Amani Latimer Burris says that she is running for State Senate to celebrate the diversity of Madison and Wisconsin and because she is passionate about uniting us in our differences. Economics, she says, is the subject that she hears her constituents talk about the most and has been a huge focal point of her campaign.
“My whole platform is driven by economic dignity, economic justice, economic reform. You can call it whatever you like – whatever works for you,” Latimer Burris tells Madison365. “COVID-19 has exposed that everybody is suffering and that everybody is really at risk. Out of economic reform, everything else will come – which is social justice, which is health care, which is education, which is the environment. “
Latimer Burris is running for Wisconsin State Senate, District 26, the seat that has been held by State Senator Fred Risser, the longest-serving lawmaker in U.S. history. It’s been four decades since this seat has been open. Risser, 93, announced his retirement back in March after 64 total years in office.
Along with Latimer Burris, there are six other Democratic candidates vying for Risser’s seat including former Madison Ald. Brian Benford, now a success coach for the UW Odyssey Project; Madison-area activist Nada Elmikashfi, former Lt. Gov candidate William Davis III; Wisconsin Environmental Initiative head John Imes; former gubernatorial candidate and State Rep. Kelda Roys, and recent UW-Madison graduate and former legislative aide Aisha Moe.
The winner of the Aug. 11 primary will be unopposed in the November general election.
“I was in hundreds of hundreds of conversations when I decided to go into politics. One thing that I realized right away is that we have to do this to ‘unite us in our differences.’ I really mean that,” Latimer Burris says. “It’s more than a tagline for me.
“I am a Black woman in America, and there is no way that you can get to know everything about me and everything that I experience. And you, as a White man in America, there’s no way that I can know every single thing about you and what you experience,” she adds. “But we can find common ground. We can find common things that matter to the both of us and we can have empathy for each other’s situation and compassion for what we are going through even if we don’t actually experience it. Then, we can start working on solutions. And I think that’s what’s been missing completely in politics.”
Latimer Burris was born in Madison and raised in both Madison and Green Bay. She graduated from Green Bay East High School and went on to earn her bachelor of arts degree in communications from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Her parents are both really well known and loved in Madison.
Her mom, Milele Chikasa Anana, is the founder, publisher and editor of UMOJA Magazine, Wisconsin’s longest-running African-American Magazine. Anana was a civil rights activist, a “Village Mother,” and an outspoken advocate for racial justice. Ms. Milele passed away in May of this year.
Her dad, James Latimer, is Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is one of the city’s most-respected musicians. He’s an acclaimed timpanist who has played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra for more than three decades and has and has been the longtime conductor of the Capitol City Band. Latimer has worked hard over a half-century to expand community opportunities for music in Madison and around the country.
“My mom and dad are total opposites – you know my family. It’s almost like if you think of a heart – at the top of the heart they are going in different directions, but at the bottom they are meeting at the same point,” Latimer Burris says. “I learned things from both of them – my mom being a very outspoken activist and my dad being the type of person who gets up and goes to work and shows people who he is over time.
“They came at it from different directions, but they are going to the same point and so they really underscored what we need in this election,” she adds. “There are different ways that we are going to get there, but we are all going to get there together.”
Her parents were both trailblazers, too. Her mom was the first Black official elected to a school board in Wisconsin. Her dad was the first person of color to join the UW-Madison School of Music Faculty.
“The biggest things I learned from both of them is to be inclusive and to have a grounding in the things that you do and to have concern for your community,” Latimer Burris says. “Also, if you’re going to take something on, take it on with your heart and soul. Neither my mom nor my dad just took things on willy-nilly. They’ve been dedicated to what they’ve been doing for their entire life.”
Latimer Burris is a small business owner who has worked in public relations, development and management. She started out her career as a professional journalist at age 19 where she covered City Council.
“I was very young, but one thing that left an impression on me at the time was, ‘Oh, my gosh. All the people in this room are making decisions for the whole city,'” she remembers. “I covered the City Council for a few years and every time they met, it was the same people making decisions for thousands of people.
“I began to understand at an early age that my life was political,” she adds. “My ability to breathe is political.”
Over the year, Latimer Burris has been active in volunteer endeavors and non-profit activities in the Madison community with mom’s Umoja Magazine, with Women in Focus Inc., the Madison Kwanzaa Festival, the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce, Black Women’s Wellness Program, the Capitol City Band, WYOU Access TV, Christ the Solid Rock Church and more.
Doing fieldwork as a Wisconsin Democratic Party organizer in Waukesha and Milwaukee County is what really started to change her perspective about politics.
“Our lives are political because almost everything comes back to a policy that was written, a policy that was legislated, a policy that was put into play,” Latimer Burris says.
“I think that I will make a great senator because I get that – and I get that on the ground-zero level. I also get that we need diversity at the table – not just for the sake of diversity – but because it helps to make better decisions,” she adds. “I’ve found that in business, better decisions are made with diverse opinions.”
Latimer Burris says that her key platform issues are economic policies that benefit everyone, voting rights, and social justice reform. Her life experiences, she adds, being constantly around diversity has deeply affected the way that she thinks about things.
“That’s what diversity brings – a better perspective. When you stop just being in your little area, then you see that,” Latimer Burris says.
Her campaign recently got a big boost when former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin endorsed her for the Wisconsin State Senate District 26.
“With deep roots in our community and an extraordinary ability to bring people together, I know that Amani will be a worthy successor to our esteemed Senator Fred Risser,” Soglin said in his endorsement. “Wisconsin needs Amani and her voice is needed in our legislature during these challenging times.”
Latimer Burris says that she appreciates the endorsement of Mayor Soglin
“I will work hard to live up to his expectations and keep his progressive ideals in mind as I take on and solve problems for the next generation,” she says. “Not only do I respect Mayor Soglin’s established commitment to fighting for equality and building bridges, but I appreciate the standard he has set and delivered upon goes beyond just talking about being inclusive and progressive.”
Latimer Burris says that she has been working hard outreaching to the community to get their vote on Tuesday, Aug. 11.
“I think we’re at the point where we have to go beyond talking points and beyond adapting good policy. We’re going to need to do that, but we’re going to need something different,” she says. “We’re going to need somebody who can bring a variety of very different people together.
“I think my experience of being a journalist and being able to quickly assess information and complex situations is very valuable. I think my experience of being a teacher and learning empathy through that is valuable. And I think my experience as a small business owner – through my successes and my failures – really clued me into exactly where the majority of us are,” she continues. “My experience in Waukesha County as a community field organizer figuring out how we can bring everybody together will help me, too.”
Latimer Burris says that the variety of life experiences that she brings to the table allows her to pull from many different areas.
“If it was just policy, we would have solved these issues 10 years ago when Democrats were all in office. If it was just getting to the streets, it would have been solved in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I think we’re at a tipping point right now and we need everybody working towards change,” she says. “My greatest fear is that people become apathetic and start thinking that there’s no way to change the system. That’s what I worry about.
“I know that I can make a difference,” she adds, “and I will unite us in our differences.”