Vice President Kamala Harris came to Milwaukee Tuesday to tout the administration’s ambitious infrastructure plan, tour UW-Milwaukee’s clean energy laboratories and talk about the importance of scientific research on her first trip to Wisconsin since taking office in January.
Her visit came as the administration gears up to push through its American Jobs Plan, a sweeping $2.3 trillion development package aimed at improving the nation’s aging infrastructure, fighting climate change and creating jobs.
In an interview with the Journal Sentinel, Harris also said she believes the massive plan will improve racial equity when it comes to issues like family-supporting jobs, school safety, affordable housing, stable broadband Internet and safe drinking water.
“These things have existed, sadly, for generations upon generations,” she said of racial disparities. “But the pandemic really did accelerate and magnify the disparities and the inequities and, frankly, the injustice of it all.”
She said, for example, the plan to remove and replace all of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines would reduce the risk of lead poisoning and require “good-paying, union jobs” to do the work.
“So it is both about a public health benefit, and it is about the creation of jobs. Good paying jobs, important jobs,” Harris said.
Milwaukee has for years faced high rates of lead poisoning among children, especially in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods on the city’s north and south sides.
Harris said she’s taking a leadership role when it comes to the plan’s efforts to expand broadband access, saying it is crucial to everyone from young students to elderly people.
“Our children cannot learn and do their homework without access to high-speed internet that is both accessible and affordable,” she said. “And if you don’t have access to high-speed Internet, if you don’t have broadband access — if you can’t afford it — a very critical process of helping people be healthy and telemedicine is unavailable to them.”
‘Lift up that great work’
“As you know, the president has made it a priority of our administration to really seek out and lift up the great work that American universities, technologists and innovators are doing,” Harris said during a discussion at UWM’s University Service and Research Building.
A large American flag hung on one wall, serving as a backdrop for a battery-powered, all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E SUV. Harris toured one lab that featured a fast-charger system and a smart microgrid.
Harris said “we’ve fallen behind” on research and development investment over the last quarter of a century as federal government investment has declined as a percentage of gross domestic product.
“We must be able to compete and so this is about where we stand in the global order of things,” she said.
Harris spoke excitedly about the university’s research labs.
“When I was there someone said how are auto workers feeling about this?” Harris said, adding the United Auto Workers union is “supporting what we are doing.”
For Harris, the Milwaukee visit started at Mitchell International Airport, where she was greeted by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore and Gov. Tony Evers, as well as Brigadier General Dave May, deputy adjutant general for Wisconsin Air National Guard, and his wife, Jeanette, and Chief Master Sgt. Meredith Conn, Wisconsin Air National Guard command chief.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said Harris’ visit to his hometown shows the state’s significance — and not just politically.
“It shows that Wisconsin is going to be on the forefront of recovery,” Barnes said.
He added that Wisconsin can be a key player in the “clean energy economy,” especially considering its manufacturing history.
“I think this visit is proof positive that again — Wisconsin, we matter,” Barnes said.
Baldwin said of Wisconsin: “We make things here,” as she pushed for the infrastructure plan.
Baldwin said “during the…