Wisconsin  Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) talks to the media Aug. 31, 2020, after Republicans decide not to debate a package of police reform bills. Instead, Republicans are moving forward with a task force that he and Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) will co-chair. (Photo © Andy Manis)
Wisconsin Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) talks to the media Aug. 31, 2020, after Republicans decide not to debate a package of police reform bills. Instead, Republicans are moving forward with a task force that he and Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) will co-chair. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Some members say they are disheartened, but still committed to addressing Wisconsin’s nation-worst racial disparities.

Members of the state’s Task Force on Racial Disparities on Wednesday re-emphasized their commitment to fighting Wisconsin’s nation-worst racial disparities, even after UpNorthNews published an email in which Rep. Jim Steineke, the task force’s co-chair, called leading the effort “a political loser” and said he wanted to “figure out some guardrails” before discussions began.

“It doesn’t sit well with me, it hasn’t sat well with me,” said Rep. Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee), co-chair of the task force’s subcommittee on education and workforce development. “But we have to keep [getting] the work done also because there are literally folks whose lives depend on us getting this done.” 

The 33-member task force, made up of four legislators and 29 community leaders from around the state, was formed last August, the day after the Jacob Blake shooting in Kenosha. The group was charged with bringing forth bipartisan proposals to address the racial disparities that exist across every facet of Wisconsinites’ lives, but Steineke’s email threw the task force’s true purpose into question.

Wednesday’s meeting of the task force’s education and workforce development subcommittee marked the task force’s first meeting since UpNorthNews published the email. The law enforcement subcommittee, which Steineke co-chairs alongside Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), meets Feb. 25 in Kenosha.

Several of the education and workforce development subcommittee’s citizen members said they were surprised and disappointed by the email but undeterred from the task force’s mission. Tehassi Hill, chairman of the Oneida Nation, said he was “disheartened” and had considered resigning from the task force, but stayed because “we need to get work done.”

Their comments echoed those of some members of the task force’s law enforcement subcommittee, who last week told UpNorthNews in interviews that they will look to move forward and make sure the task force still has a statewide impact.

Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine), the other co-chair of the education and workforce subcommittee, called UpNorthNews’ reporting “outside noise” and said he never doubted the task force was doing important work. 

“I wouldn’t have signed up for this if I felt that this was just going to be something of a show that wouldn’t get anything done,” Wittke said.