State Rep. Francesca Hong (D), who represents the 76th Assembly District which includes portions of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, is seeking reelection in the upcoming Nov. 8 election.
Hong, who co-owns Morris Ramen in downtown Madison, became the first Asian American member of the Wisconsin Legislature when she was elected in 2020.
She is running unopposed in the Nov. 8 election and is set to secure a second term in the Assembly where she plans to continue strengthening past policies as well as directing more attention to student specific concerns such as social justice, economic justice and housing justice.
Hong sat down with The Daily Cardinal to reflect on her goals and successes of her first term in office, plans for the upcoming session and student initiatives in voting and government.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
You were elected for your first term in 2020, the same year the pandemic first hit the United States. What about the way in which our government was dealing with COVID at the time inspired you to run?
I think there were some clear failures in leadership in the [Wisconsin] Legislature on the side of my opponent or my Republican colleagues, obstructing [Gov. Tony Evers’] ability to implement really meaningful public health measures.
As a small business owner, my ability to care for my employees, help them get to unemployment, ensure that there were basic services that were going to be available — a lot of that stuff was coming from the city and county level. They needed support from the state level, and it wasn’t coming. It was really that failure in leadership at the state legislative level that compelled me to run, where I would have the ability to help care for the community that I represent, which is the service industry.
What other goals did you set for your first term? Looking back, do you feel you were successful in achieving them?
I really wanted [to focus on] social justice, economic justice and the connection between the two. When we were able to pass the Asian American Heritage Month resolution recognizing Asian American Heritage Month, I felt like it was one of the biggest accomplishments because it's never been recognized before in the Legislature.
The goal really is to continue to make sure that our legislation is passed through a social and economic justice lens.
Was there anything that surprised you as a new state representative?
This wasn't a surprise as much as a moment that brought me hope for the work that happens in the Legislature, being that I still fully believe in the power of conversation. There would be moments on the Assembly floor where I would just sit next to someone and strike up a conversation.
I ended up talking to a Republican colleague for almost an hour about shortening our supply chains, increasing our reliance on local products and helping to stimulate economic development in our communities. He's from a much more rural part of this state, and we actually came together on a lot of issues when it came to supporting small businesses and local businesses.
And so that, I think, would be surprising for a lot of other people to know that we are having these conversations.
How do you find ways to stay positive as a member of the minority party in the Assembly?
I stay positive because I know that we are on the side of what the majority of Wisconsinites are demanding and asking for. High quality education, more affordable housing and ensuring folks have good quality jobs and places where they can raise their families the way they would like to. When they want to expand their families, they [should] have the freedom to do so.
When we can't pass legislation, we know that there is community work in the grassroots happening on the ground that we can support locally. The more we can engage and better understand the issues, the better we can fight for them in the Legislature. [It’s] just being grounded in community, and knowing that we represent the majority of what Wisconsinites want.
What are some goals that you’re looking to accomplish during the upcoming session?
I think the most important piece of legislation we'll be reintroducing is the Healthy School Meals For All Bill. During the pandemic, the federal waivers implemented a free school lunch and snack available to all kids. We would like to see the state funding to continue it because that was listed in June 2022.
Then, [we’re] focusing on social justice, climate justice and housing justice. We know that housing is an issue that directly impacts working folks and young people. I want to make sure we're working with local governments looking at diversity in housing and community land trust. There are a lot of multifaceted solutions.
What are you most excited about for the next legislative session?
We have, I believe, over 30 members who will be brand new on both sides of the aisle. We have quite a few incumbents who are not running, so I'm looking forward to building new relationships.
I think it's also important to remember to better understand our rural communities and what impacts them, especially when it comes to conservation. Small farms and local economies actually are connected to what's going on in the cities as well. I'm looking forward to [building] those relationships and better understanding issues with new representation.
We'll continue to work in the community and build coalitions. When you can't pass policy, you’ve got to change the culture.
What advice would you give to students and young people alike who want to become involved in government but feel as though they lack experience?
I’m a firm believer in not asking permission to lead. Those with the lived experiences that are closest to the issues are some of the best to speak to those experiences.
As someone who doesn't have as much political experience as some of my colleagues, as someone who comes from a working class background and service industry background, I still work in speaking to the issues that impact my team, our business, our relationship to the community. That makes me a strong legislator.
I would encourage young people and students to really tell the story. Talk about what the consequences are, if there are no solutions to the issues that are impacting you. Remember that leadership is both a matter of taking up space and also learning how you're relating to the people around you. That makes you a strong leader, not so much just your experience in government.
What do you think the benefits are of having younger voices in office positions?
Having multigenerational representation in government is critical, again, for folks to speak to both the experiences and how we can find better multifaceted solutions to issues like housing, climate and building careers, instead of just focusing on family-supporting jobs. You have folks with more experience, who may challenge that in certain ways, but if we cannot have that debate, our solutions to some of our issues are going to continue to reflect those who only have certain experiences, whether that be more white or upper middle class or wealthier.
Why is it so important that students vote in the upcoming election this November?
This is the most important election of our lifetime. I think students understand that their freedoms are what's at stake — your freedom to choose when to expand your family, your freedom to have a planet that is going to be habitable for your future kids in neighborhoods that are safe. Young people value safety, care, housing and their future, and they should absolutely have a say in it.
I think the agency and the power that young people feel is often not something that we and other generations value as much. And so to show up to vote is a recognition that your vote is your power.
Get involved with your legislators. Agitate them, make sure they're listening. It makes us better representatives when we hear from you.