The off­spring of a state sen­a­tor-turned-lob­by­ist is build­ing a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer from the ground up.

Milwaukee Magazine - - Content - BY STEVEN POTTER

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.”



Evan Goyke in his neigh­bor­hood west of Mar­quette Univer­sity

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