GOP leader faces criticism for calling task force on racial disparities a 'political loser'

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MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- A top Republican is facing criticism for calling the creation of a task force to address racial disparities a “political loser.”

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke made those comments in an email last year as a global movement for social justice was underway and came a day after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake.

The email was first reported by Up North News

Rep. Steineke wrote in an email to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos asking him to lead a task force, but his vision to address racial injustice suggested it was to avoid political criticism.

"My proposal is for us to sit down and figure out some guardrails. Things we could give on, things we wouldn’t. Then I’d sketch out a plan on how to proceed, making sure it takes some time but yet there will be enough activity to show progress," Steineke said in the email. 

The Republican tells CBS 58 his words were misinterpreted, saying he only wanted the best for the task force.

“The point that I was trying to make is that anybody diving into this is going to be dealing with very tense discussions,” he said. “If you're going to come to consensus around the solutions to these issues, not everybody is going to get everything that they want.”

His comments in the email came before the task force, which he is currently co-chair of, was created. Steineke goes on to say it will be difficult to get results as Wisconsin is currently ranked the worst in the country for racial disparities. 

"Worst case scenario, we show a willingness to work on these issues and make the Democrats say no to things," the email states. 

He clarified his comments, saying the goal was to avoid political grandstanding.

“There were indications at that time the Democrats may not even participate in the task force. That's what I was talking about in that situation, where regardless of whether they participate or not, we're going to move and we should move forward with this process, bring people together,” Steineke said. 

Some Democrats were not surprised by the rhetoric, saying it’s typical for Republicans to push proposals they know won’t go anywhere. 

“As a way to avoid meaningful action and to put something together they know we wouldn’t support… I’ve seen that play out in a number of different areas,” Rep. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee) said. 

Assembly Democratic Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) called Steineke’s statements offensive and appalling.

“Rep. Steineke’s comments confirm that skepticism and demonstrate a new level of cynicism in discussing ways to avoid taking meaningful action to address systemic racism and racial disparities in Wisconsin,” said Hintz in a statement.  

Steineke apologized for how his words were received. 

“I'm having discussions with task force members for them to understand where I was coming from on this, because I can certainly understand where people could look at some of the things in there and gain an impression that certainly wasn't my intent.”

The task force on racial disparities began meeting in October and recently missed their deadline to submit proposals on reform to the legislature.

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