One of the best aspects to living in Madison is when you cast a vote in an election, it’s not the typical predicament of choosing the lesser of two evils, but rather the boldest of the best. A case in point is the special election on Tuesday, July 12, to fill the vacant seat in the 48th District of the State Assembly. There are six excellent candidates running to represent this liberal district — no Republicans or Independents vying for the seat; so whoever wins the primary is the de facto winner in the general election next month. But in this field of six, one alone stands above the rest: Andy Heidt.
Andy is the only candidate I’ve heard talk sensibly and passionately about out-of-the-box ideas like a North Dakota-style State Bank or a single-payer healthcare system similar to Vermont. As “wild” or unlikely as these may sound in the current political climate, if someone doesn’t champion them, who will? Andy is a dreamer, yes, but one borne not of wisps; firmly on the ground, his shoes are scuffed from experience and results. At his current job of ombudsman for the Dane County Department of Human Services, Andy tirelessly gets the job done, whether it’s protecting the Badger Prairie Health Care Center or scraping together increasingly scarce resources to find Family Unification Program (FUP) housing for families in need. He’s a people-first guy, even when that means sometimes overriding his own colleagues. That’s the kind of independent judgment needed in the State Legislature: someone who always has the best interests of the people in hand, even if it bristles against conventional wisdom or partisan loyalty.
Andy has called out for repealing the amendment to the state constitution discriminating against gay and lesbian couples. He has called out for mining moratoriums in Ashland and Iron Counties so that transnational corporations can’t just gouge the land for a quick buck and leave decades of pollutants behind. He has protested the privatization of FoodShare (food stamps) while advocating for urban farms and increased education in sustainable agriculture. He has condemned the proposed motion for Wisconsin to adopt an Arizona-style anti-immigration/ racial profiling policy. The list goes on. (For more info, you can look up his website here.)
Heidt is a fighter, always has been. From his days on the Madison City Council to his current post as ombudsman — up to and including the founder and president of AFSCME Local 1871 — Andy has fought the good fight. Maybe it’s in his blood — his mother was a member of the Impeach Nixon Committee in Illinois and worked with Ralph Nader on the National Consumers’ Union, a mantle he’s carried admirably. He’s as fed up with the way things are right now as you or I, and has led a truly grassroots campaign offering something beyond partisanship.
In these awful times, it’s easy for a progressive to be anti-Walker. (Do you have a pulse? A conscience? A beating (not a bleeding) heart? Then you’re in the clear.) But it will take far more than merely being against everything that Scott Walker is for to make a difference. My two cats can pass that litmus test. Hell, the house plants, too. To be sure, nothing should be taken for granted, and every countervailing voice against Walker is a godsend these days. And truth be told, whoever wins this seat will be good and much needed. But the rare opportunity lies in choosing someone who is not a run-of-the-mill Democrat, not an anti-Walker talking points politico. Andy is a true radical — it’s his best attribute and possibly his one setback. He’s a Flaming Lips fanatic, but one who takes his teenage son to the show for him to experience, too. He waxes philosophy with the best of them, but will stop in mid-speech to point out a rare songbird, and then listen in silent reverence. That’s Andy.
I myself don’t even live in the 48th District, so I can’t cast a vote. But from the get-go I have been a volunteer for Andy, not simply because he is a friend; I’d have only cut a check to his campaign and wished him well if that were the case. No, it’s because Andy inspires me, because he improbably replenishes my hope in politics and the elected officials who represent us. Many of those running for this vacant seat in the State Assembly are doing so in response to the rapid and rabid attack against the middle class and struggling families across the state, thanks to Scott Walker and the folded Republicans in his thrall. But only one is so ensouled with the spirit of the rallies and demonstrations, the vigils, marches, testimonies, signs, speeches, and sleep-ins, someone who wants to go forward (again), not back to how it was. If you stand with Wisconsin, you should stand with Andy.