Former legislator urges community support Black candidates during August 14 election
by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
There are three important things retired state legislator Annette Polly Williams wants you to know.
First, there is actually an election (yes, another, believe it or not) on August 14 for several predominately Black state Assembly and Senate district seats.
Second, in several Black districts, particularly the 10th Assembly district, established White political figures such as legislator Sandy Pasch (who represents the 22 Assembly district) and incumbent Rep. Fred Kessler (12th Assembly district), are doing the unthinkable: Seeking office in Black district’s that have been redrawn to include more White voters.
(Editor’s Note: Every 10 years following the national census, district maps at every government level in every state are redrawn to accommodate population shifts and what are called “Communities of Interest”: communities that have shared values, ethnicity and political commonalities.)
Which leads to the third piece of information Williams wants you to know: The White candidates running in the predominately Black and redrawn districts stand a good chance of winning if Black voters don’t show up at the polls en’masse in four weeks (August 14) and support a Black candidate who will earnestly represent and advocate for them.
The August 14 election is a partisan primary. The winners in the primary election will go on to the November general election. Even candidates like incumbent 11th Assembly District Rep. Jason Fields, who has one Democratic challenger, Mandela Barnes.
Should Fields win, his name will still be on the November Ballot, even if there is no Republican challenger.
Incumbents State Sen. Lena Taylor (Senate District 4) and Rep. Leon Young (Assembly District 16) have no challengers, making their reelections a proverbial “cake walk.”
But Williams, who though retired is still very politically active, fears the 10th could be lost to Pasch, a White Assemblyperson who represented Whitefish Bay before redistricting. She challenged and lost to incumbent Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling in the 2011 recall election.
Redistricting has pushed Pasch out of her district “comfort zone” to more outlying areas—outside Milwaukee County.
“Over 70% Black district lost to a White suburban woman?” Williams asked rhetorically during an interview in which she sounded the clarion call to the community—especially to her former constituents in the 10th district—to rise up collectively and “vote Black.”
Williams’ fears could come to fruition. Also running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Elizabeth Coggs—who’s running for the state Senate Sixth District seat once held by her cousin, Spencer Coggs (who is now Milwaukee City Treasurer)—are three Black candidates: Millie Coby, Harriet Callier and Ieshuh Griffin.
“The three Black candidates will split the vote, giving the race to Pasch,” said Williams, who predicts at least the loss of one Black seat in the State Legislature.
Two Black legislators—Tamara Grigsby (18th Assembly District) and Barbara Toles (17th Assembly District)—are retiring, leaving their seats wide open in respective races that have multiple contenders.
For Grigsby’s seat alone there are eight candidates–White and Black—vying for the seat.
Williams, who is endorsing Coby and is working hard on her behalf to get the vote out for her, said even if it is only a primary, the winner on August 14 will be the hands-down favorite to win in the November general election.
“Blacks (in the 10th district) must vote, especially for Millie,” Williams stressed, suggesting the other two Black candidates are not putting forth the type of effort necessary to win an election.
Williams thinks Pasch believes it would be easier to move into and run in the restructured 10th district than try to get back her old suburban seat which is being contested by two White male Republican candidates.
“She can’t win in her own district,” Williams said. “Her constituents in Whitefish Bay rejected her (in the Senate recall election).”
Williams said the 10th District was formed to be a “super Black district” in 1972 after the 1970 Census district redrawing. The district was part of the first state Senate district represented at the time by Monroe Swan. The district was the “Blackest” of the 99 Assembly districts in the state according to Williams.
“It was the one district that was a voice for Black people,” Williams boasted. “It’s a district where a representative could take a stand on an issue on behalf of his or her constituents without fear of retaliation from White voters.
“I had a strong base of Black support,” Williams said recalling her days in the legislature. “I stood up and fought for my constituents and I never apologized for being Black. Millie is as close to me there is in taking a stand on an issue without fearing retaliation.”
Despite redistricting, the 10th is still predominately Black (74%) and still the most Black legislative district in the state.
Williams said young elected officials today have no knowledge of the history behind the struggle she and other early Black lawmakers went through to attain, represent and keep their seats in the face of racism.
The former lawmaker believes there are non-Black forces from outside the community who are buying off Black people, especially the current and new generation of Black lawmakers who are being demonized by the mainstream media and many Black residents who see them as “do nothing politicians.”
“I don’t like what’s happening,” lamented Williams. “We have to fight to keep control of the seats we have. We have to let people know the 10th district Assembly seat is in jeopardy.”