Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Steven Olikara unveils 'agenda to make government work'

Steven Olikara officially announces his candidacy Tuesday, August 17, 2021 in Milwaukee,Wis. The self-described "political entrepreneur" who founded a nonprofit devoted to "post-partisan political cooperation" is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S Senate.

He's 32, running for public office for the first time and not even a blip in the polls.

But Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Steven Olikara has big ideas about shaking up the "business model of politics."

Term limits? He's for them.

Open primaries and ranked-choice voting? Absolutely.

Fundraising while Congress is in session? He'd ban it.

"We today have a system of legalized bribery in Congress," Olikara said in an interview as he rolled out his "agenda to make government work."

Olikara is a Brookfield native and University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who gave up his job to run for U.S. Senate. He was the founder and chief executive of Millennial Action Project, a Washington-based nonprofit devoted to "post-partisan political cooperation."

He is now trying to elbow his way into political contention, making more than 120 appearances across the state. He's drumming up interest in his campaign by doing such things as selling NFTs, non-fungible tokens.

But Olikara is a long way from the top four in the Democratic primary: Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the front runner, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

Since joining the race in August, Olikara has raised $372,000, decent numbers for a first-time candidate but far behind many of his rivals.

The most recent Marquette University Law School Poll showed he had zero support among those who said they'll be voting in the Aug. 9 primary and hardly anyone knew of him.

"The majority of the voters haven't heard of or formed an opinion on any of the candidates so it continues to be a wide open race," Olikara said.

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Olikara is banking on his ideas to get traction in a crowded primary field.

He wants legislators to work on policy, not on raising cash. He'd ban members of Congress from fundraising while Congress is in session and clamp down on corporate PAC money. He'd also cap at $250,000 the amount of money individuals put into their own campaigns.

And he'd tighten up the Congressional calendar, with members working three weeks in D.C. and one week at home.

On elections, he's for open primaries, Republicans and Democrats thrown into the same mix. The top five finishers would move on to the general election, with voters ranking the candidates, what's known as ranked-choice voting.

He said those ideas and others can catch on with voters, like getting rid of gerrymandering, helping "non-traditional" candidates run for office and reforming the filibuster.

Olikara said he's out to create a coalition of voters "that can cut across party lines."

"I'm appealing to that exhausted majority," he said.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Democrat Steven Olikara running for U.S. Senate seat