Wisconsin’s redistricting led to the creation of some districts where minorities form the larger share of constituents, but where their legislative representative is white.
The situation has prompted the state legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus to open its membership to white legislators, but with limited rights.
The minority-majority districts rose from 10 to 12. Under the old system, eight of those districts had a white legislative representative. The redistricting resulted in six minority representatives, and six white representatives.
And so, for the first time, the minority caucus extended an invitation to white representatives of those districts to participate in its meetings.
The Wisconsin State Journal quoted the group’s chairman, Rep. Mandela Barnes, as saying: “A lot of our effectiveness is going to be the help of our other partners and advocacy groups in the community.”
The caucus, however, is limiting the role of the white lawmakers, not allowing them to vote on matters that come up in the gatherings.
Barnes said that the limited membership was out of concern that letting non-minority legislators have voting rights would dilute the influence of minorities, according to the State Journal.
The group, traditionally made up of Democrats, also had debated about what to do about a newly minority representative, Jessie Rodriguez, who is Republican and whose district is more than 80 percent white.
One Latino member of the caucus, JoCasta Zamarripa, said she favored having Rodriguez join the group, but Barnes expressed misgivings, according to the State Journal.
But Rodriguez in recent days essentially said she was refused to be part of the caucus, noting she didn’t need it to understand the needs of the state’s minority residents.
“I’ve worked long enough in struggling communities to understand that no self-appointed group or organization, whether white, black or Latino, owns the right to represent any one segment of our society,” she said, according to Newsmax.com, a conservative news site. “The voters of the 21st Assembly District sent me to Madison, not to be bogged down by identity politics, but to work with my colleagues and Governor Walker to continue making Wisconsin a great place for everyone.”
Another legislator, Democrat Fred Kessler, praised the new policy to allow white members. Kessler’s district went from being primarily white to being minority-majority after the redistricting.
He told the State Journal that he looks forward to participating in the caucus.
The caucus once was known as the Wisconsin Black Caucus, until Latino legislators asked that it change its name.