She’s a D, he’s an R. But State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, a Democrat from Madison who is Black, and State Rep. Jim Steineke, a Republican from Kaukauna who is majority leader of the Assembly and who is white, also are friends who have confidence that the other will act in good faith.
If you expected them not to work together in leading the Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities, created by the Republican leader of the Assembly, Rep .Robin Vos, and if you expected the task force not to come to agreement on a proposals for legislation focused on law enforcement issues that have stirred controversy, you were wrong.
In an “On the issues with Mike Gousha” program posted on the Marquette Law School web site on May 19, Steineke and Stubbs were optimistic that the 18 proposals from the task force would become law before the end of June. They also expressed hope that the way they worked together could help change the contentious tone of so much that goes in Wisconsin politics.
“We created something different,” Stubbs said. “It literally was not just another task force. It was a meaningful opportunity to engage law enforcement, community leaders, to start building trust.”
Steineke said everyone came to the table with open minds and willing hearts and intentions to get things done. The task force, which worked for seven months, included people from a wide range of backgrounds and viewpoints. But, he said, consensus “was the key word during this whole process.”
He said that as a white guy from the Fox Valley, he learned a lot. “I didn’t truly have an understanding of the perspective of coming from Milwaukee or Wausau or Green Bay,” he said.
Stubbs said she took a political risk by joining with Steineke in leading the task force, but it paid off. She said the task force work was very stressful. There were highs and lows and a lot of passion. “That space was a real space,” she said, but the process of reaching agreement was “authentic.”
The recommendations that emerged include requiring law enforcement officers to report the use of excessive force by another officer, with punishment if they do not do that; requiring the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers statewide; and a prohibition on officers using chokeholds on people, except in life threatening situations or in self-defense.
Mike Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, asked about the exceptions included in the chokehold proposal. Steineke said that everyone on the task force had preconceived ideas about the issue but, after a lot of discussion, the members reached agreement. Stubbs said she came to accept what law enforcement representatives said, that without those exceptions, officers were more likely to reach for their guns when involved in confrontations.
How optimistic are the two that the proposals will make it through legislative committees and both houses of the legislature? “I am extremely confident because the process was a fair process,” Stubbs said. Does Steineke share that view? “Yes, absolutely,” he said. He said he was determined to see the proposals pass.
Steineke said he understood why people of color are skeptical. He said both Republicans and Democrats have failed to take action to better the lives of people of color in the past. He said he feared many people in general had lost faith that political leaders could come together to agree on action aimed at solving problems.
That’s why he hoped the ability of the task force to members to hold serious conversations and reach consensus could help set a different tone for other issues. “We all have to do a better job,” he said. “We have to celebrate where we were able to come together.”
Video of the program may be viewed by clicking here.