Independent Wisconsin legislative candidate to sue over censorship of controversial description

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Wisconsin State Capitol
Image: Jeff Dean.

An independent candidate for the Wisconsin state legislature is prevented from using the words "NOT the white man's bitch" to describe herself on the ballot. The decision came on Wednesday from the state's Government Accountability Board (GAB), which upheld a staff recommendation that deemed the wording "pejorative".

Ieshuh Griffin, a black woman running for a seat representing east Milwaukee and Glendale, argued her case before the panel of five retired judges on the GAB, which regulates elections in the state. "It's not racist, it's not a slur ... it's not pointed to a particular person. In my point of view, the average politician is a token," she said. When asked by a board member if she would be satisfied with the wording "not under the white man's influence", Griffin did not reply.

The GAB voted 3–2 to allow the wording, but one member was absent, and Griffin needed four members to vote in her favor. Gordon Myse, the GAB's chairman, supported Griffin's request. "Isn't she saying, 'I'm not under the white man's direction? I'm independent of that.' Isn't that what she's saying?" he asked.

State election laws allow independent candidates to have a five-word description of themselves instead of the political party placed after their names, as long as it is not "pejorative, profane, discriminatory or includes an obscene word or phrase." However, Griffin claimed that the wording is protected free speech. GAB staff insisted that since she was not prohibited from using the slogan on nomination papers, her Declaration of Candidacy form, and all other public documents such as campaign materials, her free speech concerns were "circumscribed". Griffin will still appear on the ballot, but without the desired description. She plans to appeal in federal court and wants to delay the election pending a decision.