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“You have to give a damn.” Rep. Jimmy Anderson lays out priorities for Senate run

Photo by Robert Chappell

After four terms in the State Assembly, Jimmy Anderson’s proudest accomplishment isn’t anything he did in the Capitol.

It was winning the fight just to be there.

Anderson, who was paralyzed in a 2010 collision with a drunk driver that killed his parents and brother, requested a change in rules to allow him to attend committee meetings remotely. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos opposed the change initially, but ultimately relented after Anderson spoke publicly and threatened a lawsuit.

“I’m really proud to say that I think I’m one of the few Democrats ever to get Robin Vos to do something he didn’t want to do,” Anderson said in an interview for the 365 Amplified podcast.

It was more than just a point in the win column, though.

“We put (accommodations for people with disabilities) in the rules for the legislature so it would be available for anyone with a disability to be able to better do their job in the assembly, and hopefully, in the future, have more people with disabilities in that building,” he said.

Listen to the interview on today’s 365 Amplified podcast:

Representing the disability community in the Assembly has been an important part of Anderson’s tenure in the legislature, and one of the things he hopes to continue in the State Senate – announcing last fall that he’d seek to represent the 16th District in this year’s elections. 

Incumbent Melissa Agard is not seeking re-election, and is running for Dane County Executive.

“You don’t know how many times I’ve been in a room when discussing legislation and because of my experiences as a quadriplegic as someone with a significant disability, making some advice or making a tweak to a law that actually did a better job of being more inclusive and being more responsive to the disability community,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why I’m running for the State Senate. I do think that I’m kind of a constituency of one in that building. And I think my views and experiences on disability add a lot to what’s going on in that building.”

Political awakening

Anderson said the months he spent in the hospital following the collision led to his desire to serve in politics. Just 24 years old at the time, he said he got a letter from his insurance company saying he’d reached his lifetime maximum and he would no longer qualify for any coverage.

“I still had months of rehabilitation, this wheelchair is $30,000 or $40,000,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

But this happened at the same time that the Affordable Care Act was taking effect – and one provision of that law was the elimination of lifetime maximums in coverage.

“I honestly feel that the Affordable Care Act saved my life,” Anderson said. “And that was that experience that made me realize, you have to give a damn. Policy happens to you. If you don’t do something about it, you’re not going to be able to get the things that you need. And so it was kind of my political awakening.”

As a result, healthcare policy is an important legislative priority for Anderson.

“I’ve focused on issues of healthcare, having gone through those experiences, and tried to restrain insurance companies from raising rates unjustly,” he said. “I’ve introduced a lot of legislation around health care. It’s been a big passion of mine.”

The environment is another – Anderson has served on the Assembly’s Committee on the Environment for all four of his terms, and is especially concerned about PFAS and “making sure that our waterways are safe,” he said. 

Another priority is affordable housing and the protection of tenants’ rights, he said.

“Information depot”

He noted that legislation is not how legislators’ offices spend most of their time – that would be constituent services.

“I always see myself as an information depot. Someone comes out with a problem or an issue or whatever it is, and it’s my job to try to get them to the correct services, to the right agency … or even services in the community,” he said. “During COVID, when there were obviously so many issues with people trying to get access to unemployment benefits to prevent evictions, we were able to step in and advocate for these individuals to get the services that they needed to prevent them from getting kicked out of their homes. That, I think, is the most important work that I do with the building to be perfectly honest.”

He also noted that he’s looking to join the Senate at a time when his party will likely gain in power due to new legislative maps. While it’s unlikely that the Democrats will take over Senate majority this cycle, they may well in 2026 – and in any case, the Republican majority will likely be somewhat slimmer after this upcoming election.

“It was one of the reasons why I was really excited to try to run for the Senate… having that foothold in the legislature and being able to use every bit of influence and power, particularly if the Senate is relatively close,” Anderson said.

District 16 encompasses Assembly Districts 46, 47 and 48, which includes areas south, east and northeast of Madison, from Fitchburg in the west to Lake Mills in the east, and from Columbus in the north to Fort Atkinson in the south.

Anderson will face District 46 Representative Melissa Ratcliff, who was elected in 2022, in the Democratic primary on August 13. The general election will take place November 5. No Republicans have declared a candidacy. 

This story has been corrected. An earlier version said Melissa Ratcliff was appointed to the Assembly; she had previously been appointed to the County Board.