Following the U.S. Census, the party in control of each state legislature gets to redraw the boundaries of its political districts, ostensibly to reflect population changes. The party so empowered inevitably uses the opportunity to design a map shamelessly serving its advantage.
In Wisconsin, the reigning GOP leadership used the occasion of the 2010 Census to implement a number of controversial maneuvers, including eliminating the former 22nd Assembly District. Among other things, Republicans folded the district’s white, upscale community of Shorewood into the 10th Assembly District’s inner-city boundaries, creating a super-majority Democratic district that politically unites two diverse populations.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Elizabeth Coggs, who represents the 10th District, decided to step down this year and run for a state Senate seat. Her move left the seat vacant, and Rep. Sandy Pasch, who did an outstanding job representing the 22nd District, decided to run for it.
Pasch’s three opponents include an unqualified candidates and Millie Coby, whose position on choice is blurry at best and whose opinion of LGBT people is insulting at worst. Coby’s foes say she’s tied to a Republican school voucher group, which she did not deny during a conversation with WiG. For such a Democratic district, the choice in this election should be easy.
But because Pasch’s two opponents are African-American and the district is 61-percent black, the campaign has become complicated with racial overtones.
Coggs amped up the ugliness when she told a largely black audience to “vote for someone that looks like you” in the Aug. 14 primary. State Sen. Lena Taylor, a former Pasch supporter, has also urged blacks to vote along racial lines.
Both Coggs and Taylor have thrown their support behind Coby.
In a representative democracy, elected officials should reflect the diversity of their constituents. Everyone benefits when our leaders have a divergent range of experience, insight and sensibilities. But elevating identity politics above all other considerations balkanizes our democracy.
For the record, Pasch is the only Jewish member of the Assembly
Last fall, WiG endorsed Milwaukee County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic over openly gay challenger Bill Buresh, even though there’s not a single out gay or lesbian on the county board. Dimitrijevic has been an exceptional leader for LGBT equality and other issues that matter to us. Buresh was a newcomer whose primary goal was to curtail the board’s size and power – a goal with which we disagree.
Pasch, too, has been an exceptional legislator and a stalwart champion of progressive issues. On merit, she’s become assistant Assembly Democratic leader and chair of the Milwaukee Democratic Legislative Caucus.
Meanwhile, none of her challengers has ever held elected office.
Barack Obama was elected president not because he was black but in spite of it. He was the best candidate to lead the nation, and the voters of America looked past the color of his skin and the nation’s racist past to let the best man win.
The thinking of Coggs and Taylor would move us backward to a time when that couldn’t have happened.