Personal invectives thrown into Wisconsin politics

Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Has Donald Trump’s style of personal criticism spread to Wisconsin?

A freshman suburban legislator recently assailed Milwaukee Major Tom Barrett for crime spreading to suburban areas. She vowed to seek cuts in state aid unless Barrett took steps to “dramatically cut crime in Milwaukee.”

The Trump-style statement by State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, RMenomonee Falls, was triggered by a police search for five “young criminals from Milwaukee” who fled a stolen car in Richfield (Washington County).

“The violence and the crime that has plagued Milwaukee for decades have now begun to spill over into Milwaukee’s suburbs,” she wrote. “I lay the responsibility for this growing and out of control problem at the door of the mayor’s office.”

Her recipe for Barrett – hire more police, apprehend and arrest car thieves, demand prison for repeat criminals and stand up to judges. If the mayor doesn’t do those things he will be “assisting and enabling the very criminals who are responsible for the record number of shootings, car-jackings and murders,’’ she said.

“Mayor Barrett may not care about the safety of his family but I certainly do care about mine,” she added.

The mayor’s office issued a statement that Barrett is addressing public safety issues and would ‘’welcome the representative’s assistance in dealing with the criminal justice system.’’

While police from Milwaukee and Washington County searched for the car thieves, Brandjen said “families were forced to unlock their gun cabinets and instruct their loved ones to shoot to kill.”

State Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, called it a “toxic, Donald Trump-esque statement.”

“Fear mongering to promote an ignorant and reprehensive agenda does little to acknowledge or address the real problems that communities in Wisconsin face,” he said.

“The sense of entitlement being cultivated beyond the borders of Milwaukee promotes a dangerous narrative that preys on socioeconomic and racial disparities,” Barnes added.

Perhaps Brandjen “would prefer to follow Donald Trump’s lead by building a wall around Milwaukee,” he indicated.

“This needless divisive rhetoric fails to acknowledge this fundamental truth: when Milwaukee succeeds, Wisconsin succeeds,” Barnes said in a statement.

Talk of unlocking gun cabinets added an element of race to the dialogue. State Rep. Bob Gannon, R-Slinger, said, “Crime is a very dangerous vocational choice, and if one is to get injured or terminated in the pursuit of that vocation, then that person knew the dangers before making the decision to get involved.”

Gannon charged that Barnes thinks only blacks can criticize violent criminals if they are black. “The vast majority of victims of Milwaukee crime happen to be black.”

Gannon said there is a lack of black leadership on the crime issue “and I see no reason that victims of crime should have to wait for a person of the proper color to come to their rescue.”

Gov. Scott Walker sought to tone down the idea that the state would be reducing assistance to Milwaukee. The Walker administration has sought to boost the image of Milwaukee, helping to make it more attractive for young professionals.

That may be difficult with Brandjen telling Barrett that “the people of southeast Wisconsin will not sit by and watch your administration destroy the entire region with failed liberal policies.”

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