Shabnam Lotfi Running for the
77th Assemby Seat
Born to Be an Activist
|Shabnam Lotfi, an immigration attorney, came to the United States
with her parents to escape the
violence of the Iraq-Iran War in the early 1980s.
By Jonathan Gramling
It is oftentimes the course of events that force people to seize the moment and become
activists, an incident occurs that forces them to act and to move beyond what could have
been a very content, every day existence. For Shabnam Lotfi, that incident, the Iraq-Iran War,
occurred at a very young age, something that radically changed the course of her life and
eventually led to her declaring her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the 77th
Wisconsin Assembly seat being vacated by Terese Berceau.
Lotfi feels that she would be an effective state representative because she would be an
effective communicator of the desires and interests of her constituency. For her,
communication skills, a listening ear and the ability to work with everyone are the key
abilities a state legislator should have.
“People want sensible gun-safety legislation,” Lotfi said. “And the people want funding for the
university and education and our public funds to be used for public schools. And the people
want women’s access to reproductive health care. So my agenda is to take their voices and
message forward. And I think that is the job description because you aren’t supposed to be
the expert on the environment. And you’re not supposed to be the expert on criminal justice.
You’re supposed to be an expert on carrying a message and getting others to go along with it.
For me, having worked with people from all around the world, of every ethnicity, of every race,
of every religion, of every socioeconomic background, I think I have the strength to work with people on complex matters where the stakes are high and the margin
for error is non-existent. So as an attorney, my full-time job every day is to solve problems. And I think that is why I believe 100 percent without any doubt that I
could be the ‘people’s champion.’ I wouldn’t do this for any other reason. I strongly believe in my ability to communicate with people, to build bridges, to find
common ground and to listen.”
Lotfi is a big advocate for higher education.
“I would like to see the funding for higher education restored because this is a world-class institution,” Lotfi said. “And the research that is created at this university
doesn’t just impact Madison. It impacts the rest of the state. And we need to do a much better job of communicating that. For example, my husband works for the
Morgridge Institute for Research. He works on medical imaging using ultrasound to detect prenatal births. That’s research that is used not just in this hospital, but
every hospital. It’s the same thing with the research done on agriculture, the research that farmers all across the state are using. People take it for granted, but all of
that is happening here. I don’t know how many university campuses have farms on them. But if you want the state to grow and you want to prepare for a 21st century
workforce where higher-skilled labor is needed, how could you not support the university? If you want to support your children, no matter where they live in
Wisconsin, the future requires higher education.”
Lotfi wasn’t ideologically opposed to the $3 billion Foxconn deal and believes that state government should support economic development and expansion. She
does question if the state of Wisconsin got its biggest bang for its buck.
“The problem with Foxconn is that it could have been a better deal,” Lotfi emphasized. “We left a lot on the table. We gave up more than we needed to. They didn’t
ask to have an exemption from making an environmental impact statement. We just gave it to them. I just think it could have been a better deal. That’s the
frustration that people feel. There is $3 billion in subsidies going to Foxconn. We could have used that money in so many different ways. I’m not saying that we don’t
need Foxconn and it shouldn’t happen. I’m not screaming because the other side came up with it. I’m saying it was a good idea, but there was a lot missed. We were
too anxious and we gave up too much too quickly. That’s the problem with Foxconn. State government does have a role in spurring economic development. We
should be supporting start-ups.”
Lotfi feels that Wisconsin’s criminal justice system needs to be overhauled and eventually has a negative impact on Wisconsin’s economy.
“We do have a shameful criminal justice system in Wisconsin right now, maybe the worse in the nation, where people of color are disproportionately incarcerated
and yes, the state needs to do something about it,” Lotfi said. “Right now, my understanding is that Wisconsin spends like $30,000+ per year on each inmate. And we
spend $11,000 per year on each student. I think that what is happening in Wisconsin is shameful. We have the highest rate of incarcerated Black men in the country.
We have the highest rate of educational disparities. And I think that we have to put a lot more resources on the front end to get rid of the schools to prison pipeline.
And we don’t. I 100 percent support the diversion programs where you go to drug court and they really work on the underlying problem and not just its manifestation.
I think that we could decriminalize marijuana and expunge all of the records for kids who have marijuana charges on their records. And you can tax marijuana and
can use that money to support services that our society needs. Long ago, I had heard this quote that stuck with me for many years. Thomas Moore wrote in Utopia, ‘If
you suffer your people to be ill-educated and their manners uncorrected from their infancy and then punish them for those crimes to which the first education
disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then you punish them.’ It stuck with me for years. Why are we not investing
in education at an early age and getting people on the right path? Why are we putting people in jail? Where are our priorities as a nation and a government?”
In the area of roads and transportation, Lotfi feels that the state has underfunded transportation for years leaving Wisconsin with an inadequate infrastructure.
“My understanding is that under Walker’s administration, we are 49 out of 50 in the country,” Lotfi emphasized. “Roads are crumbling. Bridges are crumbling. They
are structurally deficient. And we need to be supporting funding for our transportation because it is how we get around. It is our way of life. I met a girl last night who
was saying something also happened under Walker’s administration. She works in public health, but she was saying that they had this initiative where when a road
was built, it wouldn’t be built just for vehicles, but that it would include sidewalks. And that hasn’t been happening. This was someone from the medical field saying
this. This administration and a number of industries constantly move us backwards is wrong. I love this state. I love this country. And I’m tired of us being at the
back-end of the nation. Why aren’t we leaders? As far as transportation goes, I think we could have a gas tax that goes up with the cost of living. But I would be
cautious and concerned to make sure that you aren’t going to disproportionately hurt low-income communities. We would want to look into it thoroughly. But we need
to look into the gas tax, tolls and registration fees and make sure that you aren’t going to inadvertently hurt a segment of our population.”
Lotfi is also for mass transit including high-speed rail.
“The high-speed train and the opportunity to be connected from Milwaukee to Madison and from Chicago to Minneapolis was lost,” Lotfi said. “If there ever was a
chance to get that back, I would 100 percent support it. There are plenty of people who are constantly commuting back and forth from Milwaukee to Madison. Why not
make it easier?”
Lotfi wants to reform Wisconsin’s voting laws.
Voting is a fundamental part of our democracy,” Lotfi emphasized. “The
constant voter suppression and trying to strip people from the opportunity to
vote by passing the voter ID laws and wanting to take away the opportunity to
register that day go completely against what this country stands for. I would
oppose any type of legislation that would suppress voter turnout. And the first
thing I would do in office is push for fair voting maps. The number one thing
we need is fair maps. Gerrymandering doesn’t help anyone. It has zero value
for society. And the legislators shouldn’t be picking who your candidates are
and whether or not your vote matters and how much it matters. It is an attack
on our democracy and I think that is the very first thing that we need to fix.”
And last, Lotfi is concerned with the direction that the state and nation are
headed and wants to be part of the solution.
“I am an idealist and an optimist,” Lotfi said. “I am a hopeful person in my
heart. I believe in this country. I believe in the land of opportunity. I get my
hope from people. I get my hope from watching people work really hard every
single day. Moms are taking their kids to school. They are paying their bills.
They are worrying about their retirement. They are taking care of their
neighbors. I see people every day working hard. And they give me hope. I
look at our history and how much we’ve come through and how far we’ve
come, the women’s movement and the civil rights movement and I think we’
re in a detour now, but we are going to get back on the right track soon. We
have come through so much as a nation. We can certainly weather this and
not just bounce back, but charge forward and leap into the future. That’s who I
am. And I have told every single immigrant out there that they became an
American when they set sail to these shores, when they believed in those
words ‘We the People,’ when they believed that all men are created equal and
that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. And
among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They may get their
citizenship later, but they became an American a lot sooner. But once they do
get that citizenship, they are one of us. They own this country just as much as
I do, just as much as you do and just as much as anyone else does. They
need to participate in the political process. They own this political process.
And they are one of us.”
And it is We the People who will decide who will represent the 77th Assembly
District on August 14th.