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Milwaukee's Political Clout (Or Lack Thereof)

Henryk Sadura

If you look at the population of Wisconsin and then at the leadership in state government, you’ll notice at least one significant disconnect. Milwaukee is by far the state’s largest city, but the city itself has few residents in leadership roles - particularly in the Legislature.

Writer Joe Potente says it’s a sign of the city’s diminishing political clout at the statewide level. He wrote an article featured in the current issue of Milwaukee Magazine about this phenomenon. 

"Political clout circa 2017 is just the ability to get anything done, which probably hasn't changed since 1917," he says. "I think where Milwaukee's interesting is as a result of demographics...There are just fewer Milwaukeeans sitting in the state Legislature than there were a decade or two ago, and some political things compound that situation."

Potente notes that the City of Milwaukee, not the Greater Milwaukee area, was the focus of decline in representation. For example, in 1977, Milwaukee had 17 members in the State Assembly and six in the Senate, whereas today only 11 members are in the Assembly and four are represented in the Senate.

Some catalysts that attribute to the decline in representation, Potente says, include Milwaukee's decreasing population, redistricting, demographic changes and a state government that is largely represented by Republicans. He also adds that Milwaukee's Representatives are typically Democrats, while suburban areas are controlled by Republicans.

"Now you have a Republican in the governor's mansion, you have Republicans growing their majorities in the Assembly and the Senate, so what's a Democrat from Milwaukee to do to get an audience for his or her legislation?" asks Potente.