By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Erik Ngutse was born into a genocide, lost his father to hatred and lived a refugee’s life before landing in the land of the free.
Ngutse, 30, of Brookfield, says he’s running for the Assembly to fight for the freedom only found in his adopted home — the United States of America.
“I don’t think people realize there are no other countries like America,” he said. “They don’t understand that America is the last place that truly has freedom, and that’s not something you do once and you’re good. That has to be consistently maintained.”
Ngutse is among an impressive field of black conservatives running for office this year, including three African-American Republican candidates for lieutenant governor. Among the contenders are Greg Canady in the 12th Assembly District and Keva Turner in the 14th, Milwaukee-area Democratic Party strongholds.
Their stories and reasons for running vary, but the candidates who spoke to Empower Wisconsin share a common mission: To defeat the radical left and its campaign to tear down the land that they love.
Ngutse and his family were forced to flee the 1994 Rwandan genocide, an atrocity that claimed as many as 800,000 lives. Among the dead was Ngutse’s father as the family of seven was trying to escape to an overflowing refugee camp in Tanzania. They would stay there for years before being cleared to move to the United States. The family settled into Charlottesville, Va. Ngutse knew little English and less about America.
The refugee fell in love with his adopted country, becoming a citizen in 2008. But Ngutse has watched in horror the changes going on in America.
“I’ve always said I was lucky to come to America. If America changes to be like the rest of the world, where is someone like me going to go?” he said. “If you like socialism or Communism, there are plenty of places to go. If you like freedom, this is the only place. I see America becoming less and less free.”
Ngutse is among two Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in the 13th Assembly District race. The suburban Milwaukee district, once a bastion of conservatism, elected a far left liberal in Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield) in 2020. After a single term representing the district, Rodriguez is campaigning for lieutenant governor. Another Brookfield liberal Sarah — Sarah Harrison — is the only Democrat in the contest.
Ngutse said many African Americans have grown tired of the race-baiting of the left, and the destruction it has caused in communities across the country.
“That whole ‘Republicans are racist’ isn’t working anymore. African Americans are certainly looking at how much it cost them to buy gas when Trump was in office and now that Biden is president,” he said. “They don’t care for all of the virtue signaling. They don’t care about George Floyd statues, they want cheaper gas. They want to put food on their table.”
Standing up against lockdowns
Maryann Zimmerman got so fed up with the left’s race-driven education agenda she ran for the Whitewater School Board, and won. Now she’s setting her sights on Wisconsin’s 31st Assembly District, among three Republican candidates facing off in the primary. The district has long been represented by Republican Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), who announced this year she is running for Secretary of State.
Zimmerman calls herself a “typical mom,” involved in her children’s schools as a volunteer, even serving as president of the PTO. But 2020 and the lockdowns and school closures pushed her into politics. She fought to re-open Whitewater schools and end mask mandates. When district officials refused, she ran for the school board.
“I was told that I would never win, that I wasn’t popular enough,” Zimmerman said. She came in first in a field of three, and made good on her campaign pledges.
Zimmerman is running for Assembly in large part because she never wants to see Wisconsin go through another era of lost liberties driven by liberal pandemic politics.
During her campaigns, Zimmerman says she has found the people who pride themselves on their tolerance to be most intolerant of a black woman running for office as a Republican.
“I still get called ‘race trader.’ I was called ‘coon,’” the candidate said. Because her husband is white and her children are mixed race, obnoxious liberals have told her she has “Stockholm syndrome.”
Ultimately, Zimmerman says she’s running because she wants to help the people in a district where small businesses continue to struggle, housing is in short supply and school districts are having a hard time making their budgets work. And she said she wants to make sure “our freedoms will be protected regardless of emergency situations.”
’To me, it was personal’
Cindy Werner is among eight Republican candidates running for lieutenant governor. She’s one of three black conservatives in the contest that features political newcomers and a couple of big names in Wisconsin politics.
Werner, a long-time activist in conservative grassroots politics, said she got into the race in part because of the riots of 2020. She watched Kenosha burn at the hands of radical leftists pushing marxism and a war on law enforcement. She was particularly angered by the anti-police protesters in Madison who ripped down the statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist Civil War hero who died in the fight to free the slaves.
Werner said Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin’s first black lieutenant governor now running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, squandered a great opportunity to use the pulpit to bring Wisconsinites together in a dangerous, racially charged time.
“Col. Heg was a symbol of history being destroyed, and to me, it was personal in terms of what the colonel did in the Civil War for people who look like me and my ancestors,” she said.
Werner said the Republican Party, too, has missed opportunities to change hearts and minds of black voters in Wisconsin, who overwhelmingly have voted for Democrats.
“Pastor Jerome Smith used to say, people don’t know how much you care about them until you show them how much you care,” the candidate said. “I think our Republican Party needs to focus more on issues rather than ‘Republicans are good and Democrats are bad.’’”
Werner, who likes to say, “I’m not old, I’m seasoned,” said she’s encouraged by the emergence of younger black conservatives like Ngutse, Zimmerman, and Julian Bradley, Wisconsin’s first black Republican senator.
Ngutse says he wants more people to know African Americans are inherently more conservative than they are portrayed to be.
“I don’t think our message reaches out to a majority of the African American community,” he said. “Once we do that we are going to see great results.”