A crowd of intrigued community members listened attentively as Matthew Flynn addressed them in Spanish at his meet-and-greet event on Milwaukee’s south side on Nov. 16 at Tres Hermanos Restaurant. At first surprised, but then impressed at his bilingual skills, people said they were excited to hear his plan for Wisconsin, as he is one of the many Democrats running against Scott Walker in next year’s race for governor.
Although the election for the next Wisconsin governor is still some time away, campaigning has already begun. Flynn, a prominent Milwaukee civil attorney and former chairman of the state Democratic Party, announced back in October that he would be running against Walker in 2018, and he’s just one of several people hoping to win. Other candidates include Democrats Kathleen Vinehout, Mahlon Mitchel, and Tony Evers.
“I think he’s a good candidate because he has experience with living in another country and seeing first-hand the kind of struggles other people go through” says Lily Alvarado, an attendee of the meet-and-greet event. “I feel he’s qualified to do the job because of his previous political positions.”
Flynn spent time with Media Milwaukee explaining his background. Matthew J. Flynn was born in New York City in 1948, where he was the oldest of 11 children. His family was living there when his father, Gerard Flynn, had just finished serving in World War II. It wasn’t until 1963 when Flynn was 15-years-old that his father became chair of the Spanish department at UWM after they offered him tenure. Although Matt himself isn’t a UWM alumnus, the university has always been a part of his life.
List to Flynn’s interview here:
“Ever since I was 15, our family home has been somewhere within a mile of UWM,” says Flynn.
Before the family settled in Milwaukee, the Flynns moved around quite a bit. They even lived in Mexico City, Mexico for a couple of years while Flynn’s father was working on his PhD in Spanish from New York University.
“I did most of second and third grade there at a school called Fray Juan de Zamarrga. I even did my first communion at the Basilica De La Virgen De Guadalupe” says Flynn, “Everyone was very kind to me and living there has made me have a keen understanding of what it means to be an immigrant.”
After his father finished the dissertation on the 17th century Mexican poet Sor Juana Inez De La Cruz and his work was published, the family moved back to the U.S. to Milwaukee.
“We had a wonderful time living in Mexico; I still remember the address, it was 324 Calle Nicolas San Juan,” said Flynn.
When the family returned to the states, Flynn was 15-years-old and ready to enroll in high school. Because the family of 13 was low on funds, his parents suggested he take a test to receive a scholarship for boarding school in Portsmouth Rhode Island called Portsmouth Abbey, ran by the Benedictine fathers. Flynn passed the test, received the scholarship and attended it for four years. This was the same boarding school Bobby Kennedy attended.
After high school, Flynn applied himself again and received a scholarship to Yale University where he graduated from in 1969. Shortly after finishing his undergraduate degree, he joined the Navy during the midst of the Vietnam war in 1970 and served until 1972.
In the Navy, he was assigned to the USS opportune, a salvage ship home ported in little creek Virginia. Although it was considered a small ship, there were 99 crew members and six officers on board. There, Flynn was the Operations officer and had about 20 sailors who reported to him. This included: electronic technicians, cryptology communications and radio techs.
“My family was very proud of my service. I come from a family of veterans; my father was a Marine pilot in WWII. I was the first in the family to be in the Navy instead of the Marines,” says Flynn. “I chose the Navy because I was interested in seeing the world and serving on a ship. Although all the branches of the service are important, without the Navy we don’t control the seas and you have to control the seas.”
After Flynn’s father passed away he found a press release in his belongings that said, “Lieutenant JG Matt Flynn of Random Lake is serving on a guard ship on the USS opportune for the Apollo 17 Flight.”
At the time the family was living in Random Lake, Wisconsin when Flynn got the opportunity to see the lift off from land.
Following his service, Flynn decided he wanted to go to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for Law for three years. He was the law clerk for Judge Thomas Fairchild after graduating, who was the chief judge in the U.S. court of appeals for the 7ths circuit in Chicago.
“When I was younger like in seventh and eighth grade, I would always say I wanted to be a lawyer. There were no lawyers in the family but that stayed in the back of my mind when I got out of the Navy and wanted to do more schooling, so I became a lawyer,” said Flynn
He came to Wisconsin in 1976 and married his wife, Mary. They have been married for 41 years and counting. Flynn then took a job at Corals Quarles and Brady where he spent his legal career representing clients like: Johnson Controls, Nike and most notably the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In 1995 and 1997 he defended the Archdiocese against sexual abuse claims brought by seven alleged victims after they claimed they had been sexually abused by priests when they were minors. The supreme court ruled in favor of the Archdiocese.
He also was the chairman of the state Democratic Party for two terms during the 1980s.
“I was attracted to politics because of example of John F. Kennedy. I was 16 when he was assassinated and I thought he was a good president that had done a lot for the country. So I got involved in the Democratic party because I was a Democrat,” he said.
In 1978, Flynn ran against Jim Sensenbrenner for the open congressional seat. Sensenbrenner ended up winning, but it was the most votes anyone had ever gotten while running against him.
“I was really young, but I ran a good race. I ran for party chairman in 1981 and won, and then again in 1983 and won,” says Flynn.
As time went on, people began encouraging him to run for governor; and he listened. Some of the things on Flynn’s list to improve and fix are:
Eliminating title 10 to reinstate prevailing wage, free tuition and loan refinancing for students, net-neutrality for Wisconsin, legalization of marijuana, and most importantly honesty in government.
“We need a governor who says unifying things like Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy. One that believes that all people are equal, that’s what’s important to me,” said Flynn.
He looks up to his parents, more than anything, as well as John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.
“They were courageous people and stood for decency, I think very highly of them.”
For a more detailed list of his priorities and up-to-date news visit www.forwardwithflynn.com
Aside from being a lawyer and politician, Flynn likes to enjoy his free time with reading and writing. He has even published two books, called “Pryme Knumber” and “Bernie Weber and the Reimann Hypothesis. Both set in Milwaukee.
“I like writing because you have total control, and I find it completely relaxing. Both are comedies with a bit of satire. They boost Wisconsin and Milwaukee in a way that I think they capture the idiosyncrasy of our culture here, it’s a wonderful culture I feel,” said Flynn.
UWM is mentioned in both, more specifically Curtin and Mitchell hall. They are available at Boswell’s books store here in Milwaukee or at Amazon.