State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) has so far resisted the consequences of her alleged behavior towards a bank teller, but her conduct in her state senate office has caught up with her. Taylor has been removed from the Wisconsin legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee (JFC) and has been ordered to go through anti-bullying training by the Legislative Human Resources Office (LHRO).
In a statement issued Tuesday, the LHRO said Taylor violated the Senate’s anti-harassment policies regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Taylor also violated the Senate’s anti-bullying rules regarding employees.
Taylor said in a statement on Tuesday the complaint was the result of “a disgruntled employee,” saying the employee benefitted from an $80,000 “no show, no work” arrangement.
Taylor complained that the process was unfair despite, as she points out, being able to retain counsel for the investigation. “With only one individual responsible for providing advice and guidance on personnel matters, to both the employee and the legislator, it is a conflictual relationship at best,” Taylor said. “Additionally, that same person must perform the investigation, conclusion of findings, and the summary of decision of an employee dispute.”
However, fellow JFC member state Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) said Taylor only has herself to blame.
“Elected officials have a responsibility to model good behavior and common decency,” Stroebel said. “When public officials make a mistake they need to admit it, apologize for it and move on. They should not double down and blame everyone else for their own actions.”
The anti-bullying and inter-personal communication training must begin sometime within the next three months. Despite agreeing to go through the required training, Taylor was removed from the JFC.
“It is unfortunate that Milwaukee will lose an experienced, progressive, and relentless voice at a time that Milwaukee schools, city and county needs more help from the state’s budget committee,” Taylor said. “Regardless, I will continue to be a voice for the interests of the constituents I serve.”
In her statement, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) did not comment on Taylor’s removal from the JFC, instead focusing on Taylor’s replacement state Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee).
“As a leader in the Democratic caucus, Sen. Johnson has been a strong advocate for gun safety, women’s health access and child care affordability,” Shilling said. “From investing in strong schools and infrastructure to reforming our juvenile justice system, Sen. Johnson understands the issues important to local families and will work to ensure that Wisconsin’s budget reflects the values that we all share.”
Shilling appointed Taylor to the JFC in 2014 after winning a leadership battle with former minority leader state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee). Larson and Taylor are rivals within the Democratic Party in Milwaukee and Larson removed Taylor from the JFC in 2013, leaving the powerful committee with no African American representation. By appointing Johnson, Shilling keeps a Milwaukee African American legislator on the state’s budget-writing committee.
In addition to the Senate staff human resources issue, Taylor is fighting a disorderly conduct citation in Milwaukee for her alleged verbal abuse of a bank teller. According to the police report, officers at the bank on another matter had to step between Taylor and the teller out of fear that Taylor was going to physically assault the bank employee.
The incident with the bank teller occurred in April when Taylor asked the bank to verify that a rent check from one of her tenants had sufficient funds. When the teller refused, the senator allegedly became belligerent to the point where a police office feared Taylor may become violent towards the bank employee and stepped in between the two. Taylor also allegedly called the employee, who was African American, a “house n—-r.” Taylor denies it, saying that the term she used was “house negro.”
So far, Democrats have been reluctant to comment on the bank incident involving Taylor. However, Democratic candidate for governor Andy Gronik issued a statement on Tuesday in support of Taylor. Gronik said he loves her “willingness to repeatedly get punched in the face while fighting for the people she was elected to represent.”
“I am not making any excuses for Sen Taylor — we’ve all lost our temper and wish we’d done a better job handling the situation,” Gronik said. “But, she is a warrior who gets up to do battle in a community served up with injustice every single day. She is a dedicated and hard-working public servant. While we may not always agree, I appreciate Sen Taylor’s unvarnished candor even when it’s been directed at me and I am grateful for her relentless pursuit of equity for people of color to whom other politicians have made promises and then disappeared.”