April 19, 2024

Wisconsin candidate, Mahlon Mitchell, is ready, set and able to be the state’s first Black governor

Mahlon Mitchell thegrio.com
Mahlon Mitchell credits Gwen Moore (pictured with him) as the reason why he’s running for governor of the state of Wisconsin. (Courtesy of Instagram)

Today, the polls are open for primary elections in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Vermont and Minnesota. As voters cast their ballots in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin, Mahlon Mitchell—the only Black candidate in the governor’s race—hopes to make history.

Mitchell is part of a wave of young African American gubernatorial candidates across the country, including Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Ben Jealous in Maryland and Andrew Gillum in Florida.

Mitchell, 41, a longtime firefighter, is a husband and father of two who grew up in Delavan, Wisconsin. He’s had an unlikely path to politics: raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, Mitchell didn’t vote once in his life until 2008 when he was inspired to support former President Barack Obama. 

In 2011, Mitchell was elected as the first and youngest African American to head the statewide firefighters union. That same year, he led colleagues and thousands of union members in a stand against sitting Republican governor Scott Walker‘s Act 10 – a union busting measure—even though the firefighters were exempt.

READ MORE: Charlottesville’s Mayor Nikuyah Walker talks about the long road of hope and healing in her city

In 2012, Mitchell ran for Lt. Governor in the state’s recall election and garnered 1.5 million votes. Today, he’s one of eight Democrats vying for the party nomination for governor.

If Mitchell (who’s in a distant second place in one recent poll) wins the primary, he’d be the state’s first African American nominee for governor, hoping to then face the Republican nominee in November. He speaks to theGrio.com about the biggest issue facing Black folks in Wisconsin and his plan to truly turn things around.   

TheGrio: You’ve been endorsed by Sen. Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, many unions and others, but you’re in a crowded primary field. Can you win and is Wisconsin really ready for a Black governor?

Mahlon Mitchell: I think so. In 2008, the state of Wisconsin voted for Barack Obama; he won by close to 14 points against John McCain. Then, four years later, Obama won by close to six points against Mitt Romney in our state. Then, Donald Trump won 22 counties in 2016 that went to Obama in 2012. We went for Trump this time, when we previously went for Obama, so we’re a purple state.

TheGrio: Of your 5.7 million residents, about nearly 7 percent are Black. What’s the biggest issue facing African Americans in your state?

Mahlon Mitchell: We have, unfortunately, the highest African American  male incarceration rate in the country. Wisconsin is putting more Black people behind bars than any other state in the country. Mostly for nonviolent drug offenses.

READ MORE: Racist man calls pregnant Black woman n-word on video and gets fired from medical center ‘You’re a n****r shut up!’

TheGrio: How do you plan to address that?

Mahlon Mitchell: Opportunities. Not everyone is getting a fair shake like everyone else depending on their zip code. For example, 53206 is a zip code in the city of Milwaukee where there’s poverty on top of poverty. And really, they don’t believe that anyone gives a damn about them. We need a boost in our economy. I want to actually [raise the minimum wage] to $15 dollars an hour.

TheGrio: What are some of your other priorities?

Mahlon Mitchell: We’ve got a government not taking care of its most vulnerable citizens. We have over 300,000 Wisconsinites who don’t have any healthcare whatsoever. Also, education, which is our greatest commodity for our children and their future. I have two kids myself that are in public schools. We need to do everything in our power to make sure every kid has a great education, regardless of their zip code, and socioeconomic status.

Mahlon Mitchell thegrio.com
Mahlon Mitchell was born and bred in Wisconsin. He now lives with his wife, April and two children, Sie’anna and Karson in Fitchburg.

TheGrio: What else would you do to bring about long-term, systemic change?

Mahlon Mitchell: Wisconsin is also dead last in start-up businesses. I actually want to create incubators in some of the most vulnerable communities in our state. In places like Sherman Park, where riots broke out after police killed a Black man in Milwaukee. There are lots of people doing good things, but they’re not getting any help. I want to be a catalyst for helping them to make real changes.

READ MORE: Omarosa’s Third Tape Released: Campaign aides plot about Trump n-word video

The Grio: You’ve been endorsed by Black political groups like The Collective PAC and BlackPAC. How’s the fundraising been?

Mahlon Mitchell: We raised over a million dollars. I come from house of labor. We’ve been endorsed by the AFL CIO, AFSCME, etc. We have an office in Milwaukee and we have a lot of Black volunteers who are energized and support is coming from across the state financially.

Mahlon Mitchell thegrio.com
Mahlon Mitchell currently serves as President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, the youngest and first African American to serve in the post. (Courtesy of Mahlon Mitchell for governor)

TheGrio: Thinking all the way to November, what will be your theme song if you win?

Mahlon Mitchell: I love hip hop and old school R&B like the O’Jays, Temptations, Al and Green, but I also actually love pop music too like Katy Perry and The Backstreet Boys. [Laughter] So, we’ll see.


Donna Owens is an award-winning multi-platform journalist.  

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