Jonathan Brostoff: An open letter to constituents of the 19th Assembly District after 8 years of state service
To the people of the 19th Assembly District,
As I near the end of my time as your State Representative, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the last eight years.
I came to Madison with one goal – to serve the people of the 19th Assembly District by providing effective, progressive leadership within the halls of the State Capitol. I believe that I met that goal. While there is still much work to be done at the State level by my colleagues and Governor Evers over the years to come, there are a few specific successes from my time in office that I will always cherish and would like to share with you.
Back in 2015, I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman legislator, ready to get to work for my constituents and the people of Wisconsin. I knew that our politics were polarized, and I knew that it would be tough to find good-faith partners across the aisle, but I didn’t let that stop me.
I worked hard to build relationships with Republican colleagues and find common ground on issues that bridged the political divide, and I am happy to say that I succeeded – that first session, I was thrilled to see 2015 Act 277, which I had worked tirelessly on with then-Rep. Joel Kleefisch, make it to former Governor Walker’s desk. Rep. Kleefisch and I didn’t agree on much politically, but we both agreed that establishing uniform regulations on unarmed combat sports in Wisconsin would not only improve the safety of competitors, it would also help cement the Milwaukee area as a world-class destination for high-profile combat sport events.
That early legislative win, another bipartisan success in passing important Alzheimer’s care legislation, and a handful of other positive experiences showed me that there was a path to legislating from the minority.
By my second term, I had my feet under me, and I was ready to make an even bigger legislative push. For years, I had worked with the Deaf and sign language interpreter communities, and I knew that in order to serve those communities better, we desperately needed to address and adjust how sign language interpreters were licensed in Wisconsin.
And so, together, we got to it. I worked with the Deaf and sign language interpreter to communities to understand the nuances of their licensing issues and shape legislation that would address those issues, found partners across the aisle who could help us refine that legislation and shepherd it through the committee process in both chambers, and worked hard to build awareness and buy-in from both my colleagues and the Deaf and interpreter communities.
We even pulled together the first “Deaf Lobby Day,” where we hosted members of the Deaf and interpreter communities from all around the state at the Capitol, connecting with community members about the legislation and encouraging them to advocate for its passage by visiting legislative offices. That Session, I was unbelievably proud to see our bill pass the Assembly unanimously – and I was equally heartbroken when a single holdout kept that bill from the Senate Floor.
But I didn’t let that deter me from the important work we had started. I believed in that bill so much that I went so far as to make a pledge you may remember, I vowed not to cut my hair until we got it passed! A pledge that helped generate national and even international attention for the cause.
The next Session, we got right back to work. We refined the language of the bill further, we continued coalition-building, and we kept up the pressure. In June of 2019, I had the honor of delivering the first-ever speech in the Assembly in American Sign Language, just before my Assembly colleagues once again voted unanimously to pass this critical piece of legislation. The following week, the State Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill as well. And a couple weeks later, after a much-needed haircut, I was honored to stand with colleagues, members of the Deaf and interpreter communities, and my son Boaz (who wasn’t even born when our fight for interpreter licensure began) as Governor Tony Evers signed our bill into law as 2019 Act 17.
Beyond those fights, among plenty of others, I’m incredibly proud of the work myself and others did to maintain strong regulatory licensing and oversight in our state, despite consistent attacks from both within the Capitol and outside of it. In 2018, I worked incredibly hard alongside licensed professionals and supporters to defeat an attempt by the Republicans to undermine wages and consumer safety through what they innocuously titled a “sunset review process” that would have ended professional licensing for many important professions.
In 2020, we did it again when Republicans tried to institute a “sunrise review process” that would have hamstrung future attempts to regulate other professions, both already existing as well as emerging. And just this Session, we stood strong in support of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, highlighting their important work and the incredible good they do for licensed professions and the consumers and citizens that seek out licensed professionals.
Despite Republican attempts this year to turn the Committee on Regulatory Licensing Reform into a kangaroo court targeting DSPS, we were able to expose and highlight how it was a combination of Republican inaction and a consistent choice by Republicans to defund and restrict DSPS that led to struggles at DSPS and the licensing backlog affecting our communities. Licensing was, is, and will continue to be an issue that touches all of us. I am and will always be proud of the work that we did to ensure its continued survival in Wisconsin, and our success, despite all that was stacked against us.
But more than anything, more than the wins, the struggles, and everything in between, I am most struck by a sense of gratitude. Nine years ago, you entrusted me with the honor of a lifetime – representing not just my hometown, but the very neighborhoods that raised me, as I charted my path from Milwaukee to the State Capitol in Madison. For that, all I can say is thank you, and I hope that I have served you well.
Ever in service,