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John Nichols: Francesca Hong's truth-telling politics

John Nichols: Francesca Hong's truth-telling politics

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Francesca Hong, the co-owner of Morris Ramen on King Street, is all but guaranteed to represent Wisconsin's 76th Assembly District.

Francesca Hong will transform the state Assembly for the better.

She will do so with a radical determination to go to the heart of matters that too many legislators have neglected for too long. That will cause controversy, and earn the progressive Democrat from the heart of Madison more than her share of criticism. That’s what happens when a new legislator speaks truth to power and upsets the defenders of a broken status quo.

Hong, the Democratic nominee to replace former state Rep. Chris Taylor as the representative from the Assembly’s 76th District, is all but certain to win in November. She’s confident enough to be campaigning for other Democratic contenders around the state, following in the footsteps of one of her savviest predecessors in the seat, now-Congressman Mark Pocan.

Like Pocan, Hong knows that representatives who hold so-called “safe” seats in Madison and Milwaukee need to work to build the party’s statewide bench. She also knows that representatives from “safe” seats should not play it safe on the issues.

To that end, Hong is taking on the powerful interests that often get a pass from both parties. That’s what the veteran hospitality industry worker did last week when she called out the Tavern League of Wisconsin.

Hong has been outspoken on the need to tackle the coronavirus pandemic head on, and she was frustrated with the League’s decision to sue Gov. Tony Evers' administration over state limits on the number of customers bars and restaurants may serve at one time.

“Please note that the corrupt, crooked, c***s at The Tavern League do not represent the interests of all bars and restaurants,” tweeted the chef, restaurant operator and organizer of service-industry workers. “Since March I have pleaded that we need united messaging, a plan and policy in place to protect public health and local economy. We still have neither.”

Status-quo politicians and pundits griped about Hong’s use of a profane word. But her blunt language drew attention to a serious issue — as did Pocan’s, when last week he reacted to Republican sniping at Evers with a tweet that announced, “Sen. Steve Nass is a dumbs**t. Period. Maybe if the @gop ever went into session and did their jobs he would be exposed to the reality in our state regarding Covid. Honestly, no time for stupidity right now.”

Hong is an exceptionally thoughtful and effective activist who has a proven track record of building coalitions and getting things done. She’s not casual in her use of language. She chooses to stir things up because things need to be stirred up.

That’s the mark of a leader who knows exactly what she is doing. Hong understands that controversy draws attention to problematic parts of our politics, and the efforts of business lobbyists and GOP legislators to undermine public health measures in the midst of a pandemic are unquestionably problematic. As Hong said, “A swear word might break political decorum. So I'll stop using it when they drop their lawsuit against Governor Evers' capacity limits. I said what I said.”

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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