Leaders Frustrated, Democrats Silent on Plans to Swarm Minority Districts

By: Brian Sikma

The news that up to four non-minority Democrat lawmakers are leaving their current districts and “carpetbagging” into districts drawn to empower racial and ethnic minority representation in the legislature has caused frustration among some leaders in the minority community. The purpose of so-called majority-minority districts is to ensure that racial and ethnic minorities have a chance to elect one of their own to represent them. Republican mapmakers this year attempted to create a second Hispanic district and a new African-American district in addition to protecting districts that already have majority-minority status.

Media Trackers last week released the news that four Democrat lawmakers are poised to move into and run in districts specifically created for minority representation. Media Trackers reached out to three of the lawmakers, Representatives Sandy Pasch, Josh Zepnick and Fred Kessler to get their side of the story. Representative Corey Mason had previously made public his plans to exit the district he currently represents and run in Racine’s only majority-minority district, a seat that has been represented by an African-American for twenty-two years.

All of the Democrat lawmakers Media Trackers reached out to remained tight-lipped and silent about the impact of their plans on Wisconsin’s minority communities.

Minority leaders, however, were more than willing to speak out about how the Democrats’ plans would impact minorities. Mikel Holt, an African-American community leader who writes for the Milwaukee Community Journal, thundered “this is insulting” when asked about the matter on a local Sunday television show.

Aaron Rodriguez, a Hispanic community opinion leader and blogger, told Media Trackers:

“What’s particularly frustrating about this is that Democrats fought hard to make sure less Latinos lived in the 9th District. Now Zepnick is carpetbagging to run in that same district.”

Rodriguez was referencing the recent legal fight championed by the Democrat Party and led by liberal Hispanic groups. That fight, which played out in front of a federal appeals court panel, centered on how to apportion Milwaukee’s Hispanic community. Republicans had created two districts with majority-Hispanic populations thereby creating a second chance for the community to elect one of their own to the Assembly. Federal judges, however, sided with the liberal groups and declared that the map must be redrawn to pack more Hispanic voters into the one district while diluting their numbers in the second district.

Although redrawn, the 9th Assembly District continues to have a majority of ethnic or racial minority voters.

In the predominantly African-American districts frustration with the Democrats’ plan seems to come from a sense that the African-American community could be losing some control over its own political destiny. Mikel Holt suggested the developments are a power play designed to further an “invisible coalition” that is trying to control “black community politics.” Members of the coalition would include organized labor and the Democrat Party, Holt said.

“Who will control the politics of the black community?” asked Holt. “Will it be black people or those who would tell us what is best for us?” Recounting the battle over school choice in Milwaukee, something that saw organized labor and the Democrat Party on one side and African-American community leaders and legislators on the other side, Holt said the African-American community is being viewed not as an important constituency but a voting bloc and Democrats seeking to leverage that voting bloc are simply trying to tell the African-American community what to do.

“There is a point beyond liberalism and it is a form of new racism,” he observed.

That racism comes through in soft bigotry aimed at suggesting that members of the African-American community can’t be expected to make good decisions for themselves. Dr. Ann Liang, the superintendent of Racine Public Schools, sparked a controversy that went public in January when she suggested that the African-American parents who choose to enroll their kids in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program are doing so because they don’t understand what their children need. For suggesting that African-Americans are inherently poor parents, Brother Bob Smith, an African-American and president of Messmer Catholic Schools, declared of Dr. Liang “her comments are offensive and an affront to the citizens who show they care about their children by seeking out options they feel will provide them with opportunities to excel in life.”

Just how much the frustration of the minority community will impact statewide elections remains to be seen, but sources did tell Media Trackers that it is very possible that the Democrat lawmakers will face primary challenges from minority candidates seeking to give a voice to the dominant constituency of the redrawn districts. Until the Democrat lawmakers go the record explaining how their actions, viewed as a naked power grab by some, are not about power and actually enable or assist minorities, expect to see the animosity continue.

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