Andy Gronik

Andy Gronik, center, meeting with voters as he traveled the state last year.

Scott Walker owes much of his political success to his shameless exploitation of racism. Whenever he needs to solidify his base ahead of an election, he raises the specter of evil: broken Milwaukee, which is not coincidentally home to 65 percent of the state’s African Americans.

Walker’s backing of a Republican measure to test food-stamp recipients for drug use is a great example. He knew from the outset the law had cost other states much more on testing than they saved from kicking people off food assistance when they tested positive.

So why the push?

It inspired his followers, many of whom think of social assistance programs as a “black issue.” Of course, that’s not the case — in 2016, more than 36 percent of food-stamp recipients were white, while under 26 percent were black — but Walker doesn’t let facts get in the way of a good, scary story.

In the current election cycle, Republicans are running scared — and sure enough, just listen for that racist dog whistle. Walker and the Republican Party’s latest act of desperation was an odious challenge to disqualify nominating papers that volunteers for Democrat Andy Gronik’s campaign for governor gathered in predominantly African-American areas of Milwaukee.

With surgical precision, as his campaign put it, the GOP focused its complaint on signatures from Milwaukee neighborhoods that are the most segregated in the nation.

The party claimed two of Gronik’s circulators weren’t eligible to circulate his papers due to felony convictions, as well as alleged minor technical irregularities.

Those accusations were designed to highlight two common racist stereotypes: that African Americans are criminals, and that they’re not intelligent enough to follow the rules.

Walker’s challenge to Gronik’s signature collection was — of course — not grounded in electoral reality. The state Election Commission reviewed the complaints and went on to unanimously adopt the staff’s recommendation to place Gronik on the ballot. His volunteers collected 3,602 valid signatures, far surpassing the minimum of 2,000.

In a statement to the press, Gronik fired back at Walker and the GOP and rejected the suggestion that Gronik’s judgment should be questioned for hiring ex-felons who’ve paid their debt to society. “I do not believe that every sentence should be a life sentence,” Gronik said. “It’s absurd that Walker’s Republican Party would suggest my judgment is impaired for hiring people just trying to get on with their lives.”

 

Ongoing efforts to disenfranchise blacks

The challenge to Gronik’s nominating papers is rightly seen as part of the ongoing Republican campaign to disenfranchise African Americans. That’s a cornerstone of the party’s electoral strategy — and it paid off for them in 2016, when the black-voter turnout in Wisconsin dropped 19 percent from 2012. While the lack of an African American at the top of the ticket in 2016 may explain part of the fall-off, much of it was also the result of Walker’s photo ID restrictions and the end to early voting. It’s possible that the latter factors were large enough to have changed the election outcome in the state: Trump won by around 22,000 votes.

With such blatant displays of racism coming from the very top of Wisconsin’s government, it’s no wonder that studies continually find the state has the nation’s highest black-white gaps in terms of income, employment, health, incarceration and education. Notably, those disparities have grown worse during the 30 years that Walker has held elected office, and some of the disparities, such as rising poverty rates among African Americans, can be tied directly to policies that Walker has promoted.

Gronik tried turning the tables on Walker by using the Republican attack on his campaign as a teachable moment. He held a news conference at Coffee Makes You Black to give three of his volunteers — Bianca Shaw, Cheryl Meeks and Torre Johnson — the chance to talk about their experiences with the electoral process.

We hope Walker’s latest attack on African-American voters will backfire by energizing black voters to turn out in greater numbers in November — along with the many white voters who are disgusted by racism. 

Editor’s note: Wisconsin Gazette has endorsed Gronik for governor.

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