Last week, state Rep. Jim Steineke – a Republican from Kaukauna – drew criticism after an email surfaced where he referred to his position as the co-chair on a racial disparities task force as a “Political Loser.”
The task force was assembled by State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, after the state’s Republicans shut down a special legislative session on police reform.
In the email, first obtained and published by UpNorthNews, Rep. Steineke told Assembly Speaker Robin Vos that running the task force was a political dead end, and proposed implementing guardrails on what Republicans would and wouldn’t give in its negotiations.
Steineke argued that he would make a good leader for the task force because he has low political ambitions. Wrote Steineke: “I don’t have any delusions of grandeur beyond this seat. County Executive maybe, but that’s it.”
The task force is broken up into two subcommittees: one on law enforcement policies co-chaired by Steineke and Democratic Rep. Shelia Stubbs, of Madison. The other focuses on education and economic development, and is chaired by Democrat Rep. Kalan Haywood of Milwaukee and Republican Rep. Robert Wittke of Racine.
The rest of the approximately thirty members include religious leaders, heads of social justice organizations, and seven people involved in law enforcement.
At yesterday’s meeting of the education subcommittee, the first meeting of either subcommittee since the email surfaced, Wittke said the news coverage was both an ‘affront’ and ‘slap in the face’ to the task force and its mission.
“That’s kind of the nature around here, I guess I’m kind of used to it,” Wittke said. “There are quite a few attacks on what we’re trying to do, and it’s designed to create splits in what we’re doing and take away from the good we can probably get done…I wouldn’t have signed up for this if I felt this was going to be a show that wouldn’t get anything done.”
His co-chair on the other side of the aisle, Rep. Kalan Haywood, agreed.
“I joined this task force because the issue is just that important to me,” Haywood said. “As a Black man in Wisconsin, this issue is literally about me and my life and my peers. So I joined this task force knowing that there were some nay-sayers who said that this task force is just a political stunt. And I said, ‘You know what? I know that’s the race we run, but there’s too much at stake not to take that risk.’”
More than a month into Wisconsin’s legislative session, the task force has not proposed any legislation or action — even as lawmakers unaffiliated with the group have floated their own police reform packages.
Several other members of the task force expressed frustration with Steineke’s comments.
One of those was Tehassi Hill, chair of the Oneida Nation. Hill told task force members that his initial reaction was to resign, but he decided that he could accomplish more if he stayed – a sentiment shared by many other members.
“We need to get work done, and it’s important to my fellow Wisconsinites that people of color are treated fairly and have equal opportunities to succeed,” Hill said. “My further participation in this task force can help get us there.”
In a conversation with the Associated Press last week, Steineke argued that the email was taken out of context.
He told the AP that “if you pull certain phrases out of there, I get where people might have concerns about it…But if you look at the totality of the email, I’m raising my hand to volunteer for this because I think it’s important. I felt like I had the right temperament to lead the task force on this.”