The offspring of a state senator-turned-lobbyist is building a political career from the ground up.
A young state rep takes over the West Side.
GROWING UP THE SON of a wealthy lobbyist in the small, affluent Village of Maple Bluff on the northern edge of Madison, State Rep. Evan Goyke’s (D-Milwaukee) neighborhood was filled with million-dollar mansions, but his own career has led him elsewhere. While working in Milwaukee as a public defender, Goyke, son of Gary Goyke, went searching for a vacant home to fix up and fell in love with the area directly to the west of Downtown and Marquette University and its “big, old houses.” He and his wife, lawyer Gabriela Leija, started at a bungalow near 40th Street and moved to a historic home at the corner of 27th and West State streets, the former residence of Emil Claussen, owner of a furniture company. The house sits on a block with at least three vacant and boarded-up properties.
“The world I grew up in and the world I live in now could not be more different,” he says. Goyke’s 18th District runs from approximately Interstate 94 up to Capitol Drive and from 15th Street to 60th, where “We have our challenges, but this district has every slice of the world represented in its languages, people, food,” he says. “It’s one of the rare places in our state where there is true integration and coexistence.”
The challenges include high unemployment, poverty and crime, and much of Goyke’s legislation has affected (or is intended to affect) the court system. “We are over-victimized by crime, and we are overrepresented in the criminal justice system,” he says, meaning district residents are more likely both to fall victim to crime and to go to prison for an offense. “There are 10,000 people in my district who have never been [to prison],” he says, “but they’re affected by the fact that a different 10,000 of my constituents have gone and can’t get back on their feet and face barriers because of it.”
During the 2015-2016 legislative session, Goyke introduced more than two dozen bills addressing criminal justice, including sentencing, reentry and other policies. “It’s a big issue area,” he says. None of the bills, however, made it through the Republican-controlled legislature.
Of the laws that have passed recently, he’s most proud of a couple bipartisan bills from last session: One bill created a special logo for veterans-owned businesses to post and use in their marketing, and the other holds tobacco stores accountable for criminal activity that occurs on their property, similar to laws governing bars and liquor stores. He’s also working on new legislation to change how criminal convictions are expunged, and another bill aimed at slumlords that would make it harder for them to amass properties.
After winning an eight-way Democratic primary in 2012, Goyke hasn’t faced an opponent in the two elections since. Furthermore, “I’ve never faced a Republican,” he says. “This seat is the third or fourth most Democratic in the state.” It’s so blue it could “very seriously be changed if the redistricting lawsuit [before the U.S. Supreme Court] wins,” seeing as how Republicans allegedly overloaded the district by “packing in” Dems.
The area is more than 60 percent minority, and many voters were at first leery of being represented by a white man. “That seat had traditionally been held by African Americans,” says state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, whose district includes Goyke’s. “But, in my personal opinion, with the legislation [he’s] introduced and the way he fights for his community with heart, [there] couldn’t have been a better choice for that district.”
In local politics, Goyke has “stayed neutral” in the feud and recent election between state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. “It’s become really personal, [and] I would love to see a cease-fire,” he says. “I would love to see a peace accord reached. I didn’t want to get involved in a mud-slinging contest because we all get dirty in that.”
At 34, Goyke is often invoked as a future candidate for higher office and had to make a public statement months ago squashing rumors that he might join the field of Democrats planning to run for governor.
Still, “I have aspirations to run for higher office at some point,” he says. “I don’t want to be in the Legislature forever. I’d rather take a shot than fade away.” He’d like to be state attorney general, he says, but that’s not likely anytime soon: “Possibly in 2022.”
“THE WORLD I GREW UP IN AND THE
WORLD I LIVE IN NOW COULD NOT BE MORE DIFFERENT.”
Evan Goyke in his neighborhood west of Marquette University