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Shelia Stubbs becomes first African-American to represent Madison in Wisconsin Assembly

Shelia Stubbs becomes first African-American to represent Madison in Wisconsin Assembly

Shelia Stubbs

Democrat Shelia Stubbs celebrates with supporters after winning the 77th Assembly seat. 

Declaring herself a “game changer,” Dane County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs sailed to victory in the Democratic primary for the 77th Assembly District Tuesday. She will not face a Republican opponent in the November general election and will be the first African American from Dane County elected to the state Legislature.

Stubbs, a 12-year County Board veteran, grabbed nearly 50 percent of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting, besting a field of four Democrats that included immigration attorney Shabnam Lotfi (36 percent), Wisconsin Environmental Initiative director and Shorewood Hills trustee John Imes (7.8 percent), and Wisconsin Brewers Guild director Mark Garthwaite (6.2 percent).

“I’m excited to get work done during these very difficult and challenging times that we have right now,” she told a group of about 100 supporters at the Sheraton Hotel near the Alliant Energy Center on the south side. “I feel very passionate, I feel effective, and most of you know I am bold when necessary. So we will make some changes in the state of Wisconsin.”

Stubbs will enter the Legislature at a time when Democrats will almost assuredly remain in the minority. The party is currently at a 64-35 disadvantage in the Assembly — though Republicans hold a narrow three-seat advantage in the Senate heading into November. Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker also faces an uphill battle to fend off Democratic nominee Tony Evers, whom recent polling suggests is leading Walker.

While campaigning for universal background checks for gun buyers, defending abortion rights, universal access to health care, worker rights, strengthening the social safety net and beefing up environmental protections, Stubbs said there are areas of common ground with Republicans where she can get things done.

A former parole agent and educator, she has focused her campaign on criminal justice reform and diverting funding for prisons to education, a policy she said could win Republican support.

She said tackling the opioid crisis is another area where she can make headway with bipartisan support by building on the Republican Hope Agenda, a package of laws backed by both parties funding prevention and treatment efforts.

“I look forward to being part of that conversation and really addressing addiction and substance abuse,” she said.

Stubbs attributed her win to her years of experience on the County Board, where she’s spearheaded efforts to address racial disparities, including the Restorative Justice Court, which aims to hold young offenders accountable without bringing them into the criminal justice system.

She said she plans to take those efforts to the state level. 

She also successfully pushed for requiring sexual harassment training for all county employees.

“The County Board is an awesome opportunity to get to understand the structure at the state level,” she said.

The first to enter the race after 20-year Democratic Rep. Terese Berceau announced her retirement in February, Stubbs garnered endorsements from an array of former and current elected officials, including Berceau, former County Executive Kathleen Falk, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, several Democratic state legislators and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan. She was also backed by Madison Teachers Inc., the state teachers union WEAC, Firefighters Local 311 and AFSCME.

A native of Beloit, Stubbs is a long-time resident of the Simpson Street neighborhood, a formerly troubled enclave that has seen a turnaround. She’ll be representing a diverse west-side district that runs the gamut between challenged neighborhoods and well-heeled areas like the University Heights, Shorewood Hills and the Midvale neighborhood.

She currently lives on the city's south side with her husband, Bishop Godfrey Stubbs, and their 9-year-old daughter. 

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.

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