Last week, we met with Sylvia Ortiz - a candidate for Milwaukee County's 12th district - to discuss what her candidacy means to the future of the County Board. We laid out three issues to discuss: Voter ID, State Redistricting, and alleged campaign violations against Supervisor Peggy Romo West.
Concerning Voter ID, Ortiz said she supports Wisconsin's new law, but has some concerns about why the DMV charges residents a fee for lost IDs. All in all, Ortiz believes that if an ID is required to buy a pack of cigarettes, it should also be required to cast a ballot. "Voting is more important than smoking," Ortiz quipped.
Ortiz' past experience finding voter irregularities has likely shaped her perspective on voter fraud. Four years ago, Ortiz helped Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf identify voter fraud in the 12th Aldermanic district. After winning his primary in 2008, Alderman James Witkowiak send thank you cards to 400 new voters. To his surprise, 20% of his postcards came back undeliverable.
With the assistance of a retired cop, Sylvia Ortiz and Alderman Witkowiak found that 75 of the 400 new voters didn't exist. In 2000, Witkowiak had won by a mere 17 votes. Ortiz explained that in low turnout elections such as these, 75 fraudulent votes can avert the will of the electorate. Ortiz says that photo identification at the ballot box gives her confidence that elections are fair.
We asked Ortiz about her thoughts on state and county redistricting, a more recent hot-button issue in the Hispanic community. Every ten years, local governments are mandated by federal law to adjust voter boundaries to account for changes in population growth. Unfortunately, the process is hyper-partisan as bureaucrats aim to strengthen their own districts. On the state level, Republicans redrew boundaries hastily denying the public sufficient input. At the County level, Democrats were equally unscrupulous; but in this case, the Hispanic community was nearly denied the right to elect the representative of their choosing.
Although Ortiz believes the state dropped the ball in their redistricting, she doesn't believe their map disenfranchised Hispanic voters - a contention of Voces de la Frontera. Ortiz reasoned that the Hispanic community is growing at rates that clearly justify drawing a second majority Latino district. Ortiz says local governments can only redistrict every 10 years, so it's a bit shortsighted to look at our population now instead of population growth five years down the road.
Late last year, Voces de la Frontera filed a lawsuit against the State Government Accountability Board alleging that Republican redistricting maps had disenfranchised Latinos. Hispanics for Leadership - a coalition of Latino community leaders and business owners - publicly disagreed stating that Voces' lawsuit was not in the best interest of the Hispanic community. When it comes to redistricting, Ortiz sided with Hispanics for Leadership.
Also, Ortiz had opposed Milwaukee County's preliminary map drawn last spring by Democrats. Ortiz said she was disappointed with Supervisors Peggy West and Marina Dimitrijevic for what she called a blatant attempt to draw district lines that benefited themselves at the expense of the Hispanic community.
Hispanics for Leadership, among other groups, pressured the County Board to modify their preliminary map to give Latinos a second majority voting-age district - something that many of them said couldn't be done. By making amendments to their own map, Ortiz pointed out, West and Dimitrijevic conceded they were wrong. Ortiz believes that redistricting should not be done by those whose careers stand to benefit. Instead, she thinks that redistricting should be done by an independent committee of disinterested parties consisting of community members.
Earlier, Ortiz had filed complaint with the ethics board against incumbent Peggy West for campaign violations. These range from insufficient nomination signatures to campaigning on county time. The latter charge appears to be more onerous in light of the ongoing John Doe investigations.
Ortiz says that Peggy West used County resources to campaign. She pointed to 13 instances on Facebook where West had invited people to her fundraisers or thanked them for their endorsements while on County time. Supervisor West explained she was using Facebook to keep in contact with her constituents. If this is the case, Ortiz says, then her Facebook is deemed a public account. And if it's public, West shouldn't be picking and choosing which constituents to "unfriend." Where is the transparency, Ortiz asked?
Ortiz also emailed El Conquistador pictures of West receiving a ride in a County vehicle during a Labor Day Parade. The problem here is that West was sporting a "reelect Peggy West" t-shirt at the time. Ortiz says that using County resources to campaign for her reelection creates an unfair advantage. The Milwaukee D.A. is currently considering her complaint.
On Tuesday, Ortiz issued a rather biting press release explaining a decision to decline an invitation from the Southside Organizing Committee (SOC) to attend a County Candidate Forum sponsored by Voces de la Frontera and Layton West Neighbors. Ortiz' press release said, "With the exception of one person, everyone on your board [Southside Organizing Committee] has contributed money or supports my opponent Peggy West."
Of those on the SOC board, Gladys Manzanet, Jason Cleereman, Graciela Hernandez, Marta Alamo, Carmen Cabrera, David Samuel, Steve Fendt, and Pamela Fendt have all contributed or have supported West's campaign.
Ortiz said, "My supporters, and I don't think it is prudent for me to spend my time in a debate sponsored by people who have an obvious bias and self-interest. I need to spend my limited time with the voters in the 12th District to whom this office is accountable! They surely deserve my attention."
Similarly, candidate Bill Buresh also declined the County Candidate Forum indicating to us there is no good reason to attend a forum sponsored by those who make no secret of their biases.