In The News
Outdated thinking impedes Pasch’s desire to serve District 10
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted July 17, 2012
This is a tale of two Assembly districts, one departed but historically famous as an inner city African American district. No more. Both the community and the district are much reshaped.
The GOP majority – note the Democrats had nothing to do with this and even cried foul -- went even further. It chopped away the north end of the district and expanded east to the lakefront. And that plus normal cultural change gutted what for generations had been thought of as Annette (Polly) Williams' district.
She is the now retired feisty, sometimes ornery African American leader whose best intentions for social justice and children pioneered the voucher school program - but she backed away when she saw how the operative mechanism imposed by the GOP was serving as a glorified vehicle for right-wing politics and abandoning the real minority poor to incorporate middle class incomes - in effect using taxpayer money as backdoor tuition for regular private schools.
Other black politicians have been slower to realize that the principled concern about helping poor children has been co-opted by big money right-wing efforts to use that voucher opening to introduce policy ideas that most residents of this district would loathe if they came from other mouths.
When Williams retired, Elizabeth Coggs abandoned her County Board seat to take over in 2010 and now is trying to switch upward again, seeing her relative Spencer Coggs leaving the state Senate. (Senate District 6 seat may not have been intended as a family inheritance or a royal token, so many intend to make a fight over its future.)
So there is now a new real District 10 tale despite an historical connection some cling to. The new district incorporates Shorewood. A crucial north section has been handed to the most obedient Democrat the GOP knew in Milwaukee, District 11's Jason Fields. The core of the voting power reflects the new vitality of Riverwest and North Shore Grassroots.
Enter the fever for a candidate who can speak to diverse needs while being known as a hard-working champion of minority progress. That is Sandy Pasch, whose legislative insight and stances have won support over the years from community leaders including US Rep. Gwen Moore, a constant supporter.
In the legislature Rep. Pasch of District 22 (now cut into pieces and literally transported way out west) was the outspoken defender of mental health care, fair school funding, minority advances and other causes where she articulately thwarted right-wing prattler Sen. Alberta Darling and others -- and actually made strong inroads in GOP terrain during last year's recall election against Darling, though she couldn't defeat a surprising last minute surge from Menomonee Falls and Mequon.
The GOP all along schemed to remove her voter base from future threats against their Darling -- and they expected Pasch to simply cry uncle and go away. "Courage deserves reward," noted many citizens, who realize such persistence is not typical of so-called "establishment candidates." She was the most obvious if not the only target in GOP redrawing districts to force out strong incumbents or to force them to move to new homes if they wanted to continue representing citizens.
And move Pasch will. In an all-Democrats field, Pasch now needs to win Aug. 14 in a district many do not yet realize has been radically reconfigured. Now District 10 includes more voters who know and support Pasch.
African Americans may be majority in the district, but many of their most active community leaders expressed anger to Labor Press at "people who play racial politics" by sticking stubbornly to the past shape and desires of the old District 10.
Some surprising game-players are caught in the old views - Williams herself, Sen. Lena Taylor and others who apparently worry about an erosion of black power in the legislature.
Several black constituents, however, thought that was short-sighted and too nativist. They expressed how unhappy they are to see such simplicities put in play "especially against someone who has risked her future and career for her beliefs as Pasch has done," one told me.
Emphasizing how wrong-minded that view is among black leaders, two outspoken champions of black causes, MALC chief operating officer Sheila Cochran and Rep. Tamara Grigsby, have thrown their influence behind Pasch. She has also been endorsed by AFSCME and other unions.
Taylor has dismayed colleagues by arguing against Pasch in conversations, twitters and Facebook (the most aggressive comments she seemingly deleted), putting support behind Mildred Coby, a well-regarded church outreach leader with scant political chops.
"Everyone says Millie is a nice person - if that's a qualification," chuckled one active African American political insider. But Coby got ready for this campaign by taking the candidate training at Emerge Wisconsin where, ironically, an influential board adviser for training women to run as strong Democrats is . . . Pasch!
Taylor's behavior has raised speculation that she regards Pasch as an articulate threat to the leadership role Taylor constantly seeks and Pasch already has in the Milwaukee caucus.
Other political figures who support voucher schools and have taken money from the American Federation for Children followed Taylor’s lead.
In a previous political appearance, Coby came in a distant third in a county board race. Backers openly concede she lacks the proven experience and intellectual dexterity of Pasch, who would normally be a shoo-in in this four-way contest. Except some people have a bad memory and an outdated sense of demographics, boundaries and responsibility to modern pioneers.
"It's understandable and overdue that districts dominated by an ethnic group would want someone in office who comes from their own culture and reflects it," one candidate told me, referring not just to personal black heritage but Latino heritage, noting how the growing Latino power spoke up recently in choosing Jose Perez as its alderman.
But "Latinos are smart enough to go Anglo or black if that's the best official," the candidate added.
"The ethnic preference is understandable," said another black candidate, "but you also have to look hard at who is best for the community and how more than redistricting should force us to always consider the best leaders."
More bluntly, another black politician told me, "We have to grow up. We've been fooled by the color of the skin not the content of the character in several local elections. We've chosen someone because of color and been badly disappointed. We keep doing this to ourselves. Now we have to learn to look at the track record and the heart."
Concerns to keep minority presence high in Madison could be right if it weren't Pasch, these politicians are saying. Many African American leaders interviewed for Labor Press concede they don't want to openly offend black leaders who regularly speak up for social justice but don't like the whisper campaign and are rejecting the come-ons of the Taylor camp.