As a young student at Sauk Trail Elementary School in Middleton, Alex Joers could never have imagined that, in a couple of decades, he would have an office in the Wisconsin Assembly, advocating for public school investment.
But, that’s exactly what happened when Joers was elected to his first term in the Assembly this November.
A resident of the Blackhawk neighborhood in Madison, Joers represents the 79th District, which includes parts of the west side of the city of Madison and surrounding suburbs. He succeeds Dianne Hesselbein in the position, who was elected to represent the 27th Senate District this fall.
Although he has had the job for less than a month, Joers sees his first term as an opportunity to bring his constituents’ voices to a Republican-controlled Legislature he believes “does not represent the will of the people.”
“We have a lot of work to do to ensure that we're pushing for not only fair maps, but the policies that Wisconsinites care about,” Joers said, referencing Wisconsin’s notoriously Republican-heavy state district maps.
Reconnecting with Madison roots
Joers, 30, boasts a packed resume for his age. He earned degrees in political science and public administration at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2015, where he was also a member of student government and worked on voter engagement campaigns.
After his college years, Joers moved back to Madison to work as a policy aide for the likes of Democrats such as now-Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, former Sen. Jennifer Shilling and Hesselbein, according to his campaign website.
Joers also just began his second term representing District 9 on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, a position he was first elected to in 2020. During his time on the county board, Joers said he has prioritized ground-level issues that support healthy communities, including land conservation, flood mitigation, small business recovery, public health and affordable housing.
His priorities reflected his family’s background as small business owners. The Joers family opened The Little Gym in Middleton in 2004, according to his campaign website, giving Alex experience behind the scenes of a family-owned small business while leading activities and classes for children.
The business gave Alex “a unique perspective to be able to see the challenges small business owners face on a daily basis,” according to his campaign website.
At the height of the pandemic, Joers was part of a team to deliver millions in grant money to small businesses across the county to keep their doors open, according to WisPolitics. He was also active in the implementation of a gun buyback program last August in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting, according to the Cap Times.
However, Joers felt his priorities weren’t reflected on a state level, where policies like affordable healthcare and public school funding often face “huge roadblocks” in the Legislature.
Joers ran for Assembly to change that — and to “reconnect” with the people of the 79th District, who he felt were worried about democratic decay.
“[My constituents] were very concerned about our democracy and making sure that we had institutions that were representative of the people,” Joers said. “That's really what I'm here to do, is represent the will of the people and push for meaningful change in the state Legislature.”
Legislating in the minority
Joers now faces the challenge of getting his constituents’ voices heard in the 2023-25 biennial state budget. The Assembly will have a record state surplus of nearly $7 billion to work with — a sum Joers wants to give directly to municipalities for local public safety and public education investments.
Fulfilling campaign promises will be no easy feat for Joers, who sits in the minority of a 64-35 Republican-dominated Assembly. For Joers and fellow Democrats, working across the aisle will be necessary to pass any legislation.
Joers possesses a reserved optimism for bipartisanship. He noted there were “opportunities for us to work together and build bridges,” but that there were some key issues — notably, abortion and public school investments — he refused to compromise on.
“We need to start by making sure we get that [1849 abortion ban] off the books,” Joers said.
Investing in education
Joers looks to make a big impact on higher education, specifically through his seat on the Committee on Colleges and Universities this term. Investing in public schools is an issue that Joers feels “has to be a priority for Wisconsin if we want to build a better future for our kids”
Students in UW-Madison’s class of 2021 graduated with an average of over $27,000 in debt each, according to the university. Joers, a UW System graduate, took issue with the increasingly unaffordable cost of college.
His top priority on the Committee is to push for student loan debt advocacy bills that prevent students from “being taken advantage of” by lenders.
“That starts with making sure our UW System and technical colleges are funded in the way that they should be so students aren’t having to take out these huge loans to be able to seek a degree that they need to get a job,” Joers said.
The weeks since inauguration have been busy for Joers, who’s jumped between meetings while trying to settle into his new Capitol office. But for Joers, the people of the 79th District are always on his mind.
“I'm just really looking forward to the opportunity to do my best to bring the voice of the 79th district to the state legislature,” he said.