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ASSEMBLY (copy)

Rep. David Crowley in the Assembly chamber at the State Capitol in Madison on Thursday, November 9, 2017. PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

For the second time in as many years, Wisconsin lawmakers clashed on party lines over how to honor Black History Month as some Republicans objected to a resolution offered by the Legislature's Black Caucus, which is composed of only Democrats. 

There are no African-American Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature. 

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said Assembly Republicans objected to the inclusion of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Milwaukee Pastor Greg Lewis in a resolution authored by the members of the Black Caucus. 

"Colin Kaepernick is obviously a controversial figure," Steineke said, adding that the Assembly should be "all in agreement" on anyone its members honor. 

Kaepernick, who was born in Milwaukee and lived in Fond du Lac as a young child, launched protests against racial inequality and police brutality by sitting on the bench during the national anthem before an NFL preseason game in 2016. Kaepernick is no longer playing in the league, but other players have joined the protest movement since.

Lewis, who has led "Souls to the Polls" efforts in Milwaukee, has rankled Republicans with criticisms of GOP-backed voter ID laws and efforts to rein in early voting.

Steineke and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, introduced a resolution of their own and placed it on the calendar for Tuesday's Assembly session. The new resolution was essentially identical to the one written by the Black Caucus, with Kaepernick's and Lewis' names removed. 

Vos and Steineke replaced Kaepernick and Lewis with Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the state's first black lieutenant governor, and the late Vel Phillips, who was the state's first black Secretary of State.

Democrats objected to bringing the Republican resolution to the floor. 

"The fact that you guys won't even hear our resolution because it's divisive is a slap in the face," said Legislative Black Caucus chairman Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee.

Other names proposed to be honored on Tuesday included Lucien H. Palmer, Wisconsin's first black legislator; Carolyn Stanford Taylor, Wisconsin's first black Superintendent of Public Instruction; Foundation for Black Women's Wellness founder Lisa Peyton-Caire and Beloit native and NFL coach Jim Caldwell. 

"The Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus unanimously agreed upon the names to honor in our resolution. It is beyond disappointing and offensive that Wisconsin republicans are choosing not respect the leadership of Wisconsin's Legislative Black caucus on this issue," said Rep Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison. 

This is the second year in a row that lawmakers have struggled to agree on how to honor Black History Month. 

Last year, Crowley, Sen. Lena Taylor and Rep. Jason Fields — all Milwaukee Democrats — authored a resolution to designate February as Black History Month in Wisconsin and to honor contributions from 14 prominent black Wisconsinites. 

But Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, argued the resolution should honor all black Wisconsinites, not just a select few. The Assembly eventually voted on two separate resolutions.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.

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