I want to start by congratulating my wife, Jessie Rodriguez, on her win in the 21st Assembly district. She ran her campaign with a lot of class and was unfazed by those who besmirched her name. Also worthy of note, Jessie's opponent, Elizabeth Coppola, ran a clean campaign and called Jess to congratulate her, which was the right thing to do. It's refreshing to know that in an era when politics has been reduced to a zero-sum game, people don't have to wallow in the mud.
I have a few thoughts about the race. I don't believe Jessie’s victory is reducible to any single reason or cause. The three biggest factors I saw at play are as follows:
First, local elections, as they say, are won by friends, family, and tennis shoes. Jessie knew this coming in and was relentless at the doors. Some residents in the 21st saw her three to four times in a 10-week span. That's a lot of ground to cover in an district with three cities.
Second, campaigns are not run on hopes and dreams. It takes money to run a campaign and money to move a message. It's probably the least enjoyable part of running for office, but Jessie took her campaign seriously and outraised her opponents handily.
Third, Jessie’s campaign team was nothing short of fantastic. They were competent, devoted, and willing to absorb the noise so the candidate could focus on being the candidate. They provided a constancy when things were moving fast; and above all, they believed in her.
So, what does the win signify?
I think it puts at least one myth to rest. Despite opinions to the contrary, the 21st Assembly District has no reservations about electing a Hispanic to the state legislature. Some on the left thought a district with less than 8% Hispanic population couldn't or wouldn't elect a Latina. They were wrong.
To be clear, she goes by Jessie – and has done so for the last 20 years – largely because too many people mispronounced her name. (In Spanish, the “Y” is often pronounced as a “J,” many of her high school teachers got this wrong).
Jessie’s win also signifies that Republicans have no problems supporting minority candidates and Democrats have no problems attacking them. When it comes to voting, people care more about core issues than they do skin color.
As noted by Right Wisconsin, a local immigrant rights group called Voces de la Frontera put out a hit mailer days before the election attacking Jessie as an extremist Republican bent on destroying our public schools. It’s ironic that an organization willing to face legal fines and imprisonment to raise the social status of immigrants would oppose the first Hispanic immigrant ever to run for the state legislature. To prevent future confusion, I suggest they qualify their mission statement to say they only support immigrants that are liberal.
What it boils down to is that the 21st Assembly District wanted a conservative. Jessie didn’t sugarcaot her views or hide from her conservatism. She made clear that she supported lower taxes, more jobs, and more choice in education.
At a fundraiser a few weeks ago, Senate Leader Chris Larson said the 21st assembly race would be prognosticative of taking back the Governor's mansion in the 2014. They believed that if Jessie had lost, it would be a public repudiation of Governor Walker’s statewide expansion of school choice.
Well Chris, I hope you were paying attention. The 21st Assembly District likes school choice and they like Governor Walker’s reforms. See you in 2014.
Wisconsin - Milwaukee County
After a very costly pension scandal in 2002 and contract negotiations with a decertified union last year against legal advice, it’s not too surprising that members of the County Board wouldn’t recognize a conflict of interest if it bit them in the buttocks.
On November 1, Supervisor Peggy Romo-West introduced a budget amendment to provide $5,000 to the Tavern League of Wisconsin for their SafeRide program. Innocent enough, right?
Ten days after earmarking money for the Tavern League, Romo-West went before the Milwaukee Licensing Committee and was granted approval to open her own “Romo’s Silver City Sports Bar” on 36th and Greenfield.
As Vice Chair of the County Board, Romo-West should be smart enough to avoid the very appearance of wrongdoing. After all, earlier this year, she was found guilty of violating ethics rules regarding her campaign for office; and just last week, Right Wisconsin (a go-to site for conservative news) ran a story about her using a personal email account to skirt open records laws (p.s. John Chisholm I’m still waiting for the John Doe on a Democrat).
Although Romo-West is probably best known for her struggles with U.S. geography, she has arguably met her match with County Board colleague, Supervisor Russell Stamper.
During a short discussion about Romo-West’s earmark to the Tavern League, Stamper – a member of the Board’s powerful Budget Committee – struggled to understand who or what the Tavern League was.
“What type of sport or what type of league is it,” Stamper asked about the Tavern League.
After Romo-West explained that the Tavern League is an association of bars, Stamper was lost.
“I just didn’t know how a tavern can get in a league,” Stamper demurred. “Because, you know, they got pool leagues and things like that, but it’s not like that, huh?”
You can hear the exchange here starting around the four-minute mark.
There is little doubt that next April’s county referendum to cut supervisor pay will pass, but stories like this help clear the way for the more conflicted Milwaukee County voters about shaking up the County Board. It must be good for Members of the Board to know that, after voters have their say, they will have a place to drown their sorrows.
Recently, a Journal Sentinel editorial criticized Republicans for going too far and making it too difficult for individuals to file complaints against school districts for race-based Indian mascots and team names. The JS editorial board, quite simply, observed that requiring petition signatures from no less than 10% of the school district’s student body population is setting the bar too high for accusers.
Presuming they are right – that the bar is too high and too difficult to satisfy – where do they suggest the bar should be set? The editorial reads,
“That's a tall hurdle to jump, and it presumes that the question is whether district residents are offended by the use of mascots and names that reflect stereotypes of Indians or other minorities. That is not the question. The question is whether the use of such names and mascots promotes stereotypes and attitudes that by their very nature are offensive.”
Ostensibly, it’s easier to conjecture about what is “by nature” offensive than it is to author legislation that uses local control to weed out frivolous complaints. For instance, a case can be made that “Washington Redskins” is an offensive team name, in part, because redskins has been used increasingly in a pejorative way over the years. It is more difficult to make the case, however, that “Mukwonago Indians” is an offensive name.
It's difficult because reasonable people disagree about the name being offensive. In cases like these, the burden of proof should rest with the accuser and only after support is gathered by members of the local community. Otherwise, proving that a team name is "by nature" offensive will just be an act of futility.
Adding to the confusion is the feigned outrage by Democrats over the bill.
"You can't call me a nigger and it's OK," Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), told her colleagues on the Senate floor. "We should not be able to call them savages, redskins or even Indians."
Adding her two cents was freshman Senator Nikiya Harris (D-Milwaukee),
"The audacity of white people telling people of color what this is and what this ain't! This is a race issue. This nonsense that this ain't a race issue; this nonsense that we're making this up — really? This is racism!"
There are two distinct claims being made. Taylor is advocating for a limit on free speech evoking emotive and vulgar language to make a point. (Does anyone believe we should start using the N-word at the State Capitol?)
Harris seems to be maing a broad-brushed claim that white people are unqualified to examine or speak authoritatively on matters of race. This is actually good to know. I’m curious if she is willing to say that only judges of color should preside over cases that involve racism or race-based discrimination. If not, anything else would seem to be audacious.
For Democrats to denounce bills based exclusively on the ethnic background of those who propose them is unwarranted, embarrassing, and inexcusable. It also is suggestive of losing the argument. Despite what they think, Democrats don’t own minority issues. They don’t get to speak authoritatively for me on what bills are racist. To suggest that only minority legislators can speak to matters of race is nothing more than political maneuvering and a possible foreshadowing of what's to come in 2014.