On a video that has quickly gone viral, County Supervisor Peggy West told attendees at a county meeting that if Arizona shared a border with Mexico, she would have to re-think her position on boycotting Arizona's immigration law. The problem, however is that Arizona does indeed share a border with Mexico just like Texas, New Mexico and California.
The video of West's remarks circulated on YouTube where it received nationwide attention from political pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and a hoarde of Arizona blogs and newspapers.
Local personalities like Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling also spent considerable time poking fun at it. Belling said that in his 21 years of doing his program, this was the dumbest thing any Milwaukee liberal has ever said. He went on to say how sorry he was for County Executive Scott Walker for having to deal with people like her on the County Board.
Oddly, and yet not surprising, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered the story only after national news networks like Fox broke the story. Like other pundits, I have my opinions. There are so many things to say and so many ways to say it, so let's get started.
First, this incident underscores a problem we have in liberal havens like Milwaukee sheltered from the rest of the real world. We have activists like Peggy West voting on measures that they know nothing about using little more than gut feelings to guide their way. Arizona passed an immigration bill precisely because it shares a border with Mexico. If it were not directly paired with Mexico, Arizona wouldn't have episodes of violence with the Mexican drug cartels. Most people know this, and it is expected that a prominent leader in the Hispanic community should know this as well.
Second, the Milwaukee County Board was just moments away from a vote that could have negatively impacted Arizona's economy. The supervisor who co-sponsored the resolution didn't know where Arizona was on the map let alone the contents of the law she was allegedly protesting. Perhaps there should be a rule specifying that in order to boycott a state, you should know where it is and why you're boycotting it. It's not a terribly high standard to set.
At least one good thing resulted from all of this. Peggy West now knows where Arizona is thanks to Job Kyl, a U.S. Senator from Arizona, who sent Peggy West a letter accompanied by a handy map showing that Arizona was indeed on the border of Mexico. The letter also urged West to "actually read the Arizona law before forming an opinion about it."
Third, Peggy West represents nearly 50,000 residents on the Milwaukee's south side. She serves as Milwaukee County's 2nd Vice Chair; she is the Chairwoman of the Health and Human Needs Committee; and she is a member of the Economic & Community Development and Finance & Audit Committees. In other words, she is very politically connected and has the ability to influence policy in Milwaukee County. The Milwaukee County Board, whether informed or not, should stick with issues that pertain to Milwaukee County, not the politics of other states. This is a safe and wise policy.
And fourth, in 2004, Peggy West won the Hispanic Woman of the Year award from UMOS - a non-profit that helps low income migrants. Does anyone see the irony here? Arizona is the biggest gateway for Hispanic immigration into the United States, and our Hispanic Woman of the Year doesn't know that Arizona is attached to Mexico. Oh, and it gets better.
Peggy West is not just an award winning Hispanic woman, she is on the Cesar Chavez Drive Advancement Committee, on the Esperanza Unida Board of Directors, and on the Latina Resource Center Advisory Board. How does a person so involved in Hispanic issues know so little about both Arizona and Mexico? And even more interesting, news reports from Arizona are now saying Peggy West's Facebook profile listed "Mexican History" as one of her interests. Since then, however, she has scrubbed it from her Facebook page. Apparently, she has some catching up to do on her own heritage.
After Peggy West became an overnight sensation, she interviewed with TMJ4 saying she "simply misspoke". She meant to say that if Arizona shared a border with Mexico as large as Texas, then she might understand the need for an immigration law.
But there are a few inconsistencies with this explanation. Earlier, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted her saying that the Arizonan law was "racist". But if the Arizonan law is racist, what else is there to understand? Having a larger border doesn't make the law any less racist than if the border were smaller. Below is a quote of her comments. She said,
"If this [Arizona] was Texas, which is a state that is directly on the border with Mexico, and they were calling for a measure like this saying that they had a major issue with undocumented people flooding their borders, I would have to look twice at this. But this is a state that is a ways removed from the border,"
The video clearly showed that West didn't realize that Arizona "directly" bordered Mexico, but in fact believed that Arizona was "a ways removed" from the border, neither of which are true. Here is a good question, how far is "a ways removed"? We're not exactly sure. For all we know, she could believe Arizona is on the Canadian border. But even if we took West at her word, there are problems. The Texan border with Mexico may be the largest, but the Arizonan border is the most frequented thanks to miles of fencing built in Texas and California.
For the Hispanic community, I think now is as good a time as any to get new leadership. For years, we had a Latino State Legislator that refused to fight for Wisconsin's Choice Schools, which is a program that provides school vouchers to low-income families so their children can receive the same quality education received in private schools. Not only did Pedro Colon refuse to support the program, but he tried to cripple it by introducing legislation that, if it had passed, would have crushed many of the smaller private school participants.
And now, we have a "celebrity" county supervisor who has initiated a boycott on the premise that Arizona doesn't share borders with Mexico, only to receive a geography lesson from an Arizona Senator showing that Arizona does indeed border Mexico. West has become the joke of the nation and has won the "pinhead" award from Bill O'Reilly last week. Some leadership we have Wisconsin, right?
Leaders in the Hispanic community, both nationally and locally, have done a poor job representing us. The Hispanic community is still a socially conservative body retaining values consistent with being pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-education. But we have not seen these values in our local leadership. Instead, we see open-border advocates coordinating marches. We see Latino leaders fighting for government-run health care. And we see Get-Out-the-Vote drives by the National Council of La Raza that encourages people to vote who don't know who or what they're voting for.
It's time that we take back our community and elect representatives that embody our core values. Until we do this, we will continue to see the wrong sort of Hispanic leaders bring national embarrassment to our community.