Barnes' security costs become campaign issue in Senate run
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, logged more than 10 times as many hours of security than his predecessor, an issue that Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is raising in the hotly contested race.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that Barnes averaged more than 13½ hours of security protection a day — including weekdays, weekends and holidays — at a daily cost to the state of $660 for patrol officers’ wages.
Barnes' increased use of security was an issue early in his term as lieutenant governor, and now Johnson is raising it again in the context of his reelection campaign. Alec Zimmerman, Johnson’s campaign spokesperson, called the rising costs “outrageous and unprecedented.”
He said it is hypocritical for the lieutenant governor “to use the State Patrol as his own Uber service,” when he favors defunding police agencies. Barnes has said he does not favor defunding the police, but he is backed by half a dozen groups that do. And on Tuesday, he released a television ad saying claims that he wants to defund the police and abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are untrue.
Maddy McDaniel, a Barnes spokesperson, said the State Patrol's Dignitary Protection Unit decides whether to provide the lieutenant governor with security for any particular event or day and how many patrol members to use.
“In accordance with the recommendation of the Dignitary Protection Unit to ensure the governor and lieutenant governor’s safety, we do not comment on specific details pertaining to the lieutenant governor’s security,” 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 the Journal Sentinel's inquiries.
Since taking office in January 2019, Barnes has received security protection at official events and also during campaign and personal activities. His predecessor, Republican Rebecca Kleefisch, declined security while performing personal tasks.
For example, the state provided 54 hours of security to Barnes at a cost of nearly $2,300 in state salaries over three days in October 2021 when he ran in the Chicago Marathon, the Journal Sentinel reported. This figure doesn’t include other expenses for the security detail, such as lodging or mileage.
Overall, the cost of providing security to Barnes during roughly his first three years in office came to $608,528 for a total of 14,370 hours of work.
That’s more than 10 times the security detail hours that Kleefisch received during her entire second term from 2015 to 2018. The total number of hours of protection that Kleefisch had over that four-year period was 1,377, an average of less than one hour per day. Kleefisch did not run for Senate while she was lieutenant governor.
State Sen. Lena Taylor, who is Black, said she believes Barnes travels more than Kleefisch did in that role. The political atmosphere 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 portraying Barnes as a political radical.
“In the end, I prefer that Wisconsin be safe versus sorry when navigating the security for lieutenant governor,” Taylor said.