Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin GOP lawmakers oppose Black History Month resolution naming Colin Kaepernick

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019 | comments
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- For the second year in a row, some white lawmakers in the state Legislature objected to how black lawmakers want to honor Black History Month — this time because of Colin Kaepernick.
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Molly Beck
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

For the second year in a row, some white lawmakers in the state Legislature objected to how black lawmakers want to honor Black History Month — this time because of Colin Kaepernick.

The state Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday drafted by the Legislature's black caucus to honor prominent black Americans during February — but only after Republicans blocked it until black Democratic lawmakers agreed to remove the name of the controversial National Football League quarterback.

Democratic Rep. David Crowley of Milwaukee, who authored the resolution, called the episode "a textbook example of white privilege" and a "slap in the face."

Crowley said he was grateful to ultimately have the Assembly pass the resolution authored by black lawmakers, "but I had to get the blessing of all of my white counterparts."

"It is critical for this body to recognize the black caucus and recognize the resolution we put forward," Crowley said on the Assembly floor. "Many of these people that you don’t agree with will still be in the history books that your children and grandchildren will be reading."

Kaepernick, who was born in Milwaukee, has drawn a firestorm of controversy after he began kneeling in 2016 during the national anthem to protest poor treatment of black Americans.

Supporters say Kaepernick is exercising his First Amendment right to protest what he sees as racial injustice. Critics say he is denigrating the American flag and American principles.

He is one of more than two dozen prominent black Americans proposed by the Legislature's black lawmakers to be honored during February, including Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist James Causey, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and baseball giant Reggie Jackson.

Crowley said Kaepernick was included, in part, because he donated $25,000 to Milwaukee nonprofit Urban Underground, which works with teens.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke of Kaukauna said Republicans wouldn't support the resolution that included Kaepernick "for obvious reasons," referring to protests during the national anthem.

Democratic Rep. LaKeshia Myers of Milwaukee said Kaepernick "decided to take on ownership of a problem that he saw, which was police brutality."

"Whether you dislike the method that he used, understand that it is a part of America’s DNA — not just African-Americans' protest," said Myers, who was the lone vote against the resolution.

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Steineke said the caucus wanted a resolution free of controversial figures so the entire body could support it.

"I think it's important to recognize the contributions of literally thousands and thousands of African-Americans to our state's history but also trying to find people who, again, bring us together. Not look at people who draw some sort of vitriol from either side," Vos said.

GOP counter-proposal

Republicans on Tuesday introduced a different resolution with the same text as the black caucus' proposal, but replacing Kaepernick and Milwaukee Rev. Greg Lewis with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and former Wisconsin Secretary of State Vel Phillips.

Democrats objected, blocking a vote on the GOP proposal.

Because of their objection, Vos suggested black Democrats were trying to distract from the Assembly's planned vote on a middle-class tax cut plan.

"I know that because we are making headway on actually doing something that’s going to affect every middle-class Wisconsinite you’re trying to figure out any way to talk about something different," he said.

Resolution moves to Senate

The Senate on Wednesday will take up the resolution, where the debate is likely to continue. Republican Sens. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield signed onto the version of the resolution honoring Kaepernick, according to the lead sponsors of the measure.

“It’s outrageous that some Republicans feel they can censor African-American legislators in this way," said Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, who co-authored the resolution. "So while we celebrate the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, evidently the Republicans don’t think the 1st Amendment rights should be afforded to African-Americans.”

In 2018, Republican Rep. Scott Allen of Waukesha said he and other Republican lawmakers objected to the black caucus' resolution that year because it didn't include black Wisconsinites he believed should be honored, including U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore and former Milwaukee Sheriff David E. Clarke Jr., who has been criticized for demeaning black residents of the state.

In the end, lawmakers in the Assembly voted to pass two separate resolutions that year.

Also Tuesday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers reiterated his belief that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam should resign because he included a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page in 1984. Evers first stated that view last week but acknowledged Tuesday that Northam has decided to remain in place.

“I still think resignation is probably a good idea,” Evers told reporters. “I don’t know how he can govern under those circumstances. But clearly, for now, he’s made his decision and I’m not one to question that.”

Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who would replace Northam if he resigned, faces sexual assault allegations from two women. Fairfax denies the claims, but Evers said his accusers should be heard.

“For sure we have to make sure that the people that are making the accusations have the opportunity to be heard instead of just set aside,” Evers said.

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