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Penzeys Spices owner weighs in on Indian mascot bill

Penzeys Spices owner weighs in on Indian mascot bill

A symposium on respect.

That’s how one advocate working against a Republican-backed bill that would make it harder for individuals to challenge the use of American Indian mascots and logos by state school districts described a letter recently sent by the owner of Penzeys Spices to Mukwonago residents.

“He showed people know how to be good neighbors across cultural and racial lines,” said Barbara Munson, chair of the Indian mascot and logo task force for the Wisconsin Indian Education Association. “When I look at what he wrote, I see a thoughtful, educational piece of advocacy.”

Bill Penzey Jr., the owner of Penzeys Spices of Wauwatosa, recently sent boxes containing spices and a three-page letter to residents of Mukwonago, expressing his views on the use of the “indians” nickname and logo by Mukwonago High School.

The school is in a legal battle with the state Department of Public Instruction over its resistance to changing the nickname. The department ruled the logo was offensive and should be changed after one student began the complaint process after graduating from the high school.

Under the current law, passed in 2010 under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, a review process would be triggered if one complaint was filed.

“We created the lie that labeled them the Warriors and the Raiders and the Savages simply as the cover-up to make our crimes appear justified,” Penzey wrote.

The letter included contact information for Republican lawmakers and members of the Mukwonago School Board. It asked residents to contact these individuals and voice their opposition to the bill.

“This lie, this injustice and all the pain it has caused — that is at the heart of the sports team naming issue.,” Penzey wrote.

It also entered one businessman into a contentious debate that has state Democrats charging the bill is racist, while bill authors Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, and Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, say the bill is needed to insert "fairness" into current law.

Nass said in a statement that the bill creates a "fair and balanced" process going forward that encourages this issue to be addressed at the community level through discussions with the tribes. He said the bill also still provides a remedy procedure to address legitimate cases of pupil discrimination and harassment.

Unlike the law passed under Doyle, the Republican-backed bill would shift the burden of proof from the school district to the student who finds the logo or mascot offensive. The complainant would have to collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the student body before being allowed to file a complaint.

In Madison, a district with 27,711 students, 2,711 signatures would be needed. In comparison, 100 to 200 signatures are needed for a potential school board candidate to run for office.

Under Nass' bill, a Mukwonago student would need to collect 475 signatures.

The Assembly passed the bill after two-and-a-half hours of debate Tuesday. The bill was scheduled to be taken up by the Senate Wednesday, but because of procedural rules, it will not be debated by that body until Nov. 5, the first day of the November floor session.

“Senate Republicans still ardently support the proposal, and have the votes necessary to send the bill to the governor’s desk,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald in a statement following the Assembly vote.

Gov. Scott Walker has not commented on whether or not he will sign the bill into law.

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