Barnes’ security costs become a Senate campaign issue

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, has logged more than 10 times as many security hours as his predecessor, an issue Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is raising in the tight race.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that Barnes averaged more than 13 ½ hours of security protection per day — including weekdays, weekends and holidays — at a daily cost of $660 for patrol officers’ wages.

Barnes’ increased use of security was an issue early in his tenure as lieutenant governor, and now Johnson is bringing it up again as part of his re-election campaign. Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for Johnson’s campaign, called the rising costs “outrageous and unprecedented.”

He said it’s hypocritical for the lieutenant governor to “use the state patrol as his own Uber service” when he favors defunding police services. Barnes has said he does not favor defunding the police, but he is supported by a half-dozen groups that do. And on Tuesday, he released a television ad saying claims he wants to defund the police and dismantle U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are untrue.

Mandy McDaniel, Barnes’ spokesman, said the State Patrol’s Dignified Protection Unit decides whether to provide the lieutenant with security for any given event or day and how many patrol members to use.

“In accordance with the recommendation of the Dignity Protection Unit to ensure the safety of the governor and the lieutenant commander, we are not commenting on specific details regarding the safety of the lieutenant commander,” McDaniel said.

The campaign for Barnes, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, declined to say whether he has received threats and referred the question to state security officials, who did not respond to questions from the Journal Sentinel.

Since taking office in January 2019, Barnes has received security protection at official events, as well as during campaign and personal activities. His predecessor, Republican Rebecca Kleefisch, was denied security while on personal business.

For example, the state provided Barnes with 54 hours of security at a cost of nearly $2,300 in state wages over three days in October 2021 when he ran in the Chicago Marathon, the Journal Sentinel reported. This amount does not include other costs for security details such as accommodation or mileage.

In total, the cost of providing security to Barnes during his first three years on the job totaled $608,528 for a total of 14,370 man hours.

That’s more than 10 times the security hours Kleefisch received during her second term from 2015 to 2018. The total number of security hours Kleefisch had during that four-year span was 1,377, an average of less than one hour a day. Kleefisch did not run for the Senate while she was lieutenant governor.

State Sen. Lena Taylor, who is black, said she thinks Barnes travels more than Kleefisch in that role. The political climate is now much more divisive, Taylor said, pointing to the attempted kidnapping of the Michigan governor, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and negative campaign ads that portray Barnes as a political radical.

“In the end, I’d rather Wisconsin be safe than sorry while navigating safety for the lieutenant,” Taylor said.

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