MADISON, Wis. – A legislative candidate from Wisconsin can't use a profane, racially charged phrase to describe herself on the ballot, an election oversight board decided Wednesday.
Ieshuh Griffin, an independent running for a downtown Milwaukee seat in the state Assembly, wants to use the phrase, "NOT the 'whiteman's b----.'"
But the state's Government Accountability Board voted to bar that wording, agreeing with a staff recommendation that it is pejorative and therefore not allowed.
State law allows independent candidates to have five words describing themselves placed after their names on the ballot as long as it's not pejorative, profane, discriminatory or includes an obscene word or phrase.
Griffin, who is black, argued her case to the five white, retired judges on the board that regulates elections. She said the phrase was protected free speech.
"It's a freedom of expression," she said. "It's not racial. It's not a slur."
She convinced three of the judges that the wording should be allowed, but two said it should not. One judge was absent, and Griffin needed four votes to succeed. Griffin said she intends to seek an injunction in federal court.
Board member Thomas Cane, a retired state appeals court judge, said he didn't find the wording to be "particularly offensive."
Fellow board member Thomas Barland, who spent 33 years as a circuit court judge in Eau Claire, agreed.
"She says a lot in five words," he said. "It wasn't pornographic, it wasn't obscene and I didn't interpret it as racial."
Judge Gordon Myse, the board chairman, cast the third vote in favor of Griffin.
"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?" Myse said.
Roxanne Dunlap, a white woman from Sussex, felt compelled to speak up in the middle of the meeting, saying she was offended by the statement. She said if a white candidate wanted to have the statement "not the black man's b----" put on the ballot, it would be soundly rejected.
Griffin said her statement wasn't directed at any one individual but the government as a whole. The b-word was referring to a female dog that rolls over, she said.
"I'm not making a derogatory statement to a group of people or an ethnic group," she told the board. "I'm saying what I am not. Everyone I spoke with, elderly and young, understand my point of view."
The phrase was included on nomination papers Griffin circulated to get the 200 signatures needed to be on the Nov. 2 ballot. Griffin, who described herself as a "30ish" community activist, will still appear as an independent candidate.
The Assembly district she hopes to represent covers the east side of Milwaukee and parts of Glendale. It's currently represented by Democrat Annette Polly Williams, who is retiring. Three Democrats and Griffin are seeking to replace her.