State Reps. JoCasta Zamarripa and Sandy Pasch, along with their supporters, charge that their Democratic primary opponents’ views are more in line with Republicans than with mainstream Democrats.
Laura Manriquez, who hopes to unseat Zamarripa in the 8th Assembly District, calls herself a “lifetime Democrat.” But she has the backing of Scott Suder, the right-wing Republican Majority Leader of the Assembly.
Manriquez touts Suder’s support as evidence she can work in a bipartisan spirit to get things done. She denies his Tea Party connections, even though he’s a headline speaker at Tea Party meetings around the state and has consistently voted with Gov. Scott Walker.
Pasch’s leading challenger in the 10th Assembly District is Millie Coby, who filled out a questionnaire for Equality Wisconsin in which she linked gays and lesbians to pedophilia. She refuses to take a stance on choice, and she’s a licensed minister in the fundamentalist Church of God in Christ, as well as a member of Christian Faith Fellowship Church, whose pastor is stridently anti-gay.
Opponents say both Coby and Manriquez are receiving support from the American Federation for Children, a right-wing group that supports a school voucher system giving parents government money to pay private school tuition. Public education supporters like Pasch believe this would decimate the current system by draining scarce funds from already strapped public schools for private and parochial school coffers.
The AFC has backed conservative Wisconsin Democrats in the past. In 2010, the group supported state Sen. Jeff Plale in his unsuccessful re-election bid against progressive then-challenger Sen. Chris Larson.
Coby told WiG she didn’t know whether she’d received donations from the federation. “Any donation I’ve gotten goes to my treasurer, so that I don’t know,” she said.
Manriquez declined to return WiG’s phone calls.
Manriquez is trying to use Zamarripa’s sexual orientation against her with the 8th District’s Hispanic-majority voters. Zamarripa came out publicly last month as bisexual in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Manriquez and her allies lost no time in spreading the news through the district by issuing a press release accusing Zamarripa of trying to capitalize on her sexual orientation.
According to several sources, Manriquez has been trying to out Zamarripa since the two opposed each other in the 2010 Assembly election. “I remember being at the Democratic convention in 2010 when we were both candidates and people were coming up to me and saying that she was telling people I’m gay,” Zamarripa said.
That same year, the conservative Spanish Journal tried to out Zamarripa by Photoshopping a rainbow over her head in a picture that appeared on the publication’s cover.
Zamarripa said she considered coming out then, but her campaign team urged her to wait.
After agonizing for years over going public, Zamarripa dismissed the charge that she’s capitalizing on her sexual orientation as not only ridiculous but insulting.
“This was not an easy decision,” Zamarripa said. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I have always wanted to strive for openness and honesty and transparency and to be that kind of leader to my constituents.”
Zamarripa said the deciding factor was how much her coming out could help LGBT youth, and she was encouraged by the success of other out candidates around the country.
Jennifer Morales, a former Milwaukee School Board member who came out as lesbian in 2006 and who is a staunch supporter of Zamarripa, agreed that coming out is the best thing that LGBT officials can do for youth.
“I saw it as the single thing I could do to help raise awareness of LGBT students, parents and employees in the midst of” the 2006 campaign to amend the state’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, she said.
Morales said Zamarripa’s coming out could hurt her in the district. “The Latino community remains fairly socially conservative,” she said. “Generally, people take a sort of live-and-let-live attitude, but when it comes to political figures, I would say overall it’s a negative.”
Still, Morales said coming out was worth it to her. “It’s a very freeing feeling that at last you don’t have anything to lose any more. I know that it did cost me some political support and that was really hard, but I wouldn’t trade the experience of being out for any political support.”
Zamarripa said she hasn’t had any blowback from her constituents. “I’ve been knocking on doors and talking to voters since the (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) piece came out,” Zamarripa said. “Nobody’s brought it up to me. I think my constituents are very pragmatic. I think there’s other concerns that will take a priority.”
Manriquez has never held public office, but she’s known as tenacious. She also ran for the 8th Assembly seat in 2008, and when she came in third in the 2010 Democratic primary, she ran in the general election as a write-in candidate.
Her campaign literature lists among her qualifications that Manriquez “has visited the state Capitol to speak at numerous committees and has met with various state representatives and state senators regarding a myriad of issues.”
Dodging the issues
Millie Coby is one of two African-American women running against Pasch in the 10th Assembly District. Pasch currently represents the 22nd District, which was eliminated by Republicans when they redrew the state’s political boundaries following the 2010 U.S. Census. The new 10th District combines the heavily African-American neighbor- hoods of Milwaukee’s West Side with the white, affluent community of Shorewood.
Some black leaders have branded Pasch, who currently resides in Whitefish Bay, as a “carpet- bagger” and urged African-Americans to support, as state Rep. Beth Coggs put it, “someone that looks like you.”
The other candidate in the race is Ieshuh Griffin. She made national headlines in a prior campaign when she fought to get “NOT the ‘white man’s bitch’” listed as her statement of purpose on the ballot. (A fourth candidate in the race dropped out and threw her support to Coby.)
Coby, who is involved in youth leadership development and outreach as executive director of the Commission on Education and Doctrine for the Church of God in Christ, has the support of Coggs, state Sen. Lena Taylor and other African-American leaders. Taylor has said she fears losing the small presence that African Americans currently have in the Assembly.
Jason Burns, executive director of Equality Wisconsin, is alarmed that race has become an issue in the 10th Assembly District. He said progress is only achieved when people work together.
“Equality Wisconsin has a long history of intersectional work with both the African-American and Latino communities,” he said. “When making our endorsements we primarily consider how candidates have been on LGBT issues, but we also consider how they’ve been on other progressive issues, as evidenced in our endorsement of Marina Dimitrijevic over LGBT community member Bill Buresh (last fall).”
Coby told WiG that neither she nor her church is homophobic. “We believe that Christ loves all people,” Coby said. “We teach them how to be good citizens and good constituents to their area.”
But apparently that love only goes so far. Coby declined to respond to the item on an Equality Wisconsin candidate questionnaire asking about support for marriage equality. She also declined to answer a question about the federal Uniting Families Act, which would make it possible for the foreign partners of American gays and lesbians to immigrate to the United States.
In addition, Coby left blank the answer to a question asking whether she supports an immigration bill similar to Arizona’s controversial law, parts of which have been declared unconstitutional.
Coby did respond, however, that she would defend Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry and support an increase in hate crime penalties.
Her most upsetting response, according to Burns, was to a question about extending adoption rights to registered domestic partners.
“I would support adoption as long as the persons who want to adopt are not pedophiles and have no history of any child molestation,” she responded. “Children should not be in any household that would put them in harm’s way.”
Coby told WiG she does not remember that answer. “I don’t even know that I said that,” she said.
Asked about her position on choice, Coby refused to answer, saying only that she was the child of a teenage mother who put her up for adoption. “I’m thanking God that I’ve had the opportunity to be born,” she said, going on to talk about the positive impact she’s had on the world.
Coby said she moved to Shorewood because she has a special-needs child, and she wanted to be near a school with a strong Individualized Education Program. “I’m in favor of parents having the option of getting the education they want for their children,” she said. But she declined to state her stance on school vouchers.
Coby’s positions, many of which are shared by the Republican right, have led to charges by Pasch and others that she’s a Republican in Democrats’ clothing. It appears likely that her election would give the GOP a Democratic vote on some of the most divisive social issues.