With the recent special election of Jesse Rodriguez as the first Hispanic Republican in the state Assembly, Rodriguez joins a short list of only seven minority legislators in the 132-member state Legislature.
As of 2007, there were two African-American senators and six representatives, according to a report from the state Legislative Reference Bureau. Only one senator was Hispanic. Overall, Hispanics and women were the two demographic groups most underrepresented by the Legislature.
Today, there are two African-American senators, Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Nikiya Harris, D-Milwaukee, and six Assembly legislators of either African or Latino descent. All but Rodriguez are Democrats from Milwaukee.
“What I see is that there is not a fair and equal representation, especially for African Americans, and that is not right, and there is no way that it could be right,” Linda Hoskins, president of the Madison chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said.
Hoskins said the lack of racial representation in the Legislature can have negative effects on the white majority as well as minority groups.
Ensuring there are legislators who will represent all citizens in the state, regardless of race, and make laws that will be fair and beneficial for all is extremely important, Hoskins said.
“Jessie Rodriguez … will be a staunch advocate for lowering taxes on Wisconsin families and will be a leader in the efforts to provide each and every child in Wisconsin access to a world class education,” Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Brad Courtney said in a statement.
Hoskins said the promise of a female Hispanic legislator with goals to vote in the interests of all of her constituents is one of the solutions to the problem of race underrepresentation in government.
Hoskins added redistricting is needed to allow minority votes to count as the votes of “first-class” citizens in the state. She added she believes this will allow individuals who are dedicated, qualified and devoted to get elected to office and make a difference.
U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, testified in front of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of the state in 2012 and said, “Throughout my years in the Wisconsin State Legislature, I sought to investigate, express and represent the concerns of minority residents.”
Moore’s work in the Legislature included supporting the expansion of the state’s welfare programs and opposing voter ID legislation that could disenfranchise minority communities.
“Each of the above instances, in which I fought for a particular policy outcome, reflected the particular concerns of Milwaukee’s minority community,” Moore said in 2012.
Hoskins said she believes more such representatives should be elected to the Legislature.
“America should be land of the free and home of the brave,” Hoskins said. “Any nationality that is a citizen should be able to run for office and win. But the way it’s set up, you can’t win in certain districts, and that is a problem.”
The election of Rodriguez is particularly historic because it goes against the established norms in the Legislature.
A Wisconsin LRB report showed there were no Hispanic legislators until 1999 and that the number of female legislators has leveled off and even declined in recent years.
“Color plays an important part in America,” Hoskins said. “There should be open-minded, common sense people to represent all people.”