Working to Make Things Better
Representative Tip McGuire
State Representative for Wisconsin's 64th Assembly District
Representative Tip McGuire, from Wisconsin Assembly District 64, discusses the proposed legislation allowing fourteen year olds to serve alcohol and other pertinent addiction and mental illness issues. While traveling the state as part of the Joint Finance Committee, Representative McGuire has seen and heard the people ask that government work together to help with the problems citizens and communities face. Representative McGuire believes a combination of education, treatment, and interdiction will make the difference in making our communities healthier places to live. Representative McGuire can be reached at [email protected]
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Mike: Welcome everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by Westwords Consulting. I'm Mike McGowan. We've talked here a lot about the ongoing opiate and street epidemic in our country. We've discussed the increase in alcohol abuse during and post pandemic. We've had conversations about mental health and about governmental responses to all of the above, and we want to continue that discussion today with our very special guest, Representative Tip McGuire from Wisconsin's Assembly District 64. Welcome representative McGuire.
Tip: Well, thank you for having me, Mike. I so appreciate the opportunity to be on your wonderful podcast here.
Mike: Well, I'm so glad you could do this. So I'm just gonna just jump right in, because I'll tell you why I reached out to you to begin with.
Recently, Repbulicans in the Wisconsin Assembly have proposed changing the Wisconsin State law, allowing minors from age 14 to 17 to serve alcohol. I'll just ask you your thoughts about those proposed changes.
Tip: Yeah, so you know, I always try to be as fair minded as I can when it comes to reviewing legislation and seeing what others are proposing in the legislature.
So I'll start off with what the author's stated intent here is, that they wanna address a workforce shortage that the state has in a number of ways. You know, it's in almost every industry at this point that we have a workforce shortage. And so they're saying, well, we wanna be able to assist taverns, and bars, and restaurants with being able to serve alcohol by allowing younger people to be able to serve them.
And as much as I recognize the need to address the workforce shortage, I honestly don't believe that having eighth graders serving alcohol is the solution here or is the answer. You know, there's a much broader problem, challenge for the state of Wisconsin, and that's that we are an aging state that is also growing our economy.
We have the lowest unemployment rate that we've had in our history, I believe. And we continue to get older every year, and so we're going to have fewer and fewer workers every year, unless we start doing things that actually attract people to come to Wisconsin, people to stay in Wisconsin. And from my perspective, that's primarily things that allow your kids to be raised in a way that gives them a lot of opportunity. And so, you know, that's things like investing in public education, investing in childcare, there's one of the biggest provisions that we have in this budget that I find so essential, is the 342 million dollar investment in the childcare counts program, something that the governor put together with federal dollars prior to help our childcare facilities stay open.
But those are the kinds of things that you do, rather than, you know, allowing eighth graders to serve drinks. I think it makes much more sense to start doing the things that would keep families here, would attract families to come.
I mean if we're struggling for workers, I'll say putting money into those efforts, those kinds of things, childcare, public education, would service far better and for far longer than a short-term fix that is putting eighth graders in challenging and difficult environments that may impact how they think and view on the world in unhealthy ways.
You know, I mean, I can't claim that every single 14 year old will have a bad experience or anything like that, I don't know, I'm just, I think it'll put them in a position to see things that maybe they aren't ready to see, or make decisions that maybe they aren't ready to make, you know, for the sobriety of other people.
You know, you think about serving drinks to somebody, a lot of times bartenders, or servers, or people taking orders, are making decisions gauging ultimately whether the person that they're talking to is okay to have another drink, and putting that kind of pressure on 14 year olds, on eighth graders, seems a bit harsh when there are plenty of opportunities to find ways to attract people here and to kind of grow a younger workforce by making this an attractive place for young families to live.
Mike: Well, I thought it was interesting that that's the proposal out of the box in that industry. You know, many of us, maybe we live in a bubble, that would make us the lowest age state in the country to serve. And many of us know that we already lead the country in issues surrounding alcohol abuse of all of the states.
And so many of us are trying to, as you said, keep children away from this, or at least balance it out from what they see already in our culture.
Tip: Yeah, and I think, you know, at times, you know, I love Wisconsin and I love our culture here and I love our longstanding traditions and alcohol is certainly part of that, and I don't wanna denigrate that. But I think at times, there are moments where our culture, and it's not specific to Wisconsin, but our culture as a whole, can celebrate over indulgence to a certain extent. And traditionally have treated it as perhaps more humorous than it really is and the impacts that it has on our brain and our health.
So, you know, I think we're doing a better job each year of making sure that people recognize the potential impacts of drinking way too much on people's health and on their brain, and so, you know, I think we're making strides in that area and making sure that people can enjoy alcohol in more moderate ways. And so, I think that this could potentially serve to go in an opposite direction on that.
Mike: Yeah. And you know, at the same time, we're already dealing with so many other issues and we have an ongoing crisis regarding still opiates and fentanyl, street drugs. Last weekend, or the weekend before, 17 people died in Milwaukee County from Fentanyl overdose. It seems to be in everything. What can the legislature do to further address that issue?
Tip: Well so, you know, first of all I'll say this isn't an issue that is necessarily going to be solved by the legislature. This is an issue that has to be solved kind of by all of us. It's up and down, local governments, to federal government, to our courts, to individuals and identifying these problems in our loved ones.
It's a challenging thing and it's getting worse. But I'll start with Kenosha County, where I'm from, had a really great success story prior to Covid on how we were dealing with fentanyl. So we were having approximately about, I would say 50 overdose doses a year I think, were the numbers that were cited to me, for a couple years in a row. And then with the combination of a number of programs, they got a 35% drop, it dropped to about 30 overdoses just prior to the pandemic. And that was a combination of things. So one of it was, you know, more aggressive treatment opportunities for people who were in jail and were sort of, you know, as a result, clean from opiates that they had more aggressive treatment opportunities in those environments to help them move past this addiction.
In addition, there was the pretrial agreements that the DA's office would create that would then have people go into additional treatment opportunities with ultimately the threat of incarceration if you fail, right, the potential for incarceration if you fail.
And then we also had our drug court, you know, in Kenosha County. And so you had these multiple, you know, pretty aggressive, pretty, pretty serious treatment opportunities, and then on top of that, our law enforcement, and our DA's office, and our courts were taking very seriously overdose deaths and charging those as lend bias cases.
Tip: In an effort to freeze or chill at least people's interest or desire in dealing in Kenosha County. And so, I think a lot of that combined to make a really good environment, and then of course, during the pandemic a lot of those programs ultimately had to take a pause, and then look now we're back up.
And so I think there are models that can work, I think there are things that can be successful in reducing this. And part of it has to do with the supply of the drug, and then part of it has to do with dealing with demand for the drugs, and that comes through treatment, right? I mean, you know, people who are addicted continue to buy products. This isn't, I don't wanna oversimplify this, but it's not like buying a sofa, right? You buy one and then you're done for a while, these are people who are obviously regularly continue to buy, and that guides their behavior as they either commit crimes, they do other things, you know, to make money to be able to buy drugs.
And then as a result, there's this steady stream of demand. But if you can get rid of, you know, or not get rid of, but if you can help people treat and deal with their addiction so that they aren't consistently buying drugs and they aren't buying these illicit substances, then I think it makes it less profitable and less valuable for drug dealers to be here and to be in our community in any significant way. And then our law enforcement can certainly get their arms around finding those dealers that do exist and arresting them and making them accountable. So I think that treatment is an essential component of any plan, but I also have to give kudos to the law enforcement officers who are out there and are finding and arresting those who are harming others with these substances.
Mike: You know, I came from that end of it. Just before I started working on my own, I was running a treatment center and then they changed the reimbursement structure, so it was more difficult for people to get in. And the other component, and you addressed it, is education. If there's no demand, or less in demand, there's less supply.
And that goes back to the first question of 14 to 17 year olds serving, we need to do a consistent job of education and not just when it's in a crisis, right?
Tip: Yeah, absolutely, I mean, I think having reasonable and honest conversations with young people about the impact of these things really benefits them.
But I struggle with thinking about how people end up in these circumstances. You know, we had a big prescription issue years back where people were getting opiate prescriptions, opioid prescriptions very easily. And that impacted and changed a lot of people's lives and made a lot of people ultimately become addicted or have substance abuse problems as a result.
But that's less the issue now.
Tip: We're seeing people who almost are driven towards, at times, escalating their... I'll never forget this. So I was reading a newspaper article recently and it was this young man who had gotten high, gotten behind the wheel of his car, and then driven at a very high speed, and I think crashed into a police car.
I think this is from a year or two ago, and then the case just concluded not too long ago. And so he was arrested, and in his sentencing statement, he was telling the judge, and the judge asked him, you know, well, so tell me about your drug habit here, you know? And so he's saying that, well, he tried all kinds of drugs, he tried, you know, a ton of 'em, but fentanyl was his favorite.
And it surprised me. I never thought of anybody willingly walking towards that drug, right? I always, in my head, I thought it was people who are trying to get access to a different kind of opioid would inadvertently have fentanyl and then they would tragically overdose or have problems. But that somehow, that was something that he chose to go after, you know, presumably for purposes of fulfilling his addiction to opiates, but also, the whole thing set me back. And so I thought, you know, I feel like we're doing well when we talk to young people about the dangers of drugs, of fentanyl or, or opiates, or opioids and to be cautious. But there's some people who I think we're really struggling to get through to if that's how the framework of their thinking is as they're going through their substance abuse challenges.
Mike: You know, it's funny you should say that, because we've had people on here, in fact, I was talking to somebody from California a little while back on this podcast, and they made the comment that on the street there, it's all fentanyl and they're asking for fentanyl. So you're right, it's not being disguised, it still is in everything, but they're actually seeking it out. I don't think we want to get to that point at all.
Tip: No, that's terrifying to me. I mean, it's so close to being an automatic overdose sentence or death sentence to people. It is just a drug that is just too powerful and it's unbelievably dangerous. And so, I'm very worried, that when I read that article, my stomach dropped, my blood chilled. It was the scariest concept I had ever heard. And you're saying people in California, this is a common occurrence?
Tip: That's terrifying. That's absolutely terrifying.
Mike: You know, and going along with this whole thing, since both the pandemic, and the rise of social media, we've seen a huge increase in mental illness and mental health issues for adults and youth. You're also, I'm sure, concerned about that.
Tip: Absolutely. And actually one of the things I'm really, really proud about what government givers has done this year. So I don't know if you were paying attention to the state address, but he named this the year of mental health, his state budget put in approximately 500 million dollar investment into mental health throughout the state, and about 235 million of that was for mental health services in our schools for young people. And I just think that that's the right way to approach this is to think, you know, we need to be able to provide services to the people who are experiencing this, who are adults right now, but if we wanna change, fundamentally change, the future for the next generation and people that come after us, we really should be present, and talking about this, and giving them room to talk about their challenges and allowing them to seek solutions if they have mental health challenges, right?
Because that's the only way this country's ever gonna get healthier. You know, it's one thing to address all of this - I don't wanna ever put a stigma on people who experience mental health challenges, and so I hope what I'm about to say doesn't do that, but please let me know if I cross a line, before I ran for office, I was a prosecutor, and we would often see people come into my courtroom who had essentially lived their entire life with an undiagnosed mental illness.
Tip: And people, human beings are pretty resilient, and we find ways of getting through the day. And so for some people, it ends up becoming a substance abuse problem that they use to manage their, you know, their despair, their anxiety, their depression, whatever the challenges that they're going through.
And you know, oftentimes it ends up being alcohol for people, which is obviously a very temporary anxiety fix as it usually exacerbates it, but you would see these people who had never been diagnosed, they never received treatment, they never received care for it until they commit their first criminal act. Right? And then it's suddenly like, maybe I should be doing something else.
Tip: Because people try to find a way through their day and they aren't necessarily aware that something is wrong. It's so hard for people to be able to think, you know, maybe the rest of the world doesn't feel the way I feel every day, right? They don't know that, you don't know how other people feel all day. And so, I think that there's a lot of people who don't realize necessarily that they have something that's gone under the radar or untreated, and so I think it's an opportunity for us to be in schools, listening to young people, listening to them, to make sure that we know if they have a challenge, we're there to help. If they don't, then great. But I think that long term, by investing in that space particularly, I think it's gonna change the face of this country.
Mike: No, that's not objectionable at all. It's understanding the issue, and I think that's what you're talking about. Just the two of the last guests I've had on here have told just mind boggling stories about being misdiagnosed or not being diagnosed correctly and "bumping into the system," quote, unquote
Mike: At some point and having this system react in a way that made the situation worse. And one was in North Carolina and Texas, another was in Canada. So it's not just in Wisconsin this is happening. So it's very helpful.
Tip: So I was on the Kenosha County National Alliance for Mental Illness Board before I ran for office, and one of the things that I always found so fascinating was, you know, you have really loving families that get involved in this and they're so supportive of their child or their sibling. But they almost always never, until the diagnostic occurs, they never saw it coming. I just never knew that, you know, Billy was struggling with this. I never knew that, you know, Miranda was struggling with this, with whoever.
And I think so many people who experience, you know, mental health challenges, they believe that it's either observable that they're struggling and they don't really have the space to talk about it because it seems like, oh, if anybody, you know, could tell, they would say something or other people would intervene on my behalf.
And so we have to make space so that people feel comfortable and have the opportunity to say, you know, I don't necessarily feel okay all the time. You know? I think that's a big challenge.
Mike: You know, you're right about that, and I think the passionate families, I was thinking of a couple of moms I know who just within a year, because of the tragedy that they suffered in their family regarding a fentanyl overdose, have now gotten Narcan in every single college dorm in Wisconsin. And that's nothing that,
Tip: That's incredible.
Mike: Government did, that's private people working their butts off to be able to make a difference and not have to suffer the tragedy. You know, if you don't mind, let me switch gears for a second since you opened the door.
Mike: Since you talked about Governor Evers,
Mike: I gotta ask, because, if I don't do this, somebody's gonna say, why didn't you ask him? We have a really divided country right now, it seems, and government, when most of us look at it, just shake our heads, and some proposals, people like on one side, and some on the other side. How do you get things done?
Tip: Well I guess, oh, I'm gonna give you the long answer. Okay? So the past month or so, we've been traveling the state as part of the joint finance committee to go have listening sessions in various parts of Wisconsin and hear from people. And one of the most inspiring things is that no matter where you go in Wisconsin, there are people in that community who are working to make things better for people.
Tip: That there are people all over the state who care about other people, they're not elected officials, they don't have to be leaders in their community. They care, they wanna make things better. And the challenge that we have, is that what we've created as a political system incentivizes the worst behavior. Right?
I think that there's a lot that we agree upon, I think that there's a lot of people who wanna do the right thing, but I think that the political incentives are broken, and that Madison looks more and more like Washington D.C. every year.
Tip: And so for example, if I were to go on Twitter today and I were to just yell about Republicans, I was to find some bad quote, and I was gonna say, oh, you know, I'm a Democrat, they're Republicans, I think that they're, you know, I can't believe that they said this, what an awful person, right? I probably could raise money off of that, right? I mean, usually I use Twitter sparingly as a member of the Joint Finance Committee, I've used it more this year than ever before, because we wanna talk about what the budget motions are and what they're doing, and things that we disagree with, but if I just decided to get into a back and forth Twitter fight with somebody, I'm sure I could increase, you know, the amount of people who like me on Twitter or something, right? And then it would get my name out there and I could try and run for some higher office or something, you know, I don't know?
And so the system incentivizes that as it currently stands. In the past, we've had a system that incentivized people working together, right? If you were known as somebody who would compromise or who could work with people on the other side of the aisle, that was something that our communities rewarded, right? That was something that we admired and that was something that we rewarded both with just notoriety or, you know, in other ways in terms of people succeeding, right?
I mean, that was one of the big attractions that John McCain had, right? When he was running and he was generally pushed to the front of the Republican party because he was somebody who could work with others and be collaborative. But we don't reward people for that anymore. And we don't reward people in notoriety for that, we don't think, you know, well they met with the other side, and they tried to find something that worked, and maybe it's perfect, maybe it's not, but I think it's admirable that they did that, and I'll elevate them. That's not how our public discourse happens. And so, I think it really creates sort of just perverse incentives, if I'm being honest.
Mike: Is it as simple as gerrymandering? You know, how do we get back to that? Because in my district, or where I live, when I go to the polls, most of the offices are uncontested. There's no incentive for the opposite party to even run. And I'm sure that's the way it is in a lot of parts of our state. So then what's the point? So it's all about raising money for the primary.
Tip: Yeah. Well, I think there's a couple of things that I think would probably be important.
One is gerrymandering. I mean, if you think about where people run right now, if their sole goal is to maintain in position of power, which I hope is not the case, I hope that we all have much broader goals than that as public servants. But if their sole goal is that, then you would be more concerned about being challenged from the right or the left than you would be about being challenged from the other party.
And I don't know how much that necessarily guides conduct, but I think it does. You know, if you're hedging your bets, right, with your positions, then maybe that pushes those things. But then also just the simple belief that you can be held accountable. That's the most important part about elections is the thought that, look, you know, if I go, if I skipped work for six months, you know, my constituents would know, and they wouldn't vote me in again. Right?
But there are probably districts where people could just fluff off for a couple of months and still win. Because, you know, they've got the right party next to their name. And so, that's not really what we want, we want people to be able to be held accountable for you know, if they're not doing their jobs or if they're being particularly cruel or harmful in the way that they do conduct their job. So I think that's an important part of gerrymandering.
The second thing I'll say is that the very amount of money that is spent on political campaigns today, and as somebody who has, you know, I've raised plenty of money for my campaigns, and I've, I spent the money I raised, I'll tell you.
But it is a pretty strange thing to think about. You know, years ago I went out and I worked on democratic campaigns in various state assembly races, and we would be lucky if we raised $50,000, you know, to run the state assembly race. And now we've got races that are, you know, wildly expensive and they're on TV, was on TV this last time around, you know, and you think how much has changed in just 10 years? It also then changes the workload and what legislators are doing with their extra time. You know, they have to raise money now a lot more. And, it just changes the system pretty significantly, that I think, not in a good way.
I mean, we're all from Wisconsin, this isn't like we're going to Washington, D.C. where this is, you know, the big power place, we're all Wisconsinites and my colleagues live an hour from me, you know, we all root for the Packers, this is supposed to be about a close-knit, we're a reasonably small state, a close-knit state, where people from all sorts of backgrounds and professions meet at a capital and kind of decide what's fair for the state and what the right direction that we should be investing our funds are. It shouldn't be this ideological, you know, battle zone at all times.
Mike: And when you put money into it, as you said, when you need the money, that's where you get some of the legislation and sponsored by groups that are willing to give you money, right?
Tip: Yeah, I mean, I would hope that, you know, people don't view it that way, right? I would hope that you're not getting money in exchange for any services, and I would never accuse any of my colleagues of that, but I would say that you know, when, when it becomes, I, I think the system, actually, to be honest, I think the system has moved less from being industry based to being ideology based, to be honest.
Tip: I think that more of the money now is from a purely ideological perspective, and so I don't think that that has that kind of, worry to the same extent, although that's always a worry, I think, with money in politics. But I think that it just sort of stiffens people's resolve that, you know, well, my ideologies got me covered, and so why do I need to work with anyone else?
Mike: Right, right.
Tip: You know?
Mike: So I'll let you wrap this in a bow. What's your wishlist then coming up for the next year, given all of what we've talked about?
Tip: Well, I think that there is, you know, one of the reasons I was excited to come on here and talk about addiction and talk about mental health is that I think there really is a space for us to be able to get some of the governor's proposed mental health changes into law.
So the Joint Finance Committee is meeting now, we're gonna be meeting over the month of May. If you, or any of your listeners wanna reach out, they should reach out and let the finance committee know that it's important that we invest in mental healthcare, it's important that we invest in addiction services, it's important that we invest in treatment alternatives, and diversions in our courts because like we saw in Kenosha, those can be really successful. And so those are things that the governor has put in his budget and we wanna keep them in.
So, I don't know if you saw the news, you know, they zero out a significant portion of the governor's budget. That doesn't mean that some of those items won't grow or be increased. They may not be in the same form, but that there's still an opportunity for us to push for significant mental health funding and significant treatment funding. And so, that's one of the things that is on the wishlist, that is on the agenda.
Also, as I said earlier, childcare, public education, and then I'm hopeful that we can get something done on shared revenue cause our cities really need it.
Mike: Fingers crossed. Representative McGuire, thanks so much, as you said, working to make things better. We really appreciate it.
Tip: Of course. If there's anything I can do, Mike, for you or the show, you know, thanks for having me, and hello to all your listeners and I appreciate it.
Mike: Well, and to the listeners, thank you for listening. As always, we really appreciate it. Hope you enjoy it. We will be on again next week, so please listen again. Until then, stay safe and as Representative McGuire would say, why don't all of us just work to make things better?
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