Friday, September 28, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

"The Cheese Lady" as she is known is taking on Joe
Sanfelippo in an Assembly race.
In November around the state, virtually all the established GOP incumbents in the legislature are being seriously challenged and not just on anti-Trump grounds or anti-GOP state machinery grounds, though those factors are weaved in.

Much of the change is about sense and sensibility.

Once -- and to a disturbing degree even today -- residents didn’t even know the names, duties and policies of those representing them in the Madison legislature.  The Republicans and many Democrats had long counted on a kneejerk vote for the R or D. But there is a newfound interest from the electorate, many of whom never previously voted, in how state government affects our lives. 

Turns out its impact is quite serious and long time. Turns out that Wisconsinites ARE interested in what has long been dismissed as legislative sausage-making.

A recent previous article examined why Julie Henszey has such a good chance in the Milwaukee area Senate District 5. 

Now it’s time to look at several of those flippable Assembly seats -- and let’s start with all three nestled within Senate District 5. All three could quickly leave Republican ranks. The quality of the Democratic candidates is making all the races tight.

Dennis McBride
Assembly District 13 – Probably the most civil race in Wisconsin given the personalities running. Republican incumbent Ron Hutton is pleasant if not effectual. But his Democratic foe is well known and quite effective – Dennis McBride, a longtime alderman and once head of the Tosa Common Council who stepped down to run for this seat.

He is known for getting things done and for me he carries a mighty name. I worked with his parents now memorialized in the Milwaukee Press Club Hall of Fame – Ray McBride at The Journal and Toni at the Sentinel. His older brother, Joseph, is a film critic and professor whose early books I reviewed decades ago and who will return to prominence in November when Orson Welles’ long-delayed “Other Side of the Wind” – in which the youthful Joe has a role – leaves film festivals for Netflix.  His sister, Genevieve, is an author and professor married to a former colleague.

Dennis is well known in the Tosa community as a huge supporter of public education and has promised the media that he will run against Hutton “as friends who disagree and focus on issues.”  The district sweeps up a good portion of Milwaukee County.

Robyn Vining
Assembly District 14 – Many think this is the Democrats’ best chance for a pickup though it stretches from Waukesha County into the Milwaukee area, again with Tosa as a key.  The Democrat, Robyn Vining, is a noted photographer, community organizer and Tosa mother of the year heavily supported by other Milwaukee legislators.

She may also be blessed in her Republican opponent -- Matt Adamczyk, notorious even in his own party for trying to kill the state treasurer office he occupied (the public ferociously voted to keep it in August) and he also helped fire Gaylord Nelson’s daughter for her work on climate change.

Hardly an endearing record in this community.

Assembly District 15 – A West Allis surprise may await the well-heeled Republican, Joe Sanfelippo, who has already suffered the loss of his Milwaukee taxicab monopoly and is trying to accomplish in the state legislature the divisive governmental ideas he had attempted on the Milwaukee County Board. This may come down to his money vs. her personality.

He is facing Lillian Cheesman, who laughingly ignores the lack of a final”e” in her name and has acquiesced to being known as the Cheese Lady.   Her website is also

But she is a talented lawyer and former prosecutor who has also represented the little guy in lawsuits. On her role as legislator for a district spreading from Waukesha County through West Allis, she is dead serious on why she is more important to the voters than Sanfelippo has been.

“We have a number of mid to low income voters who have been neglected on such issues as health care and basic economic security,” she told me in an interview. “We need more Democrats to make changes in our health care delivery system. “

Democratic advisers think the race is hers to win “if she keeps attacking the doors and talking the basic issues.” 

Assembly District 84 – “Pound the doors”  is the same advice in many other area races, such as Erica Flynn in Assembly District 84 (those numerics can confuse you – this is actually right next door in New Berlin and Greenfield to Henszey’s race.)

Erica Flynn aims to beat Mike Kuglitch
I only know Flynn as a peppy voice eager to chat on the phone. A project manager who worked in China before earning a degree in International Studies in Michigan,  she has gone through Emerge Wisconsin training and hears the same anger at the doors about a do-nothing party (in this case the incumbent she aims to beat, Mike Kuglitch).

“The voters in his district, and I’ve met a bunch, are tired of what’s going on in the Republican party right now,” she said. 

Gabriel Gomez
Assembly District 21 -- Further south in Oak Creek area District 21, the progressive sparkplug is burly bearded Gabriel Gomez who hardly fits the stereotype (of mainly women running on the Democratic side). 

In fact, he is trying to knock off the woman who has been serving as (many say) the GOP’s token Latino, Jessie Rodriguez, for two terms.

“Token Latino” sounds harsh but her heritage has been victimized in private by fellow male Republican colleagues when they are not acting self-satisfied in her being their lone Latino representative.

Her victories in District 21 have been a little confusing since so few contacted know anything she’s done for this district. She is best known as a voucher school advocate in a community that has little to do with such schools and is happy with its public education, except when Republicans like her take away their money. But she did have a lot of network voucher money to tap.  

Gomez has wrapped himself around family community and service issues. He makes friends easily and what these friends see is “a thinker who generates positive ideas for the future.”   Listen to the story of his life from one of them. 

“He's just a fantastic guy,” says a regular soccer buddy. “His family fled the dictatorship in Argentina, ended up in a Kibbutz in Israel, made their way to the United States, where Gabe served as a US Marine, got an MBA from UWM, created a wonderful family of his own in South Milwaukee, and where his daughter just started at Stanford. He deserves all the credit in the world, but you look at Gabe's life and it also makes you proud of this country.” 

In all these assembly races, when you talk to the actual voters, you sense a personal identification with those running on the Democratic side, even among those not engaged by assembly contests in the past.  This may be politics but it is also something deeper.

About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.  

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