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Youngest and oldest state lawmakers talk divided gov’t, compromise and lessons learned

MADISON (WKOW) — Two lawmakers are making history in Wisconsin and the nation as the oldest and youngest begin this legislative session. State Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Representative Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) sat down to talk about divided government, finding compromise and why they decided to run for office.

You can catch the full interview on Capital City Sunday at 9 a.m. on WKOW.

(Watch the extended interview featuring their role models, favorite musician in high school and most compelling moment in American history during a lightning round session below.)

Sen. Fred Risser, 91, has served in state government for over 60 years. Freshman Rep. Kalan Haywood, only 19, started his political career at 14 when he was elected to the Milwaukee Youth Council. Haywood said he decided to run to change the narrative going forward for young people.

“I wanted to serve the people, but also I ran to open up that door and show other young people it’s possible,” he said.

Risser came from one of the most prolific families, born in raised in Wisconsin Risser’s father and great-grandfather all served at various times in the state legislature.

“It was a supper time conversation and I knew the day I was born I wanted to run for office.”

Now, both are now hoping to tackle divided government, a first for Haywood but not a new concept to Risser. Risser said most important advice is to maintain your health, coming from someone who has never taken the elevator at the State Capitol.

“After all, you can’t function in government unless you take care of your health,” said the 91-year-old. “The sun will come up tomorrow. People sometimes think the world is coming to an end, but there’s another day coming.”

A new day has arrived but not a different tone as Haywood says he’s already seen political divides since taking the oath of office three weeks ago.

“You have to find ways to meet in the middle of everyone so we can get the work done,” said Haywood. “Too often we tend to stick to our sides and nothing good comes out of that.”

Risser said he’s seen the state more polarized than ever before and believes it trickled down from the federal government.

“Last session there were more straight party-line votes than I’ve ever seen before and I don’t think that’s good,” he said. “We got to get back to the day where compromise is not a bad word.”

As they look to the future — Risser mentioning he will serve until he can’t any longer — both said they hope to be remembered by serving their constituents to their best ability.

“I feel my role is helping make a change and I want more young people to get involved,” said Haywood.

As for Risser, he had quite the list of what he’d like to be known for but a few were his attention to the UW colleges and universities, state employees, women’s health and social justice.


Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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