Governor Scott Walker signs Indian mascot bill into law

MUKWONAGO (WITI) -- Governor Scott Walker signed the controversial Indian mascot bill into law on Thursday, December 19th -- making it easier for schools with Indian mascots to keep them, and harder for people offended by the nicknames to challenge them.

"When we tell our children that it's okay to stereotype an entire race of people, it's just plain bad educational practice," said Barbara Munson with the Oneida Nation.

Walker was conflicted saying he didn't ask for the bill, but signed it because he saw it as a constitutional matter -- stating the previous law infringed on free speech.

"It's a careful balance between being sympathetic to the tribal leaders I've talked to across the state who have concerns about mascots names, and I've said repeatedly personally if I could do something about it, I'd modify those names and mascots so that they weren't offensive to anybody in this state," said Gov. Walker. "By the same token there's a legitimate concern about free speech and whether the government should be involved in regulating not only what individuals and groups of individuals -- in this case school districts --  can and can't say, even if we don't agree with all the speech."

Republican Steven Nass of Whitewater is the author of the law. "Can something be offensive?" he asked. "Sure. Does that mean it's discrimination? No, it doesn't."

The old law put the burden on the school district to prove its nickname wasn't offensive. The new law shifts the burden to the petitioner and requires the signatures of 10% of the student population, instead of just one complaint.

The old law also required a hearing in front of the Department of Public Instruction while the new law shifts that hearing to the Department of Administration.

"So we're going to go back and redo the whole process?" asked State Representative Christine Sinicki. "I'm against that and I'm going to fight it."

Some Native American groups have signaled there could be legal challenges, but Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says he would defend the law.

"Obviously if it's challenged from that perspective, we will be defending it," said Van Hollen.

Thursday was the last day for Gov. Walker to either sign or veto the bill. If he had not acted, it would have automatically become law.

After signing the bill, Gov. Walker released the following statement:

After careful consideration of the arguments, both for and against this bill, I have decided to sign it into law.  The bill creates a process by which the citizens in the communities affected have input and direct involvement in the undertaking of changing a school mascot.

I am very concerned about the principle of free speech enshrined in our U.S. Constitution.  If the state bans speech that is offensive to some, where does it stop? A person or persons’ right to speak does not end just because what they say or how they say it is offensive.  Instead of trying to legislate free speech, a better alternative is to educate people about how certain phrases and symbols that are used as nicknames and mascots are offensive to many of our fellow citizens.  I am willing to assist in that process.

With that in mind, I personally support moving away from nicknames or mascots that groups of our fellow citizens find seriously offensive, but I also believe it should be done with input and involvement at the local level.

Michael Allen, Sr., Executive Director of the Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council released the following statement:

Wisconsin's proud progressive history suffered a black eye today. What had been a leadership position among all the states in the eradication of institutionalized racial stereotyping has been relocated to a back bench. In the name of free speech, Governor Walker has relived Mukwonago and other recalcitrant school districts of their governmental responsibility to consider the rights and sensibilities of an ethnic minority.

Native American sports team names, logos and mascots do not 'honor' Indians. They promote what some people think of as a warrior or take-no-prisoners fighting spirit. Sports logos and mascots ignore Native American statesmen, teachers, inventors, artists, farmers, parents, veterans and religious leaders, and they ignore the cultural differences that distinguish one tribe from another.

No other ethnic group would or should tolerate such discriminatory 'free speech' that is governmentally approved first at a school district level, and now at a state level. Free speech is an individual's right, not a government right. The Governor has merely attempted to rationalize a politically expedient and bad decision.