Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes says Tuesday’s vote risked lives and amounted to voter suppression, and that Democrats must embrace a progressive vision to beat Trump in November.


Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Bernie: But as I see the crisis gripping the nation, exacerbated by a president unwilling or unable to provide any kind of credible leadership and the work that needs to be done to protect people in this most desperate hour, I cannot in good conscience, continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour.

Jaisal Noor: Welcome to the Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor. In breaking news, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced he’s dropping out of the presidential race. This news comes just one day after, despite a last minute court battle and a stay at home order, thousands of Wisconsin voters braved the coronavirus outbreak to wait six feet apart in lines for hours and cast ballots in the state’s presidential primary and local elections.

The election should have been postponed, no doubt.

Some Wisconsinites who had requested absentee ballots said they’d never received them, forcing them to choose between a risking to cast a ballot in person or foregoing their right to vote. Well, our next guest called the Wisconsin election a shit show and said in good faith, “I cannot tell people to go out there and vote.” And he’s the state’s lieutenant governor. We’re joined again by Mandela Barnes. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mandela Barnes: Hey, thanks a lot for having me, and it’s really good to see you again.

Jaisal Noor: So, talk about what happened yesterday. All the public health officials, national experts, international experts have been saying that these types of gatherings are extremely dangerous, especially to vulnerable populations, yet the vote went on.

Mandela Barnes: Yeah. It was especially dangerous and irresponsible for Republican leaders in the legislature to pursue action, legal action to keep this election date in place, yesterday’s election date. It’s unfortunate that we got to that place, and when I woke up, the first thing I saw was so many people waiting in line, lines wrapped around the block and I feel like they had a frustration and I shared that frustration, which is why my first observation is what it was. If people were going to vote, you wait hours in line at Six Flags, not the polls. That in itself is a form of voter disenfranchisement because folks have things to do. People have lives to live. And also there were some weather conditions, too, that made it difficult for a lot of folks to stand outside, literally, people weathering a storm to cast the ballots, people putting their health and their safety at risk.

It was an awful situation that didn’t have to take place at all, given the fact that the governor tried to delay this election, which was the responsible thing to do, which was very necessary. And you had people who requested absentee ballots who didn’t receive those ballots. A lot of those folks, I can think of examples from people that replied to me on Twitter that talked about having a person at home, a spouse or a partner, with a compromised immune system, and if they were to go out to vote, they would be putting their partner, their spouse, the person they live with at risk because they wanted to exercise their constitutional right, because they wanted to exercise their civic duty. And what having the election yesterday did was create a chaos that I personally haven’t seen before, but a [inaudible 00:03:32] chaos that no person should be subject to.

Jaisal Noor: So Wisconsin’s, which you alluded to, Wisconsin’s democratic governor Tony Evers ordered the election postponed until June, but he waited till Monday to do that, and the state Supreme court reversed his order in a ruling late on Monday, after Republican leaders challenged Evers’ decision. So talk about who makes up that court, and some have said that Evers could have acted sooner, but he said he didn’t have the authority to do so. He previously said that. What’s your response to that?

Mandela Barnes: Yeah, and having previously said that, I mean, you see what happened when he did issue the order. I mean, whether the issue, or excuse me, whether the order was issued a week early or a month earlier, we would have seen a similar, if not same, outcome. And the governor tried to work with the legislature in good faith as, working in shared government, that should be the case. Prioritizing the health and safety of people, once there was no response from the legislature, there’s been no response from the legislature in terms of overall Covid-19 response, let alone how to shape democracy in this moment.

And having several failed attempts, the governor decided in the 11th hour, yeah, that he would take executive action to delay the election. And as we see, our courts are controlled by Republicans. Many would say that it is conservative control given the fact that is technically nonpartisan, but that is only a technicality. These are very much Republicans that control our courts here in the state of Wisconsin. And we have Republicans who control our courts at the highest court, the US Supreme Court as well, and they acted right along Republican state legislators. They abetted their attempt to subvert democracy.

Jaisal Noor: And so obviously, Scott Walker’s reign in Wisconsin had a transforming effect for workers, for just the functioning of government and the courts. And he was backed by Americans for Prosperity and other groups funded by the Koch brothers that have proven time and time again to put profits over anything else and that anything, they’re willing to spend unlimited money to demolish anything that sort of stands in their pursuit of money. What impact does that have specifically on Wisconsin today, specifically, this court decision?

Mandela Barnes: I mean it’s had a tremendous impact. When you have these supreme court justices in the state who are up for election, you have to bring it back to the money. You just mentioned the influence that big money has played in the state of Wisconsin. It’s why the right of working people have been rolled back when Wisconsin was once seen as a leader in offering protections to working people and also offering a certain quality of life for individuals in all corners of the state. And we see that that’s not the case anymore. And with the former governor, you look at even judicial appointments, and I mentioned this last night on the news, as progressives it’s important for us to pay more attention to the courts, and that doesn’t mean stop paying attention to other things, but we need to pay as much attention to the courts because we consistently see rights being threatened or just outright being rolled back.

Donald Trump cares about the courts. The amount, the percentage of judicial vacancies that Donald Trump has filled, he’s gotten the supreme court justices, and that is largely in part because the judicial system has not been at the forefront of our thinking. And I get it. It’s different because they’re not issuing the press releases, they’re not giving press conferences, so you don’t necessarily see them out in the public. But if we continue to ignore the judiciary, we’re going to be in a world of hurt for generations to come.

Jaisal Noor: So Bernie Sanders, he just dropped out of the presidential race today. He was down 300 delegates. He acknowledged that he had a really slim chance to victory and the clip that we played at the top of the segment, you hear him say he can’t in good conscience continue this campaign, and he actually did not do a get out the vote effort on election day. He said, “It’s outrageous that Republican legislative leaders and the conservative majority on the supreme court in Wisconsin are willing to risk the health and safety of many thousands of Wisconsin voters tomorrow for their political gain. Let’s be clear. Holding this election amid the coronavirus outbreak is dangerous, disregards the guidance of public health experts, and may very well prove deadly,” which is a bold stance for a candidate to take in this crucial election.

Someone called Wisconsin do or die for Sanders. As a progressive elected official, what are your thoughts on Sanders dropping out now? He won Wisconsin handily in 2016, and it was a state that Trump ended up narrowly winning on this part of his electoral victory to get to the White House, the importance of Wisconsin.

Mandela Barnes: Yeah, so I think that the debate was much better having Bernie Sanders being a part of it in 2016 and this year. I was proud I voted for Bernie in 16. I was very excited when he got into the race this year. And after Super Tuesday, I guess the writing was kind of on the wall, however, the fact is you look at the progressive issues that candidates all across the country are taking on, the things that people are talking about and things that people aren’t afraid to talk about anymore. I think that we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bernie Sanders and his bold thinking, laying out a vision for the United States of America that many people weren’t comfortable embracing at one point or weren’t comfortable talking about. He opened the door to so many new conversations, debates that had to be had.

So, I’m forever appreciative to Bernie Sanders for running and for talking about this stuff running for the highest office. It’s not like he was running for a village trustee and bringing up these ideas. He ran for president on talking about big bold ideas. 2016, he was a little bit closer. I mean, the fact that he won states in 2016 against someone with much more name recognition, someone who’d been in the public eye for far longer, and the fact that he won any state shows that people in this country are ready for change.

And given the way that the 2016 general election played out, it shows that people wanted something different and people wanted something more. I wish he could’ve gotten more traction this year. But you know, that’s not the case. However, the ideas live on. And I think that beyond the 2020 cycle, I think that in 24 and 28 and beyond, folks who are going to say, “Well, he told us so,” or “I’m sure glad we went ahead with that idea.”

Jaisal Noor: And finally, what is it going to take for Democrats to win states like Wisconsin, which are going to be crucial if they’re going to win an electoral victory. We know that Hillary Clinton won three million more popular votes, but unless you win that electoral college, it doesn’t mean anything.

Mandela Barnes: Yeah. I tell people all the time, it has to be a vision. We can’t just, running against Donald Trump, it’s not going to get it done in November saying that you’re not him or vaguely saying you’re going to do things differently. That’s not the answer. That’s not the recipe. That was the case in 2010, 2012, for the recall in 2014 with the former governor. A lot of those campaigns were explicitly anti Scott Walker and it got us nowhere. But two years ago, there was a vision that we live with. We talked about the need to address the concerns of working people in the state of Wisconsin, the need to address education, the need to prioritize our environment. And now ultimately, that’s what got us over the hump, and it’s going to have to be the same way in November.

Jaisal Noor: All right. Mandela Barnes, Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin. Thank you so much for joining us again.

Mandela Barnes: Yeah, thank you for having me.

Jaisal Noor And thank you for joining us at the Real News network.

Speaker 4: Thanks a lot for watching. Appreciate it. But do us one more solemn favor. Hit the subscribe button below. You know you want to. Stay up on your videos.

Jaisal Noor

General Assignment Reporter

Jaisal is a host, producer, and reporter for TRNN. With his expertise in education policy and systemic inequity, he focuses on Baltimore, Maryland. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio NewsDemocracy Now! and The Indypendent.

Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.