Brian Giles backs measures voters have supported in referendums
If elected to represent the 69th Assembly District in Madison, Democrat Brian Giles says he would use the results of five advisory referendums passed in recent years as a guide when setting his agenda.
Those referendums — supported by majorities of voters in Clark and Marathon counties — called for legalizing medical marijuana, raising the minimum wage, expanding health care, getting big money out of politics and drawing fair, non-partisan electoral maps.
“They all got at least 70 percent of the vote when they were up for a vote at referendum, but, yet, not one of them has actually been brought to a vote in Madison,” he said.
With the 69th Assembly District leaning heavily Republican, Giles faces an uphill battle to defeat his opponent, Donna Rozar of Marshfield, in the Nov. 3 election. He said that’s why his campaign has stressed the five issues supported by voters in those advisory referendums.
“It’s easy to meet in the middle because both sides are supporting these issues, and they’ve shown they’re supporting them,” he said, citing the referendum results as a sign of bipartisan support.
Earlier this year, Giles went to work for the presidential campaign of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a centrist Democrat who had previously identified as a Republican. Giles said that experience put him into contact with a lot of party officials who asked him to help recruit a candidate for the 69th Assembly race.
When he couldn’t find anyone else willing to run, Giles started to think about getting his own name on the ballot. The “turning point” for him was the April 7 elections, he said, when he saw people in Wisconsin having to stand in line for several hours just to cast a ballot due to the impact of COVID- 19.
“People were basically risking their lives to vote, and I decided I was going to go allin, and run a full campaign and see what we can do,” he said.
Although he has been volunteering with the local Democratic Party on state and national elections for about 18 years, this is his first time running for office.
Giles, 46, lives in Marshfield with his wife, with whom he raised three adult sons — ages 21, 20 and 18. He graduated from Columbus Catholic School in Marshfield and attended UW-River Falls for a couple of years before entering the workforce. Prior to working for the Bloomberg campaign, Giles worked for nine years in the parts department at Mid-State Truck in Marshfield. Since the campaign job ended, he’s been working as an independent contractor for Instacart, which provides grocery shopping and delivery services for at-home customers.
Unlike his opponent, Giles supports the actions Gov. Tony Evers has taken to slow the spread of COVID-19, including the mask mandate and restrictions on public gatherings. Giles says he wishes Republicans would have worked more with the governor on the issue, instead of filing lawsuits to overturn his orders.
Giles said he recognizes “the real need” to promote social distancing, wearing masks and taking other precautions in order to reverse the course of the virus.
“I think it’s the only way we’re going to get back to normal, both health-wise and with the economy,” he said. “The economy is something the Republican Party always seems to stress, but they’re not doing what it takes to get us back there.”
If people continue to flaunt the mask mandate, Giles said he thinks the state should consider enforcement action to ensure public safety.
“I know some states have gone to charging people if they’re not following it, and maybe that’s something we have to look into,” he said.
One impact of the COVID-19 crisis is a possible reduction in tax revenues for the next state budget, which would require lawmakers to make spending cuts.
“Public education is one of the top priorities for me,” so that is something he would like to avoid cutting, he said.
Instead, Giles said he would like to look at ways of raising more revenue, such as adding taxes to vaping products so they are more in line with alcohol and traditional tobacco.
Decriminalizing marijuana and releasing non-violent offenders could “save the state a ton of money” on imprisoning people who might otherwise be beneficial members of society, he said.