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Democrat running to be state treasurer hopes mayoral experience can help him find compromise with GOP

Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson says he would promote financial literacy, home ownership

A "Vote Here" sign has an added sign about curbside voting
A sign at an in-person early voting location explains how to access curbside voting on Monday, July 27, 2020, in Janesville, Wis. Angela Major/WPR
Aaron Richardson
Aaron Richardson. Photo courtesy of aaronforwi.com

The Democrat running to be Wisconsin’s state treasurer said his experience as mayor of a Madison suburb would help him work with a Republican-led state Legislature in a role that has seen its powers limited over time.

Discussing his campaign recently on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show,” Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson said he’s had to work with residents from all political stripes.

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While Richardson said he wanted to continue the work of outgoing state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, he pledged promoting financial literacy and home ownership would be his top priorities.

The election is Nov. 8. Richardson’s opponent is Republican John Leiber.

The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Kate Archer Kent: What would your priorities be if elected state treasurer?

Aaron Richardson: It’s (to) continue the great work Sarah Godlewski has done. She has really shown the value of this. When the referendum (to eliminate the treasurer’s office failed in 2018), it was because people in the state recognized the value of that. She has done a lot of great things and I want to continue those.

I want to do a couple extra things. One, it makes sense to me that the treasurer is promoting financial education. I’m going to have some information on our website. A credit union based here in Dane County has won awards for financial literacy, and they have told me that they’ll give me all the materials they have. I can put that on the treasurer’s website, and I’ll promote that. We’ll obviously work with the Department of Financial Institutions (in) doing that, but there you have it in English, Spanish and Hmong.

I also want to promote homeownership. Sarah has done a great job helping people stay in homes, making repairs to their homes. I’d like to expand that to help our communities throughout the state … It’s more difficult than ever to own a home in this state.

KAK: How would you ensure this office stays relevant?

AR: It will be a challenge when the Republicans are going to continue to control the Legislature, both the Assembly and the Senate. I think for myself, it’s really being (an) advocate for people throughout the state and using my experience and knowledge both as the mayor and working in the business world.

Having a business degree from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and a Master of Business Administration from (the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater), I actually know this. I can speak to it, and I understand the impact of things that are happening to our budget.

READ MORE: Wisconsin treasurer race focuses on whether to expand the office

It makes a lot of sense for the treasurer to probably do a weekly YouTube (series) or podcast that talks about the impact of the budget and how it impacts communities throughout the state.

You look at something like shared revenue, where our communities have not gotten extra support from the Republican-led Legislature for years. And so, you have school districts going to referendum just to give teachers raises. You have communities throughout the state that can’t afford to give their employees raises and hire more people in the fire department, police department, public works and parks. That’s a very significant challenge and a problem throughout the state.

KAK: The Wisconsin treasurer’s office is one of the weakest in the nation. How would you be able to expand the office’s roles?

AR: It will be extremely difficult. I’m not here to say I’ve got some magic bullet. But that’s where my experience as the mayor comes in. I’m the mayor of the entire city of Fitchburg. There are people who are Republican, Democrat, libertarian, independent, and it’s really doing what is best for them and working with people from all walks of life. That’s an important skill I can bring to this role where I’m trying to work with people in the Legislature.

READ MORE: Politics coverage from Wisconsin Public Radio

There are a lot of things that this role can advocate for and can really get consensus. That’s my plan, to work with people from both sides of the aisle to really do what is best for communities throughout the state.

KAK: How would you distribute money that comes from a $1.4 billion trust fund within the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands?

AR: I don’t think there is a lot of change that needs to be done to that. I work in the Oregon School District in the technology department, and (I have) done some substitute teaching before that. So, working in the school district, I see how important it is that we’re giving every dollar we can to our libraries and to our schools throughout the state. They’re underfunded right now.