Meet One of the Women Leading in the Wisconsin State Legislature
After growing up with parents who were educators, Wisconsin state Rep. LaKeshia Myers was exposed to challenging conversations about topics like the economy and apartheid in South Africa from a young age. Her parents were also both active in their local union and in the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, and involved their daughter in that world.
After seeing the decline of her suburban Milwaukee community during her college years, Myers decided she wanted to take action and get involved in politics. After years of interning and working for multiple politicians, she ran her own campaign. Using grassroots efforts and door-to-door campaigning, Rep. Myers was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2018, becoming one of only two black women in the Wisconsin legislature.
Supermajority News recently spoke with Rep. Myers about the rise of her career, the strides being made in terms of inclusivity in the Wisconsin state legislature, and the importance of having women in politics.
When did you decide to pursue a career in politics?
I worked for our state senator, Senator Taylor, [after college] and I thought this was something I may excel in. I like interacting with people and seeing how the different levels of government work in concert with each other. From here, I made the determination that I would attempt to run for office at some point.
When and why did you decide to run for office?
My community continued to decline. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, [in a part of the city that] used to be one of the most thriving communities. The neighborhood that I lived in, Grandville, was [and still is] the most suburban part of the city. It is the best of both worlds: you have a city address with suburban amenities. We had a shopping mall in our neighborhood that was a big part of entertainment life.
After I graduated high school, the mall closed and I could see in rapid fashion the decline of the area. We started to lose store after store and entertainment venue after entertainment venue. The same hard-working people were still there but they had to travel further and further to have goods and services.
When I called my state representatives, I never received a call back. I remember explaining my frustration to my mom that these things were happening and nobody was doing anything about it. She has this saying that if you want something done and done well, do it yourself. I took that statement and applied it to this situation: I registered to run in the Democratic primary. I wanted to be more responsive to people of the community and do more than one thing at a time, meaning not just focus on big-picture items. I aimed to create an environment where you can pick up the phone and call your state representative to talk about legislation. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. [Now,] I gather input from my constituency by answering office phone calls, writing response letters, or even communicating on Facebook. It is about working in my best interest for my community.
What are some of the issues that are at the forefront of your advocacy?
I am concerned about the lack of accessibility in employment. [There are jobs] in our rural communities that [are unable to be filled]; yet in the cities, people are seeking employment and do not have a way to get [it]. Transportation and workforce development go together. We do not have high-speed railways or a regional transit authority in our state and we are becoming economically suffocated. We are operating in a twentieth-century modality. Unfortunately, we have people who do not want us to catch up. There are a lot of things that Wisconsin can offer the rest of the country and the world. We must stop getting in our own way and that comes from leadership in both chambers of the legislature.
What are your biggest accomplishments working for the Wisconsin government?
My biggest accomplishments are the three pieces of legislation that I passed in the beginning of my career regarding education, which received bipartisan support. Also, I helped improve conditions for our senior citizens and advocated for extended healthcare.
[I also advocate for] equity and inclusion in our state legislature. Wisconsin is a very unique state. I think we have a lot to offer, but we have struggled when it comes to equity and inclusion and accessibility. I am one of seven African Americans in the [Wisconsin] state legislature, and one of two black women. Currently, there are three Hispanic people serving in the state legislature, and we do not have any Asian people or Indigenous people.
I am happy to see a lot more people of color starting to run for office. If all goes well in January, we will have nine members for the legislative Black Caucus and we will have our first Asian American member from the Dane County area. Furthermore, the first Muslim to serve in the Wisconsin state legislature just won.
How do you think being a woman, specifically one of the only two black women, in the Assembly has impacted your experiences?
I know in the Democratic Caucus we achieved parity at one point where we had half and half as far as women and men represented. However, the struggle is real on the Republican side. They do not have many women serving in the legislature. Hopefully, that will continue to change and more women will run for office, regardless of party. Women get things done and we will put things aside to do work. I think work is sometimes slowed down because of bravado with the men. I believe we will have a more inclusive legislature in the upcoming years where there will be more women of color.
Why do you think there is a smaller number of women in the Wisconsin Assembly?
In general, it is more difficult for women to run for office because of traditional gender roles. Women are more reluctant to run for office if they have a family, so I think that may be a part of it. Or, even the fact that running for office can be very expensive. I believe this also impacts the age of our legislature. On the Republican side, most of the women are retired people or over the age of 50, so maybe they waited longer to run for office.
Do you have advice for young women who want to pursue a career in politics?
Just start. Politics is open. It is something you can find your niche in. There are people who work in politics every day that will never run for office. Running for office is the visual part of politics. There are a lot of moving parts that happen behind the scenes and we could not do what we do without having Chief of Staff or without having lawyers that work with the Legislative Reference Bureau or having the bureau agents that crunch the numbers for us whenever we have an idea. I think all of that makes a big difference and allows for opportunities to get started.