Conservatives Wish To Politicize Mequon-Thiensville School District With Needless School Board Recall

If you have not been following the news from the Mequon-Thiensville School District you have missed one of the more troubling events facing those who are elected to serve on a school board. Four members of the board are facing recall elections in November. 

And all the for sake of undermining faith in our local institutions.

Wendy Francour, Erik Hollander, Akram Khan, and Chris Schultz are now facing an attempt to hijack a local school board by a group of people in the community who are just as willing to spread misinformation as they would cheese on a pizza. What has occurred over the recent weeks with this recall is another example of the lowest common denominator seeking to undermine facts and logic.

Why this matter finds concern on this Madison blog is that this recall effort epitomizes the larger threat to our democracy that has played out around the nation. Not only does the usual quackery emerge about mask mandates, vaccine shots, and a disdain for dealing with racism through the curriculum but more importantly the willful sowing of seeds to undermine our institutions. In this case, a duly elected school board is falsely branded, and the skills of the board members derided, so the faith in the electorate is undermined.

The post here is about the Mequon-Thiensville School District but the fact is this modus operandi is taking place around the nation. Hence, the larger threat to democracy.

Without actual problems so to reasonably force a recall the angry ones have stirred the larger community into believing that something untoward and outlandish has taken place by the board. It has not, of course.

But if enough false charges can be lodged from the continually resentment-filled (echoes of 2016 presidential election) then chaos can ensure, a recall can emerge, and who knows that can happen! That is the game plan of these conservatives.

So from that perspective, this recall is one that has eyes on it from all over. After all, a partisan-inspired hijacking of this type should never be allowed.

The attempt by those to take over the board by the use of politically based rhetoric runs counter to the data-driven requirements that board members need to operate under so to make sure a school is as effective in education as possible.

It should be noted that the Mequon-Thiensville School District now scores an 89.5% out of 100% rating. That is not some ranking that the board created for its own purposes, but rather the result of data collected and analyzed from the Wisconsin Department of Education.

The Mequon-Thiensville School District Significantly Exceeds Expectations on the 2018-19 School Report Cards issued in November 2019 by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

It might seem easy to think this school board matter is happening ‘over there’ and does not need to register across the state. But the fact is this tactic used by those who harbor resentments against different aspects of our larger pluralistic society are using every means they can to upend our working institutions.

All eyes need to be on this recall effort, and work to see that it fails.

And so it goes.

Madison’s WMTV Responds To Racist Chief Wahoo Mascot Airing Twice On Sports Report

Over the past week, I have posted twice about Madison’s WMTV sports report where an anchor was standing in front of a screen with the Brewers spelled out but with the racist Chief Wahoo mascot used to represent the Cleveland Indians. The team itself retired this graphic years ago because of its stereotypical and minstrel show-like features.

A reader had complained to the station, did not get a reply, and then contacted the FCC. Throughout the process, he contacted me and hoped this little place on the internet might highlight the issue. Having my mom’s family tree extending back to Cherokee Chief John Ross and the Trail of Tears meant the request was met with absolute acceptance.

This week WMTV did respond to the Madison viewer.

Good evening, Rick. I apologize that we did not acknowledge that you reached out to us earlier this month. I should’ve done so as the newsroom manager.

Our weekend on-call news manager for Sept. 11-12th alerted the newsroom (and sports team) to the error; and I followed up with our team when I was back in the office that Monday (I had been traveling over the weekend). In my follow-up, I learned this error of showing the old logo was isolated to the 9 and 10 p.m. sportscasts on the 11th. During that series of play between the two teams, the correct logo aired on Friday and also Sunday.

The person who made the mistake regrets doing so and understands the impact. So do I. I expect better. We understand that the images we use are as meaningful and important as the words we choose in our storytelling. We want to get it right and strive to do so.

We’ve taken steps to purge this particular graphic from our system, so it isn’t used again. We’ve also used this time to double check other team logos—and I can confirm we did not have the old Braves, Redskins or Illini logos in our system.

I appreciate your viewership and that you took the time to write us. I apologize again for not getting back to you… and I apologize also that the old logo was used.

Jessica Laszewski

News Director


FCC Contacted For Native American Racism On Madison’s WMTV

A complaint to a local television station has escalated into contact with the FCC concerning the airing of the caricature of Chief Wahoo representing a Cleveland baseball team.

Readers to this blog might recall that on August 12th I posted a comment about WMTV’s sports report where racist images were aired, twice in one day.

I am outraged!  I watched the CW news at 9 and couldn’t believe when the sports anchor reported the Brewers’ score and there was the caricature of Chief Wahoo representing Cleveland on the screen!  So I watched at 10 and the same damn thing!  The team retired this graphic as the racist, demeaning symbol it is years ago.  And yet WMTV uses it twice!  

Since the viewer did not receive the courtesy of a response from WMTV about what was aired the complaint was sent to Washington.

I was watching the 9 p.m. newscast on WMTV2. On the sports report, the anchor was standing in front of a screen with Brewers spelled out and the racist Chief Wahoo mascot to represent the Cleveland Indians. The team itself retired this graphic years ago because of it’s sterotypical and minstrel show like features. I thought, “this must be a mistake, or an inexperienced intern added the wrong graphic” But on the 10 p.m. newscast, the same thing. This racist graphic should have been retired from the graphics library long ago. I filled out their comment form, called the sports department and left a voicemail demanding an apology on their next evening’s newscast. I also emailed the news and programming departs. Never heard anything back. Apparently they think they can get away with using racist representations on the public airwaves and don’t have to answer the public.

From the perspective of this blogger’s desk, it would seem the most appropriate response should have been forthcoming from WMTV. It is troubling that no feedback was given to a legitimate concern about racism against Native Americans–coming from the most liberal city in the state. If we can not do what is right here what should be expected above Highway 29?

Having worked in radio, and often commenting on the use of the public airwaves on Caffeinated Politics, I firmly hold to the accountability that license holders have to the public with these types of issues. We know that mistakes happen on the air, but when they do it is essential that an honest statement be made, and an earnest effort made to not make them again.

Pretending that the images never aired, nor offering an apology is not in alignment with the higher standards that the public has every right to expect from one granted a television license.

And so it goes.

Madison TV Sports Report Receives Fair Criticism For Racial Symbol Used Twice

This blog often comments on the media, both to praise and also to offer words for needed improvements. It is that last point which a reader made an effort in conveying with the following comment sent to Madison’s Channel 15, WMTV. He also sent his concerns to me, knowing that it would register here.

I am outraged!  I watched the CW news at 9 and couldn’t believe when the sports anchor reported the Brewers’ score and there was the caricature of Chief Wahoo representing Cleveland on the screen!  So I watched at 10 and the same damn thing!  The team retired this graphic as the racist, demeaning symbol it is years ago.  And yet WMTV uses it twice!  

Welcome to 2021!  

WMTV should apologize on all of your broadcasts tomorrow.  That graphic should be retired from your library.  By the way, I’m not suggesting we erase Chief Wahoo from our history.  We need to learn how things, ignorantly can perpetuate stereotypes.  But you don’t put them on a damn newscast!

For whatever it is worth, WMTV has one of their top anchors, John Stofflet, in a promo closing his laptop, loosening his tie, and talking about how their news team only gives the facts, and not opinions. But after this troubling news from a viewer one has to ask if racist symbols, intentionally or by sloppiness, are to be condoned?

Critical Race Theory And Huck Finn

During the pandemic, I reread Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Some readers will ask why I start off a post about the latest culture war, created by conservative Republicans, with a classic piece of literature? I will get to the point shortly.

It would be almost impossible not to know that all across the nation Republican-led legislatures have either passed bills, or are entertaining the notion, to ban or limit schools from teaching that racism is infused in American institutions.  Not being able to refute the matter, elected Republicans have undertaken a vigilant proactive move to utterly dictate how historical racism in America is presented in our classrooms.

At the core of this issue is the degree to which critical race theory, which is an argument that first registered in colleges and university settings, now should be treated in our public schools. The question is if students should learn about historical patterns of racism that are molded and shaped into laws and our institutions? Then, should students be taught how the consequences of those actions are reflected in our modern times?

America’s original sin–the owning of other people as property–is not something that, because it happened in a by-gone era of our nation, it, therefore, can be papered over with a listing of all the ways we have strived to meet our ideals. That can no more be the end of the discussion than a mere short lesson about how Native Americans were removed from their lands, or the Chinese workers who toiled building railroads were horribly mistreated, or in the 1940s Japanese internment destroyed lives.

At some point, there must be a real reckoning with the past. The increased public awareness about things from housing segregation, red-lining, voter disenfranchisement, how criminal justice policy in the 1990s create unfair outcomes, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans all require honest discussions.

One way to achieve that is by tackling the fact that built into our society are layers of systemic racism. While it is very true that our nation has made tremendous strides for social justice it also needs stating that highlighting our misdeeds along the way, and the manner in which they still exist, is a path for national understanding and growth.

But with that attempt at understanding comes the awareness of being uncomfortable.  One of the reasons this issue has generated so much blowback is due to the degree to which it makes people grasp the larger delusions we collectively have as a nation about ‘how well off’ we are with race relations. 

This week in the Washington Post conservative nationally syndicated columnist Michael Gerson wrote that he now understands that systemic racism is real.

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of a middle-class suburb in a Midwestern city. I went to a middle-class high school, with middle-class friends, eating middle-class fried bologna sandwiches. And for most of my upbringing, this seemed not only normal but normative. I assumed this was a typical American childhood.

Only later did I begin to see that my normality was actually a social construction. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, St. Louis no longer had legal segregation. But my suburb, my neighborhood and my private high school were all outcomes of White flight. The systems of policing, zoning and education I grew up with had been created to ensure one result: to keep certain communities safe, orderly and pale.

This is what I mean by systemic racism. If, on my 13th birthday, all the country’s laws had been suddenly, perfectly and equally enforced, my community would still have had a massive hangover of history. The structures and attitudes shaped during decades and centuries of oppression would still have existed. Legal equality in theory does not mean a society is justly constituted.

For me, part of being a conservative means taking history seriously. We do not, as Tom Paine foolishly claimed, “have it in our power to begin the world over again.” We live in an imperfect world we did not create and have duties that flow from our story.

There is an important moral distinction between “guilt” and “responsibility.” It is not useful, and perhaps not fair, to say that most White people are guilty of creating social systems shaped by white supremacy. But they do have a responsibility as citizens, and as moral creatures, to seek a society where equal opportunity is a reality for all.

Gerson’s seeking to understand the issue, along with his reaching out via his column is the type of dialogue our nation requires at this time.  Looking within as we also watch the nation around us can provide answers.

As it did for Huck Finn. 

The Mississippi River was a large adventure for Huck.  Travel by night, tie the raft up on shore during daylight.  The raft meant freedom, but as he traveled further South he took in what the river provided for sights.  He saw the small towns and the ills that confront those like his friend Jim, a slave who is recaptured.  He then needs to ponder his values and moral compass with the added experiences he gains.

So it is with all of us. 

As we listen, read, talk with others, and gain insight into the views of others who share information about systemic racism we too need to follow the footsteps akin to Huck.

Ponder our values and moral compass.

Diversity In Rural Wisconsin Should Be A Good Thing

I recall in many of my school years a fellow student named Adrian would often be in classes. His parents were migrant workers who traveled seasonally and worked when crops demanded their labor. As such he was in school for periods of time and then gone again.

The most poignant memory I have of him came after a series of taunts and ridicule from other students, language and insults they had no doubt heard in their homes, about the ‘big car’ his family owned.  I recall that in a flat conversational tone he simply said that the car was not only for travel but also “that is where we live when working.”

I will never forget that conversation and the weight it had, especially for me as the decades have rolled along.  Living in Waushara County meant that we often rubbed shoulders with Hispanics and as such, it would seem that more sensitivity to their lives might have resulted.  But it never developed in that county to the degree that humanity would hope.

We had a few children on our school bus route who lived in small cabin-like dwellings not so far from where I lived, that were used by migrant families. Some would snicker that a scent of their morning breakfast would trail along when the kids ran to their seats to sit down.  

One of those boys was always friendly and I once asked what breakfast was like in his home. He told me usually had fried bread on the stove with meat.  I recall being told his mom made it herself with flour and it rose overnight for the morning meal.  Decades later I was reminded of that bread when in Arizona a Native American vendor was making fresh flatbread on a low stone fireplace near a road.  It was greasy to the touch when eating, but powerfully good. I imagined that was perhaps akin to what that boy had for breakfast many years prior.

Getting to know people has always been something I have embraced.  Without really knowing it was happening or even why I am designed this way has allowed for good friendships to form, and a better sense of the world around me. 

We all have assumptions about people, be it why some spend their money on a larger car, or the scent that comes from the coat near to the kitchen table so to wear when the bus approaches.

I just know that Adrian felt apart and different and some of his classmates made that divide deeper and more troubling. His parents were hard-working and obviously determined to have their child in school.  So the snide remarks and bigotry from some of the homes that found their way to the school grounds was something no kid should have to encounter.

This is why I will always recall his flat and conversational tone about explaining his family car. No kid should need to confront such situations which resulted from bigotry, but that he handled it in such a calm manner is what strikes me these nearly 50 years later.

And so it goes.

Ending Bigotry When Taking Oath Of Office

There was a very small segment of the nation in early 2019 who were exercised about newly elected members of Congress taking their oath of office on the Quran. It was bigotry in every sense of the word.

Rashida Tlaib, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, was sworn in with her left hand on her own copy of the Quran, though it was reported that she had considered using a 1734 English translation that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. I ask, how awesome would that have been?

There was also Ilhan Omar, who arrived on these shores roughly 25 years ago as a refugee fleeing Somalia’s war. She too placed her hand on the Quran, her copy being the one used by her late grandfather. That was most meaningful and touching to learn about on the news.

The diversity they bring to the floor of Congress allows it to better reflect the nation as a whole. That is a good thing, indeed. But the gutter rhetoric by a segment of the conservative base against Islam and these women was truly disgusting.

The reason these elected officials come to mind is the topic of seating members of the British Parliament in 1858 required an act to be passed so to allow a man of the Jewish faith to serve his constituency. The same backward sentiment from some in this nation in 2019 was on full display in London in the mid-19th century.

From One Hot Summer Rosemary Ashton writes the following.

The last line reads, The awkward compromise allowed Rothschild to take his seat in the Commons on 26 July by swearing on the Old Testament alone.

It should be noted that in the US newly elected members of Congress are not required to take their oaths on any religious text. In fact, they need not swear on anything at all.

Rants against those who profess their faith and live accordingly, such as Tlaib and Omar, who were called into question for their loyalty to the country based on their religion, are absurd.

History proves the point.

Editorial Cartoons: Justice In America With George Floyd Verdict

There have been far too many videos of Black men being killed by police. We have all seen the brutality and senselessness that has taken place in all parts of the country. But no other video gripped the nation or moved it as did the nine minutes and twenty-seven seconds when a police officer willfully killed George Floyd. What has resulted from that killing is transformative. Society is more aware of the needed changes that must come in law enforcement, and more are engaged and active in understanding systemic racism. Meanwhile, the Black community rightfully states this moment is long, long overdue.

Late this afternoon a Minnesota jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on all charges. He was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter for the May 2020 killing of Floyd. It took the jurors roughly 10 hours to deliberate the outcome. Sentencing will take place in eight weeks and Chauvin will be held without bail until that time.

So how do we process the jury outcome and find a ‘national voice’ as the courthouse lights dim in Minneapolis this evening? I would argue that the moment is so large and the meaning so deep and emotional for so many that trying to place words to the moment is fruitless.

Instead, let us look at the first editorial cartoons that are being posted around the nation. These images, as proven to be the case so often in other national moments of high emotion, convey the mood of the people far better than a 2,500-word essay. There will be time for the analysis and the written introspection.

For now, however, feel the power of the moment with these editorial cartoons.