On Saturday, September 5th, gubernatorial candidate Mark Neumann met with local Hispanic leaders to listen and to field questions about education and the economy. My first impression of Neumann was positive. He showed a strong grasp of educational issues, and his ideas about business operations were innovative to say the least. Neumann is a strong fiscal conservative, and I would feel comfortable with him in the governor's mansion. That being said, let's get to the Q & A of the meeting.
Many questions were asked. Some focused on his private sector experience, the role of charter schools beyond Milwaukee, and the dilemmas that occur when undocumented residents begin to participate in society. Some of these issues were right up Neumann's alley, but some others clearly were not.
I asked Neumann what he thought of the Mayor takeover of MPS. I had mentioned the recent news release that the MPS board voted for a new Accountability Office. This not only implied there were accountability problems, but that the school board waited until there was a threat of a Mayoral takeover before they decided to address it. As I spoke of the MPS Board's recent vote, Sue Neumann (Mark's wife) nodded in agreement, but Mark was hesitant to put his foot down on either side.
He admitted that something needs to be done with MPS. He suggested that we ought to find the more successful schools in the area and use them as a model for replicating success. I pushed a little more and asked if he agreed more with the "turnover team" philosophy of Rose Fernandez or the "takeover" notion of Mayor Barrett, again he was reluctant to get involved in something so clearly in the early stages of development.
I also asked him what his thoughts were on tuition reimbursement for the children of illegal residents. Should these children, who have successfully graduated from high school and are qualified for a college admission, be disqualified from the same benefits that the children of "legal" residents enjoy? He admitted it was a good question, but didn't take the bait. He intimated that the purpose of our meeting was for him to hear our concerns and get a feel for our views on these important issues. So naturally, he wanted to hear our thoughts about the issue.
This was a smart move. The question wasn't easy to answer, but some of us feel pretty strongly about this issue. We don't want innocent children held accountable and penalized for the actions of their parents. If illegal residents are not deported, then it is better for society as a whole to provide their children with equal opportunities to be successful and to make solid contributions for generations to come. If they are penalized, however, it would contribute to a subculture of economic failure and possibly crime.
Case in point, a young Latino told Neumann that he was born here in the U.S., but his parents were illegal. When it came time to apply for financial aid, even though he was a legal citizen, he was still out of luck. His parents didn't have social security numbers, and it caused somewhat of a problem for him in terms of eligibility. Here was a situation where a student and legal resident was discriminated against because of the legal status of his parents. The testimony of this man really struck a cord with Neumann, who pursued the story with some follow up questions. Mark Neumann was clear, he stated that the system needs to be fixed, and when it comes to education, we need to reward those who are diligent.
Neumann is very much opposed to the Cap and Trade bill that lies idle in the Senate, but he disagrees with the dismissive manner of which the GOP regards the problem of carbon emissions. His view was to find some middle ground that takes a more environmental approach to creating sustainable jobs. He pointed to his own home building business. They not only build homes that save on energy costs, but they literally produce a surplus of energy that turns an actual profit. I don't recall all of the details, but they were rather impressive.
And finally, I asked him (yes, I wasn't shy about asking questions), what separated him, as a candidate, from Scott Walker. He admitted that he and Walker would likely vote the same way on most legislation, but his approach is much different. He said that Walker, like many other politicians, have spend a lot of time in public office. (Footnote: he qualified his statement by saying this was not meant as a criticism of Walker, but only about career politicians in general.) He said that his 10 year reprieve from politics and subsequent involvement in the private sector have given him insight and an edge on any candidate that has made a career out of politics.
He stressed the fact that he would bring a wave of innovative ideas into the governor's office. He pointed to his upcoming gubernatorial announcement and news conference using a web cam. He said this is undoubtedly the first time a candidate for governor was using the web for such a purpose. And he further added that with the current decline of newspapers, this would be a more practical solution to ensure that reporters were properly dispatched. There were more questions asked and ideas covered at the event, but unfortunately my memory does have its limitations.
Mark Neumann seemed like a very genuine guy with a lot of good ideas. I feel quite confident that whoever wins the Republican primary next year in the gubernatorial race would make an excellent governor. I wish them both good luck.