Clashes erupt with Republican attacks on diversity programs in government and at UW

A tenuous truce between Republicans and Democrats in the state Capitol was shaken Tuesday in a clash over policies aimed at fostering stronger and more welcoming communities.

The Associated Press reported around midday Tuesday that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the Legislature’s budget committee would cut $32 million from the University of Wisconsin budget to defund its diversity, equity and inclusion programs. 

“I hope we have the ability to eliminate that spending. The university should have already chosen to redirect it to something that is more productive and more broadly supported,” Vos told the AP, saying that diversity programs “are clearly divisive and offer little public good.”

Vos’ comment attacking the UW’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) staff and initiatives became public hours before the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) had been scheduled to act on funding for the UW System for the next two years. It followed a threat he directed in May at the UW budget.

His statement Tuesday drew a sharp rebuke from Vos’ Democratic counterpart, Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) as well as from Gov. Tony Evers.

“Targeting UW for DEI positions and initiatives is offensive and will have far-reaching and detrimental effects for our state,” said Neubauer, who observed that DEI programs have become a feature at major corporations and organizations “and even the RNC’s Host Committee” for the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in 2024. 

Evers said the threatened cuts “will be disastrous” and that they “will only hurt our kids, our state’s economy, and our state’s workforce in the process.”  He accused Republicans of “a decade-long war on higher education institutions in our state.”

“The positive impact of DEI programs is not a partisan issue,” said Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) the state Senate Democratic leader, who called the anticipated cut “small-minded, wrongheaded, and counterproductive to our state’s efforts to recruit and retain our future workforce.”

Vos’ UW budget comment follows an earlier move by Republicans in the state Legislature to kill DEI initiatives in local government. DEI efforts in universities have also come under attack from GOP governors including Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida. 

A ban on using local tax money for DEI initiatives was among the restrictions included in legislation (AB-245) that Assembly Republicans passed in May without any Democratic votes to boost state funding for local governments and allow the city and the county of Milwaukee to increase sales taxes. 

Last week, Vos, Evers and Milwaukee city and county leaders announced an agreement on changes to that bill and to school funding that Evers said he could sign. When he announced the deal, Vos said Republicans were able to preserve the original bill’s ban on government funding for DEI initiatives, which he equated with “race-based hiring.”

Early Tuesday afternoon, when the JFC met to vote on that bill, its Senate companion, and a new education funding bill that resulted from the agreement, Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) called out an attack on DEI programs embedded in the legislation.

Rep. Evan Goyke speaks at a Tuesday afternoon vote by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. (Screenshot | WisEye)

Goyke said he looked at how other states wrote laws granting taxing authority to local communities and found restrictions similar to many of those in AB-245 and its Senate companion, SB-301.

“What I could not find anywhere is the additional policy provisions contained in this bill, the additional encroachment against how we have decided to run our local government in Milwaukee,” Goyke said. “I cannot find any example of any state legislature telling a local unit of government that they cannot use their local property tax to do diversity and inclusion work.”

Goyke acknowledged the topic has become “a political buzzword” and alluded to the UW budget scheduled to come before the committee later in the day. “But it does not belong in this bill whatsoever,” he said of the DEI ban. 

Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion is important in Milwaukee, Goyke said. “It’s critical because it’s a reflection of who we are. We’re diversity. We’re a majority minority city. It’s saying that we value that and we want our city government to uplift our diversity, because it’s who we are, it’s our strength, and that we collectively through electing local leaders want that prioritized. And I wish that the majority party would respect that. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to agree to it. You just can’t limit it.”

Wondering aloud whether the language was the result of one GOP lawmaker’s insistence, he added, “I would love to talk to that person who said, ‘It doesn’t matter what new revenues are sent to my township or my village or my county. I so deeply don’t want Milwaukee to have a diversity office, that I’ll vote against money for my local community unless we stick it to them.’

“I don’t know what vote you got from that. But you lost mine,” Goyke said. The DEI restriction “doesn’t need to be there. And it should be removed.”

The committee passed AB-245 and SB-301 on 10-4 votes with no Democrats voting in favor. When the committee convened to take up the budget after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, co-chair Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) said the UW budget was being postponed to a later date.



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F06%2F14%2Fclashes-erupt-with-republican-attacks-on-diversity-programs-in-government-and-at-uw%2F by Erik Gunn

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