's employees.
Coggs also said he would serve as a liaison between the governor's office and the Legislature, which has had lapses in communication in recent years. He said his long-time relationship with Democrats and Republicans would help state government run smoother.
"Last budget cycle the governor vetoed some items that created hard feelings," Coggs said. "... I'd make sure we don't have those lapses in communication."
One of the items the governor vetoed in the last budget would have created a regional transit authority in southeastern Wisconsin. Democrats in the Legislature thought they had an agreement, but Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the plan. Coggs said he supported the RTA for Milwaukee.
Coggs got involved with politics through AFSCME union. He was elected union steward and then threw his hat in for an open Assembly seat in Milwaukee. Coggs lost his first election, which proved to be a pivot point in his life. He said candidates who lose have two paths: 1.) Leave politics forever; or 2.) Work harder. Coggs said he was the latter.
"I had this burning desire," Coggs said. "I realized how many people are affected by the process. Politics is a tool to effect change."
It helped that Coggs' family was heavily involved in Milwaukee politics. His uncle, Isaac Coggs," was known as "Mr. Civil Rights" and was one of the first black senators in Wisconsin. His aunt, Marcia Coggs, was the first black woman elected to the state Assembly and the first African-American to serve on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee. A building in Milwaukee is named after Marcia Coggs.
Also, Coggs' family member Leon Young serves in the Assembly, his niece, Elizabeth Coggs, the daughter of Marcia and Isaac Coggs, serves on the Milwaukee County Board and a second niece, Milele Coggs, serves on the Milwaukee City Council.