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Wisconsin lawmaker cites black culture in justifying rebuke

Wisconsin state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, gestures while speaking at the State Capitol in Madison in 2015. Taylor said on Monday that she used "controversial" language during an argument with a Milwaukee bank teller on April 6 but thought she could speak that way because both of them are black and conversations in black culture are different than in other settings. (Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

Wisconsin state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, gestures while speaking at the State Capitol in Madison in 2015. Taylor said on Monday that she used “controversial” language during an argument with a Milwaukee bank teller on April 6 but thought she could speak that way because both of them are black and conversations in black culture are different than in other settings. (Michael P. King/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor is losing power in the Wisconsin Legislature amid a complaint filed by a former employee that resulted in an $80,000 payment and fallout from an incident at a Milwaukee bank that resulted in her being ticketed for disorderly conduct.

Taylor, of Milwaukee, was removed on Tuesday from the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, the most powerful panel in the Statehouse that’s charged with writing the state’s spending plan every two years.

She was one of two Democratic senators on the committee.

She’s being replaced with Sen. LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling made the decision to replace Taylor with Johnson but did not say why.

The change occurred as Taylor fights the disorderly conduct ticket from April, she used racially charged language in speaking to a bank teller. Taylor also revealed on Tuesday that she was the subject of an employee complaint, but the details of that complaint were not immediately available.

Taylor issued a statement Tuesday calling her removal from the budget committee “unfortunate,” but she promised to continue to “be a voice for the interests of the constituents I serve.”

Taylor also responded to a claim made by someone she called a “disgruntled employee” who was “unwilling to meet the requirements” of the position, including working in the Capitol.

The Associated Press requested details of the employee’s complaint, which was filed with the Senate chief clerk’s office.

Taylor said corrective measures for the employee were rebuffed or deflected with claims of unfair work treatment.

She said the employee was paid $80,000 under a “no show, no work” arrangement for nearly a year.

The senator criticized the process used to investigate the claim, saying the same person who provides both lawmakers and employees with advice on personnel manners performed the investigation.

She has also been defending herself following her dispute with a bank teller at a Wells Fargo bank in Milwaukee. In a radio interview on Monday, Taylor, who is black, defended the words she used when speaking with the bank teller, who was also black.

The Milwaukee police report said witnesses heard Taylor refer to the teller as a “good house (N-word).” Taylor refutes that she used that word and instead said she used a different phrase that sounds like “negro.” Taylor said she thought she could speak that way because both she and the teller are black, and she said conversations within black culture are different than other conversations.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to the disorderly conduct citation and has a pretrial appearance on Aug. 1.
Taylor, 51, has been in the Legislature since 2003.

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