Monona Grove School Board president Andrew McKinney has announced that he will run as an independent for the State Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of State Senator Mark Miller.
“I think that there needs to be a change,” McKinney said in an interview Sunday. “I come in with new ideas and new perspective of bringing Wisconsin together.”
McKinney, who was named one of Wisconsin’s most influential Black leaders by Madison365 last year, is a Gulf War veteran and has worked in education for most of his career. He is currently the community school site coordinator at CH Bird Elementary School in Sun Prairie in addition to serving as the first Black president of the Monona Grove School Board. He has a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in counseling.
He grew up in Gary, Indiana, but moved to Madison to finish his last two years of high school at Madison East. He has lived in the 16th Senate district for 14 years.
As a Senator, McKinney said education would be a top priority.
“I would like to put more money in our state budget for paying teachers,” he said. “They wear a lot of hats, and are asked to do so much for so little.”
He said his experience both in his profession and his time on the school board have taught him what schools and students need.
“We see that we do have some homeless students, some that do not really come out to say anything. But we know that that is there,” he said. “And in my school district, we really have limited resources. I would like to get better resources for that. And then the racial disparities that we have and that has been going on in our school districts and across the school districts across that I’ve seen in Dane County … We need to really work on those disparities, those achievement gaps and bring equity into in the whole, not just in Dane County and in my area, but across Wisconsin.”
McKinney also would put issues facing lower-income families on the front burner.
“I would like to work to get a better grasp on helping homelessness for students and veterans. And also I would like to work on mental health, especially of single parent homes in low income communities,” he said.
If elected, McKinney would be the first person of color to represent Dane County in the State Senate. He doesn’t necessarily plan to run on that, though.
“I’m looking at it as I want to be the first one to make a difference,” he said. “I want to be the first one to be an advocate for the people to get things done here in this state. And that’s what I bring.”
Still, being the first has been important to his time on the Monona Grove school board.
“Being the first Black man to become president of the school board says a lot with the board members that we have. They voted for me in the confidence that I can lead a school district and help out a superintendent and build great relationships,” he said. “I’m starting to be a voice for a lot of our students of color who have not been able to speak because they have been afraid. I have talked to a lot of students of color and they have been using me to be their voice, and some feel like they are more welcomed in the school district.”
In addition to bringing a focus to education, poverty and racial disparities, McKinney hopes to be a “spark” to move the state past partisan divides. He said that as a delegate to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards convention the past two years, he’s heard from fellow school board members that many feel frustration that partisanship has hindered progress.
“(Legislators) just fight amongst each other, not really settling issues,” he said. “There used to be a time that the Democrats and Republicans could actually sit down. They have some differences, but they can work things out. Now it doesn’t look like that, and as much as I used to be falling into one party, I just can’t follow it right now. And this is why I’m not running as a Democrat or Republican. I want to be somewhat of a spark where we get back to the traditional styles where we can actually sit down, where we have differences and we can sit down and really hash out things to better the state, where elected officials that works for the people who voted for us. This is what they expect and it hasn’t been like that for a while. And I think that me coming in fresh and new listening to the people and getting those responses, I (decided) this is the time for me to do it.”
District 16 covers Monona, Cottage Grove, Blooming Grove, Sun Prairie, Maple Bluff, Stoughton, McFarland, and the north, south and east sides of Madison. Miller has represented the district since 2005, but announced earlier this week that he would not seek re-election. Democratic State Rep. Melissa Sargent has already announced that she will seek the seat.
As an independent, McKinney will not participate in any partisan primary. No Republican has announced a candidacy yet. Partisan primaries, if necessary, will take place on August 11 ahead of the general election November 3.