Hmong in Politics - John Nichols: Opposites attract for Peng Her in District 81

Thursday, August 28, 2008

John Nichols: Opposites attract for Peng Her in District 81

John Nichols — 8/14/2008 9:43 am

It is a weird science indeed that successfully mixes former Madison Ald. Andy Heidt, the veteran Labor Farm Party activist who remains a stalwart of pure progressive political activism, and Dane County Supervisor Dave "Wiggie" Wiganowsky, who proudly holds himself up as the fire wall against advancing liberalism. But Peng Her has done it.

In the 81st Assembly District contest, where six Democratic candidates are battling for an upper hand in the Sept. 9 primary to succeed veteran legislator Dave Travis, most of the candidates are trumpeting endorsements. (The exception is Eric Englund, who has tended to eschew the practice.)

Kelda Helen Roys has Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk's muscular and meaningful support, as well as endorsements from Women's Choice and Wisconsin NOW Equality PAC. Tim Kiefer has Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard and Madison City Council President Mike Verveer, both colleagues of the assistant DA. Waunakee Village Board President John Laubmeier has won important backing from many local elected officials in the villages and townships that are part of the urban/rural district. Justin Sargent has former Mayor Paul Soglin, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and, perhaps most importantly, a pair of north side elected officials: Dane County Supervisor Dorothy Wheeler and Ald. Michael Schumacher.

But it is Peng Her who earns honors for bringing together unlikely allies.

The restaurant owner and activist, who would be the first Hmong member of the Wisconsin Legislature (and only the fourth Hmong legislator nationally), got Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira. He also has former board President Bill Keys, a liberal icon (see letter on page 40), and former member Ray Allen, a Republican who has run for mayor twice as a centrist with conservative backing. He's got Alfonso Zepeda-Capistran, the energetic former president of Latinos United for Change and Advancement, as well as Peter Munoz, the former executive director of Centro Hispano; Steve Morrison, the executive director of the Madison Jewish Community Council; and John Quinlan, the former executive director of OutReach who hosts WTDY's "Forward Forum" program.

Perhaps most importantly, Peng Her has the backing of veteran north side activists such as Jim Powell and Friends of Troy Gardens current and former board members including Marge Pitts, Martha Worcester and Anne Pryor.

Endorsements don't usually decide political contests. They are, at best, mile markers on the campaign trail that suggest a candidate may be headed in the right direction. But when a candidate attracts an unlikely yet broad list of divergent backers, it offers at least some indication of an ability to cross lines of ethnicity, ideology and even partisanship that is all too rare in our politics.


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