Editor’s Note: Since this story was published in the July issue, Darryl Morin issued a public statement saying he was leaving the Republican Party.When Darryl Morin steps to the microphone at a community or government meeting to address issues involving the Latino community, he resembles a politician. He pulls out prepared remarks and in a clear, strong voice, cites facts and figures to bolster his central point, then forms a conclusion and a call to action. He leaves nothing to chance. He never wings it or riffs, and his remarks inevitably end with “God bless America.”
At 6-foot-1, with closely cropped black hair that’s graying at the temples, the 50-year-old Morin looks the part of someone who researches and lobbies both at City Hall and in Congress. The suburban Republican businessman and self-professed fiscal conservative and social progressive has emerged as part of a new generation of diverse Latino leaders who say they want to break down traditional racial and organizational lines.
By day, he’s the CEO of Advanced Wireless in Franklin, a company that deals in hand-held computers and wireless technology with customers in 50 states, Canada, Japan, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. To date, he and his wife, Angela, have donated $850,000 in wireless equipment and services to area schools.
But on the stump, he’s typically representing the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the nation. Morin helped to revive LULAC in Wisconsin – it now has 15 chapters in the Badger State – and his “Say Yes to Milwaukee” campaign lured LULAC’s 2019 national convention and its 15,000-some participants to the city. Now, he’s running for national president of LULAC on a platform to reinvigorate an organization with internal turmoil.
More and more, Morin says, Latino groups and other activists are pulling in the same direction. “We’re seeing a higher degree of sophistication in the Latino community, and there’s now more of a willingness for organizations, social service agencies and businesses to come together,” he says. “We’re seeing channels of communication open between varying parts of town, regardless of race or cultural segmentation.”
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the Latino advocacy group Voces de la Frontera, who often takes a more confrontational approach with civil disobedience and boycotts, says that while they may disagree on tactics, she and Morin often work together, especially on immigration. “We may have different strategies, but we communicate,” she says. “Where we have common cause, it’s been an effective partnership.” The fact that Morin’s a businessman and a Republican, she says, “shows how broad the movement is and that it’s not a partisan issue.”
Morin’s ZIP code – he lives in the southwest suburbs – and party affiliation have required him to build the trust of those he’s working with and working for.
“He’s always about the issues, which makes his work credible,” says Ald. José Pérez, who represents Milwaukee’s South Side 12th District. “Yes, he leans to the right and doesn’t live in the neighborhood. But [that] doesn’t lessen his commitment to change. He’s about coalition building, not party politics.”
Morin says he’s drawn suspicion from people who, depending on the crowd, think he’s pretending to be a Democrat – or vice versa. “I’m not beholden to any given party,” he says. “I’m going to do my research and go where the information and the solutions lead me.”
Those solutions have led to partnerships around the political landscape. In 2016, Morin and Fred Royal, president of the NAACP of Milwaukee, co-founded an alliance of groups called the Community Coalition for Quality Policing to address community-police relations. And in January Morin traveled with Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, to Washington to press for protections for children in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Back in Milwaukee, the two have developed a Latino-Jewish Alliance. Kahn cites Morin’s ability to bridge divides and “make things happen.”
“He frames the issues with formality that sets the bar higher,” she says. “He’s someone who believes what he does really matters. My default is to be informal.” Always well-dressed and prepared, she adds, he looks like he’s running for office.
Morin is often asked if he is running – and the answer has always been no.
FOR YEARS, Morin remained focused on his business and his family. He and Angela have two sons. “I never envisioned getting involved in the community the way I have,” he says.
Born and raised in Chicago, he graduated from the University of North Texas in 1990 with a degree in business and dreams of building a wildly successful company. “I had visions of Morin Industries or Morin Technologies,” he says. But he couldn’t even find a job. His father, a Mexican migrant farm worker with a third-grade education, had moved from Texas to the Chicago area and started his own asphalt paving company. After graduation, Morin went back to his old summer job working for his father, shoveling blacktop.
Later, Morin met a sales manager for Telxon, then a major manufacturer of handheld computers for businesses, and was hired. He did everything from sales to filling the soda machine and was later transferred to Wisconsin. Soon after, in 1995, he and Angela married and started Advanced Wireless Inc. in their two-bedroom apartment in Oak Creek.
Morin traces his activism to a Sunday Mass in 2005 at St. Mary Catholic Faith Community in Hales Corners. He learned of the plight of a fellow parishioner, Regina Bakala, who had fled the political turmoil in the Democratic Republic of Congo where she had been raped and imprisoned for her political activism. Now she faced deportation and possible death if she had to return. The church community waged a “Save Regina” campaign that drew widespread publicity. Morin dove into the effort, and with help from LULAC’s Washington connections, Bakala eventually received asylum in the U.S.
“Yes, he leans to the right and doesn’t live in the neighborhood. But [that] doesn’t lessen his commitment to change. He’s about coalition building, not party politics.”
— Alderman José Pérez, 12th District
Since then, Morin’s activism has grown steadily over the years, from holding a bone marrow drive for a dying child whose parents were undocumented, to work in city redistricting battles, bullying in schools and much more.
In addition to these big issues, he gets calls from residents who need help. Last winter a Latino mother living in a southwestern suburb of Milwaukee called after she and her family woke to find swastikas etched into the snow covering their backyard, car and alley. “I was scared,” she says. “I have four kids and no idea what to do.” She called the police but wasn’t satisfied with their response. “They came but didn’t ask any questions. My husband and I were alarmed and in shock.” She made several calls, and someone said to contact Morin. Later that day, he went with her to the police station, armed with a letter on LULAC letterhead about the incident.
“Darryl came in with a coat and tie, briefcase and talked to the person in charge. They immediately gave him respect,” she says. The police said they would add patrols to the area and gave her a permit to park on the street in front of the house, instead of the alley. She felt relieved.
Morin always carries a coat and tie in his car in case he needs to spring into action. He says his professional dress is a matter of personal preference, putting him in a frame of mind that shows respect for himself and others. “But I also find I’m received differently and in a more credible way,” he says. “It also makes me a more effective advocate.”
But he adds: “It shouldn’t be that way. Everyone should be given the same dignity and respect and treated equally, regardless of how they dress or the neighborhood they live in.”