Former Democratic Senator Lena Taylor Condemns Rushed Legislative District Enactment as ‘Insult’ to Milwaukee Constituents

Milwaukee, Wisconsin – After a 20-year career in the Legislature, former Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor bid farewell with a passionate speech criticizing the rushed enactment of new legislative districts by the Republican majority. Taylor expressed her disappointment with the lack of public hearings and votes by legislative committees, describing it as an insult to herself and her constituents.

In her address, Taylor emphasized the importance of transparency and urged her colleagues to listen to the people. Her strong stance against the Republican-drawn maps resulted in her voting against them, which Democratic Gov. Tony Evers subsequently vetoed on January 26.

Just days later, Taylor found herself appointed by Evers as a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, filling a vacant position. She resigned from her Senate seat, which she had held for 19 years, and took the oath of office on January 29. This marked Evers’ 55th judicial appointment since assuming office in 2019, contributing to his effort to diversify the judiciary.

Evers’ appointments have prioritized diversity, with 29 women and 23 minorities among the 49 circuit court and six court of appeals judges he has named so far. Of the 13 Milwaukee County Circuit Court judges appointed by Evers, 10 are minorities, including Judge Taylor who is Black. Additionally, Evers has appointed seven Dane County Circuit Court judges, three of whom are women and two of whom are minorities.

According to Britt Cudabeck, communications director for the governor, these appointments are significant considering Wisconsin’s previously limited diversity in the judiciary. With Taylor being only the second Black woman elected as a state senator in Wisconsin, her appointment to the Circuit Court represents another milestone.

Taylor’s career in public service has seen its fair share of ups and downs. While she successfully won re-election to the Senate, she faced defeats in campaigns for mayor, Milwaukee County executive, lieutenant governor, and municipal judge. In 2018, she was removed from the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee following an incident involving a racist term directed at a Wells Fargo bank employee and concerns about the treatment of her Capitol staff.

Now donning a judge’s robe, the question arises: Can Taylor shed her confrontational public persona? The Wisconsin code of judicial conduct calls for judges to exhibit patience, dignity, and courtesy in their official capacity. The required demeanor of a judge extends to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and others within the judicial system.

Several past and present Democratic legislators declined to comment on Taylor’s Capitol career. However, former Republican Rep. John Nygren, who co-chaired the Joint Finance Committee and often clashed with Taylor, acknowledged her bombastic nature. Nygren also highlighted the disparity in their backgrounds, which sometimes made it challenging to find common ground.

Regarding Taylor’s contentious use of social media to address public issues, Nygren recalled asking her to refrain from recording her committee speeches with her personal cell phone. Although Taylor eventually discontinued the practice, Nygren was most offended when she accused him and all Republicans of indifference towards the opioid abuse crisis. This accusation hit home for Nygren, as his daughter had been sentenced to 13 years in prison for providing a fatal overdose to a pregnant woman.

Despite their differences, Nygren believes that Taylor’s judicial appointment presents her with a valuable opportunity. Taylor, who will need to seek a full six-year term in April 2025, expressed gratitude to Gov. Evers for the chance to bring her life experiences, commitment to the truth, and unwavering dedication to justice and equity to the Circuit Court.

Steven Walters, who has been covering the Capitol since 1988, offers his insights and observations on Taylor’s career as she transitions into the role of a judge.