Whispers and chuckles while calling a legislator “ding-dong” and implying her staffer lacks “emotional capacity.”
Just days after UpNorth News reported on toxic work conditions for Capitol staffers of color, a Republican staffer and a former staffer turned lobbyist were caught mocking Democrats, particularly Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison) and her Chief of Staff Nada Elmikashfi, on a hot mic on WisEye.com when the Assembly Committee on Constitution and Ethics held a brief recess.
Cameron Sholty from the Heartland Institute and a former Capitol staffer said Democratic staffers “love to think they are the legislators.” Bill Neville from Rep. Chuck Wichgers’ (R-Muskego) office chimed in and called it “cosplaying.” Sholty then referred to Hong as a “ding-dong” and made fun of Elmikashfi’s title.
“I’ll tell you what, anybody–Robin [Vos (R-Rochester), the Assembly Speaker] should write a new rule in the Assembly. [inaudible] You are a staff of one. You do not, and cannot be called ‘chief of staff,’ Sholty said. “It is immediately fireable because you lack the professional and emotional capacity to take what you do seriously.” Vos, in 2019, increased his staff to 14 at a payroll cost exceeding $1 million per year.
“This video illustrates all three staffers as nothing but disappointments,” Hong tweeted in response. “To project your inadequacies, insecurities & narcissism onto a powerful Black woman who has built a platform to engage and make change in the community is cowardice at best.”
Elmikaskfi defended her title, pointing out that because Vos limited all first-year representatives to one staffer, Elmikashfi is responsible for all the work in the office as well as supervising interns.
“My ‘emotional and intellectual capacity’ are not to be questioned by three white men who’s [sic] biggest accomplishment is copy-pasting a bill that banned the words equity, multiculturalism, and racism,” Elmikashfi tweeted. “I do the exact same work as them, and I do it better.”
Elmikashfi is one of four Black staffers out of 236 total staffers in the Assembly, according to records from the Legislature’s human resources department; in the Senate there are five Black staffers out of 199 total. Legislative staff has lacked diversity for a long time, but there are fewer staffers of color in 2021 than there were in 2020.
Generally Elmikashfi said there’s a sense of camaraderie among staffers of both parties but it is difficult being one of the very few people of color. But the issues at the statehouse are not just a matter of numbers, but also a matter of respect.
“What you saw on Wiseye is what women in the Capitol, particularly [women of color], go through each and every day,” Elmikashfi tweeted. “Bullying, patronization, racism, the whole nine yards, is nothing new. I’m happy that people can witness the absolute worst of the GOP and how much they think I don’t belong there.”
Hong set the blame for the staffers’ behavior squarely at the feet of the Republican leadership.
“As elected leaders, we have a responsibility to cultivate productive and healthy work environments that protect all staff, but particularly our staff of color. Failure to respect staff, who should be community leaders, is a failure of leadership,” Hong tweeted. “The toxic work environment that is the legislature must change and it can not be on the shoulders of women of color. White men be better or step aside.”