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Lawmaker slams minority, women preferences

By Sean Ryan

A Republican lawmaker, reacting to bills affirming contracting preferences for women and minorities, is trying to outlaw the practice with a constitutional amendment.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said Thursday he knew there would not be enough time in the legislative session to even get his proposal, which would ban racial or gender contracting preferences, to committee. But, he said, he wanted to do whatever he could to undercut the affirmative action bills.

“I think it’s a good counterpoint to those ridiculous bills encouraging this,” Grothman said. “What can I say?”

The bills prompting Grothman’s proposal would make permanent a 25 percent minority contracting goal for projects that receive affordable housing tax credits and restore a state program that gives grants and loans to minority businesses.

“That’s just horrible,” Grothman said. “It’s this divisive stuff where we give credits to perhaps less qualified people based on ancestry and gender, and we just can’t have it.”

The Wisconsin Senate adjourned for the session on Thursday without voting on either bill.

But society needs such laws to balance historic discrimination that still hurts minorities today, said Curtiss Harris, executive director of the African American Chamber of Commerce Inc., Milwaukee.

“To me, it’s important to keep those programs,” he said, “even though, more importantly, it’s important to give those programs teeth.”

Harris said past discrimination means many minority businesses are not as old as nonminority businesses. In industries such as construction, that means minority businesses still are trying to build capacity while the competitors already have it, he said.

“They are saying, ‘Let us benefit from what we did back then, but let’s not correct it,’” Harris said.

Grothman’s proposed amendment to the state constitution would prevent preferential treatment for contractors based on gender, race, religion and ancestry. The amendment must be approved by two consecutive sessions of the Wisconsin Legislature and ratified by voters. The amendment has six co-sponsors, all Republicans.

Eric Peterson, chief of staff for Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said low employment rates among black residents in Milwaukee and the limited amount of state contracting money going to minority-owned builders prove the importance of preference programs. Taylor is sponsoring both bills Grothman is opposing.

“Fifty-percent unemployment among African-American males in Milwaukee, I think, speaks for itself,” Peterson said. “There are a lot of folks who need jobs in the urban centers.”

Wisconsin in 2008 exceeded for the first time its goal of giving 5 percent of state contracts to minority-owned companies.

Grothman dismissed the idea that low minority contracting numbers show the firms are victims of discrimination, saying “most businesses fail.”

“The idea that you have a hard time founding a new business just because of where your ancestry is from,” he said, “is just a divisive bit of excuse-making.”


  1. Bravo, Sen. Grothman! Race, ethnicity, and sex should not be considered at all in deciding who gets awarded a contract. It’s fine to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex — and if you want to give special consideration to new or small companies (of any color) fine. But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either–whether it’s labeled a “set-aside,” a “quota,” or a “goal,” since they all end up amounting to the same thing. Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it costs the taxpayers money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it’s almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and comments we submitted to the Colorado DOT here: ).

  2. Just a note to Senator Taylor: Unemployment is high among the entire population, not just minorities. All contractors need work. I am not a minority company, but would gladly hire a minority if I had the work. Unemployment is not a minority issue. The economy is not a minority issue. It is an issue for all working Americans. As a woman and the president of my company, I do not at this time have woman owned business status, but am working on it. I applaud this bill as I don’t believe I deserve special consideration but I need to look at all options at this time. Our sales were down by 50% last year and we have a lot of catching up to do. Passing this bill would eliminate the need to go the expense and time of becoming a WOB. We all have the same problems. Giving preferential treatment to minorities does not cure the ills of the past, it just prevents them from healing.

  3. David A. Wessely

    OUTSTANDING Mr.Grothman. I am a construction/project manager for a small construction company. The farthest thought from my mind is the sub-contractor race or gender. Heck, I would contract Martians, if their workers can PERFORM the specified work, with acceptable level of quality at a fair price.
    These very practices of implementing ‘contracting ratios’ can harm the quality and value of any project if the minority sub-contractor cannot perform.
    In todays economy should not the focus be put rebuilding equity, sustaining current values and return the talented trademen to the building of America.
    Let’s have the training and teaching of trades return to where it should be…. in school! Tradesmen are judged and hired based on what they can do with their hands… let’s enforce that conbcept and not base it on race or gender.

  4. Mr Grothman, Thanks! If a company’s bid is fair and reasonable, and the company is the lowest responsible bidder, then it doesn’t matter what the gender or race of the owner is. I see no reason to have those quotas. I’m a SDVOB and according to federal regs should help me. It doesn’t and I have not pushed. My advantage is me products and services speak highly of themselves. I don’t need or want an advantage.

    Senator Taylor, there you go again pulling hte “race card.” Can’t we all just get along. Unemployment doesn’t care what color you are. The pay is the same–ZERO. Unemployed is unemployed. Instead of passing more taxes and FEES in the State Budget, why not try something new–LISTEN to the PEOPLE. We want jobs!

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