Moments after his closest competitor called to concede Tuesday night, Fitchburg’s Jimmy Anderson spun a motorized wheelchair toward his wife, Ashley, who embraced him as tightly as tinfoil. She whispered in his ear, “You did it, you did it, you did it … ”
For a rare time, Anderson was speechless.
“During that moment,” Ashley said later, “he was feeling overwhelming emotion.”
Anderson, who turns 30 later this month, won the three-candidate Democratic primary for the State Assembly’s 47th District. There is no Republican challenger in the Nov. 8 election.
Anderson almost certainly will join one of the country’s most embattled state legislatures.
And he will be one of the most compelling and inspiring politicians as the lone quadriplegic elected official in any state government.
Five years ago, a drunken driver raced through a stop sign and sent Anderson’s family car rolling end over end along the road. The crash killed his parents and brother and left Anderson paralyzed from the chest down.
Still, in December 2012, Anderson completed his final year of law school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison then formed an organization to fight drunken driving.
Last April, he announced he would run in a primary against incumbent Rep. Robb Kahl (D-Monona), who ripped the staunchly progressive Anderson’s decision with such vitriol – “he will get nothing done,” Kahl said – that the incumbent seemed oddly shaken. Then Kahl announced he wouldn’t run.
That brought two Fitchburg alders, Julia Arata-Fratta and Tony Hartmann, into the race in a district that includes Fitchburg, Monona, McFarland and parts of Madison. On Tuesday, Anderson emerged with 3,503 votes, almost 500 ahead of Arata-Fratta and well ahead of Hartmann.
After winning, Anderson spoke to about 40 supporters, who awaited results at the Great Dane Pub in Fitchburg Tuesday. He told the story of campaigning door to door and meeting a McFarland woman in the early stages of multiple sclerosis. She told him about health-care fears.
“It struck a nerve with me. I went through similar experiences after my accident,” he said. “It was her story that helped me go to that next door and that next door and that next door.”
When Tuesday’s voting began, Anderson had stopped at 5,200 residences. A campaign worker would knock on the door and ask if Anderson could talk to them about the election.
After Tuesday night’s win, Anderson spoke warmly about his wife Ashley, a Verona veterinarian, who allowed him a respite from campaign talk and listened to her work stories at night.
“Thanks for helping me get across the finish line,” he told her Tuesday night before expanding that sentiment to include his campaign staff.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) had endorsed Anderson, and was at the Great Dane Tuesday night, where he talked to the Star after Anderson’s victory. Pocan marveled at Anderson’s stamina and intellect.
“He’s very bright. He’s an articulate person,” Pocan said. “He has unique life experience. He’s going to look differently, and that’s going to help people think closely about some issues that they hadn’t before.”
Arata-Fratta, who would have become the first Latina woman to join the Assembly from south-central Wisconsin, spent much of Tuesday night at a Fitchburg Common Council meeting. After her call to Anderson, she returned to the council meeting at 10 p.m.
“I am proud of the positive, grassroots campaign that I ran,” Arata-Fratta wrote in a statement.
On Tuesday night, Anderson’s wife Ashley described how Jimmy pushed his candidacy since April.
“He was out campaigning every day. I mean Monday through Sunday unless there was terrible weather. He wanted to be out there,” Ashley said. “I’m very proud of him. I could not be prouder.”
On Tuesday, Anderson talked to supporters while others watched the slow crawl of election results trickle in.
“He had a remarkable calm over the last few days,” Ashley said of Jimmy after the win. “I had been asking him every few hours, ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling?’ And he said last night, ‘Win or lose, I know I did my best.’”