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Lt. Gov. Barnes on past Twitter statements: 'A lot of things are sarcastic, whatever the case may be'

Get to know the Democratic candidate beyond the political ads
On the record with Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes
Posted at 6:16 PM, Oct 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-05 23:14:19-04

GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) — Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race is not only in a dead-heat this close to November 8th, it arguably has the most at stake with the balance of power in Congress on the line.

As voters weigh the issues, both candidates' reputations and credibility are under the microscope.

NBC 26 sat down for an exclusive interview with Senate candidate Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, who agreed to meet with us outside of a press event at the Democratic office in Green Bay.

We asked the Democratic Senate why he decided to run for U.S. Senate.

"I decided to run for the U.S. Senate because there are a lot of challenges that go unaddressed. A lot of voices that don't get heard because of out-of-touch politicians like Ron Johnson don't truly represent us as a state."

In the battleground badger state, the Wisconsin Senate race has seen the most broadcast advertising in the last two weeks than any other race nationwide, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, with over 14,000 spots.

In several political advertisements, Sen. Johnson's campaign says Lt. Gov. Barnes is too radical for Wisconsin. NBC 26 asked Lt. Gov. Barnes to rate himself on a scale of 1-10, one is more progressive and 10 is more moderate.

"Well, I tell you it's really not even about that. Like, the campaign that we built is one that encompasses the whole of not just the Democratic party but the whole of society. I have people to the left of me and to the right of me who are supporting me in this campaign and that was the case even in the primaries. It's about meeting people where they are. People have real challenges that can't be broken down to any specific faction to the party. And it's not about running to serve the party, it's not about running to serve a faction of a party, it's about hard-working Wisconsinites who continue to be left behind," says Lt. Gov. Barnes.

Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes recently came under fire for his past social media posts in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal article, where he addressed controversial topics on Twitter where he referred to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as "my president." In another post highlighted in the article, Lt. Gov. Barnes called former President Donald Trump a "Russian spy."

For the first time since the article was posted, Lt. Gov. Barnes addressed his Twitter past on camera.

"What I say in terms of tweets, right, like, like the conversations aren't going to be nuanced and Twitter is not the place to have real, balanced discussions. A lot of things are sarcastic, whatever the case may be. But, as I travel, no one is asking me about tweets. People are asking me how can my life get better, and why aren't politicians looking out for me. Why aren't politicians looking out for people like me? Why is it always the people at the top who get the most benefit? Why are families like mine continue to fall behind? The idea that Ron Johnson went to the U.S. Senate, doubled his wealth, and is hell-bent on making everybody else's life worse. He orchestrated $215 million dollars in tax deductions for two of his biggest donors while he voted to appeal the Affordable Care Act, that's what people's concerns are," he says.

Lt. Gov. Barnes says he stands by those tweets.

"And the thing to, when there is no context. I get it, I understand it. That's just how that happens," he adds.

"I make a lot of jokes. I think of myself as a very funny, jovial guy but the thing is, going to the grocery store that's actually me. I live a very pretty regular life. I'm just a person in Wisconsin, graduated from Milwaukee public schools and I enjoy what this state has to offer at every corner and that's just who I am. And the Tweets and stuff that's just all things that are just out of context or just people intentionally want to mislead like Ron Johnson is a person who wants to distract from his actual record," says Lt. Gov. Barnes.

With just a handful of weeks to go until the midterm elections, polls show Senator Johnson is gaining ground in his race for reelection. His opponent, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes campaigned in Green Bay over the weekend where he agreed to sit down with us for an exclusive interview outside of a press event where we asked Barnes about some of the biggest issues facing this race for Senate.

We asked Lt. Gov. Barnes about the current inflation rate of 8.2% and whether or not he would have supported stimulus packages and fiscal policies passed by the Biden administration, which many have attributed to the current inflation rate.

"Let's talk about an issue like stimulus packages because you'll get a Ron Johnson who will say that this is some kind of handout. Well, there was an opportunity to create a thousand good pay jobs When Oshkosh Defense got the contract to build the next generation of postal vehicles. His response was that we have enough jobs. He can't have it both ways. He can't sit and say people are lazy and they just want a hand out when jobs were right there for us. Not saying that he could have kept them here. His response was that we had enough jobs he does not understand what was going on. He does not truly respect people's economic conditions. That's the worst part about this," says Barnes.

On the record with Lt. Gov Mandela Barnes: Part 2

In August, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that will cost an average of $30 billion a year over the next decade. An issue Senator Johson said in an exclusive interview with NBC 26 was an effort for the Democratic party to "buy votes before the election."

"One of the biggest impediments to entering the middle class is college affordability, not being able to get the education that's needed for the jobs of today and the jobs of the future," Lt. Gov. Barnes said.

Also under the microscope: rising crime in Wisconsin is a major issue in this campaign for both parties. Lt. Governor Barnes is facing criticism for opponents for his stance on criminal justice.

In a PBS Wisconsin interview in June of 2020, Barnes said "We need to invest more in neighborhood services and programming for our residents, for our communities on the front end. Where will that money come from? Well, it can come from over-bloated budgets in police departments, you know?"

NBC 26 asked Lt. Gov. Barnes how he feels that would help reduce crime.

"I think it's important that we do everything we can to prevent crime from happening in the first place. Things don't have to be this way because they weren't always this way. When my grandad moved to Milwaukee there was an abundance of good-paying jobs so I'm really glad we get to have this conversation, communities that have the opportunity, that have good employment, fully funded, and well-supported schools they don't experience crime like other communities, that have seen their communities dis-invested or a lack of resources, this is about making sure we have a level playing field to give everybody a fair shot."

NBC 26 asked Lt. Gov. Barnes if he was concerned if taking money away from police departments would actually hurt crime.

"Well, this isn't really about that. This is again about making sure we do everything we can, making that upfront investment. When I talk to law enforcement officers, sure, they, I supported budgets at the state level that increase funding for law enforcement. The American Rescue Plan invested $100 million into law enforcement and public safety initiative, so it's not about that. What it's about is doing the work to make police officers' jobs easier."

The general election is Tuesday, November 8th. To see NBC 26's exclusive interview with Senator Ron Johnson, click here.