Kimberly Smith said she grew up poor, homeless at times and was a parent at age 18 — and if elected, she hopes to bring that perspective and experience to the Wisconsin state assembly.
Smith is running for Assembly District 80 against 17-year incumbent Sondy Pope. The district covers areas southwest of Madison including parts of Oregon, Verona, New Glarus and Mt. Horeb. If she wins the primary on Aug. 11, and is then elected during the general election on Nov. 3, she would hold the seat for two years.
She announced her candidacy in June and is running for office for the first time. Smith said she wants to influence legislation to positively affect people of color, but feels she has been someone boxed out by fellow Democrats because of some of some of her views.
Smith grew up in Madison and around Dane County. She said she was raised by an alcoholic mother who, as a white woman, might not have understood what it was like for a person of color in the 1980’s, she said. Her family depended on government assistance like food stamps and subsidized housing, and she said she was sexually abused and raised her daughter as a single mom.
“The biggest thing that shaped the way that I think is the understanding of how immediate consequences from somebody’s actions will affect people — especially the underdog or people who aren’t typically thought of,” she said. “I attached to that identity a little bit — somebody who isn’t thought of or who isn’t considered in the legislative process. I want to advocate for people whose voices are often stifled or silenced.”
Smith went through massage therapy school at Madison College and is an entrepreneur. Previously, she was never able to be a community volunteer or serve food at the local food pantry because that was a privilege she didn’t have. But today, she has joined local organizations in Oregon, where she lives with her husband and three children — such as the Oregon Allies and a diversity and inclusion group — both organizations addressing racism in the community.
After some sitting legislators did not endorse candidates of color in the upcoming race, Smith said she felt the presence of the white Democratic establishment stands in the way of progress for people in the Black community.
“We have to first deal with the racism and sexisim in my own party before even discussing the battles that I would have with the Republic party. It is another hurdle that I have to jump and it is reality and I’m doing it. But I’m still angry about it.”
Smith is for criminal justice reform, medicinal marijuana and fair redistricting maps, according to her website.
She also said some of her views have made her alienated from the Democratic Party, including what she calls “healthcare freedom and body autonomy,” which to Smith includes allowing people to make decisions on abortions, medical treatments and, more controversially, vaccines.
Smith said she is not against vaccines — as her children are partially vaccinated — but is against vaccine mandates. Wisconsin law requires all students to show that they have received the required immunizations or have a signed waiver, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
She gave the example of opting out of the Hepatitis B vaccine, which she said is meant for prostitutes, drug users and people who have multiple sex partners. Smith said there should be more conversations between doctors and patients.
Health experts dispute this claim.
In reference to the Defund the Police movement, she also said she believes in reallocating some funds away from the police to programs that focus on social and emotional wellness, but said it should be up to each municipality to make the decision.
These views aren’t always popular among her fellow Democrats, she said, and because of that she feels dismissed.
“When you are a person of color you have the adversity of being that but you then have the adversity of non-similar beliefs of people who are in your party. We are all Democrats and semi-progressive but if you don’t fit an exact mold then you are out of the club. You are not worth being considered a candidate because you are not this cookie cutter person that’s going to fit the bill,” she said.
She said she hopes to have more conversations with constituents and candidates rather than making decisions based on party lines.
Smith said that regardless of the results in tomorrow’s election she still wants to be involved in politics moving forward — whether that means helping people become more involved in politics, running again, or financially helping organizations such as the Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County.
“I wish I had done it sooner. I wish it wouldn’t have taken me to this moment to be more active like this,” she said.