Why the DNC Should Return to Milwaukee in 2024, Republicans’ Shameful Kanye Stunt, Ron Johnson’s Damaging Magical Thinking, August 11 Primary Election, More 

What a week. Let's recombobulate.

The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.

Photo via Dem Convention.

The Democratic Party should hold its convention in Milwaukee in 2024

Well, it happened. The final blow was dealt to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee when soon-to-be nominee Joe Biden announced that he would not be making the trip to town to deliver his nomination speech, functionally ending what was left of the event after it had been delayed and massively scaled back due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

This will forever be Milwaukee’s Lost Summer, the year when our once sky-high hopes were snatched away from us. There’s a case to be made that Milwaukee has lost more in 2020 than just about any other city. It feels like it will forever be a “what if?” moment for our town. 

It was clearly the right decision, though. The pandemic is at a dangerous point in Wisconsin, and despite Milwaukee’s mask mandate appearing to have a significant impact on the trajectory of coronavirus cases locally, hosting this event would have put people in danger.

That was made even more clear when The Daily Beast reported that three people working at the convention site tested positive for covid-19. 

Even before the tests appeared and the decision came down, Milwaukee’s health commissioner, Dr. Jeanette Kowalik, told CityLab in an interview that if it were up to her, no one would be coming to town for the convention, “because the level of planning and the need to pivot from Covid response to DNC response is significant.” Maybe this is what responsibly following the science looks like here. 

It all still sucks, of course. It’s hard not to be disappointed in thinking about what might have been. There are no winners here.

Beyond the major economic boost and the jolt of energy the DNC would have brought to the city, Milwaukee now misses out on its chance to tell its story. The eyes of the world were going to be here, and while that kind of attention might be more common for other convention cities, that’s certainly not the case here. This would have meant more to Milwaukee. 

Milwaukee still deserves a chance to tell its story. The Democratic Party should commit to holding its convention in Milwaukee in 2024. 

Gary Witt, president of the Pabst Theater Group, was ahead of the curve on this idea, first putting it out there in April, tweeting “The DNC in MKE should be 100% canceled. DNC should commit that the convention will happen in MKE in 2024.  Anything else will be a crushing blow to MKE. Cancel and rebook.”

This is an idea that we should have embraced then, He was met with staunch opposition, particularly from Visit Milwaukee CEO Peggy Williams-Smith, who called the pitch for a postponement “irresponsible” and “reckless.”

Now, Williams-Smith is backing the idea of a 2024 pitch, as is Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Radio Milwaukee is reporting. County Executive David Crowley tweeted his support for the idea, too. Witt is now saying that city leaders in Milwaukee should work together with leaders from Charlotte (where the RNC would have been held) to get the conventions to return to both cities. This would be the right move for Milwaukee right now. 

Milwaukee has already shown that it is capable of fighting for and winning the opportunity to host an event like the DNC. It’s position as a large, diverse, underappreciated and misunderstood city in a swing state is not going anywhere anytime soon. The narrative of a city working hard to reinvent itself while grappling with the effects of generations of structural racism, showcasing both successes to celebrate and failings to be addressed during the four years to come, will not have evaporated by 2024. We’ll still be here, fighting many of our same fights. 

It’s a shame that Milwaukee is missing its chance to re-introduce itself, because this city has a great story to tell. In many ways, Milwaukee’s story is America’s story. It would be wonderful to see city leaders band together and remind the DNC — or the RNC, for that matter — of that fact and give our city, and businesses hit hard by covid-19, a real opportunity to thrive in the spotlight. We earned our chance. 

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The GOP’s Kanye West stunt is shameless and shameful

Wisconsin Republicans, in an increasingly transparent attempt to mess with the presidential election here in the swingiest of swing states, worked up until (and maybe after) the deadline to get Kanye West on the ballot in Wisconsin, running as the candidate from The Birthday Party. Because, of course.

Not to spend too much time on this, because hopefully the effort goes down in flames, but the fact that Lane Ruhland, a GOP election lawyer who is actively working for the Trump campaign (and previously worked for the Republican Party of Wisconsin and business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce), was the one to deliver the paperwork to get West on the ballot is just beyond shameless. They’re not even trying to hide their shenanigans. If Democrats had tried to pull a stunt like this, we’d be hearing cries of ELECTION FRAUD!!! and talk radio would be a volcano of molten outrage.

It was important to see push-back on this from a group of Black elected officials from Milwaukee, including County Board Chair Marcelia Nicholson, Common Council President Chevy Johnson and Crowley, who said, “If you believe that this will distract Milwaukee from being the city that will absolutely vote Donald Trump out of office, you are surely mistaken.” Let’s hope he’s right. 

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Ron Johnson, at it again

When he’s not busy giving non-denials to questions about accepting pro-Putin foreign influence, Wisconsin’s senior Senator has been among the loudest voices in the obstructionist GOP Senate against extending the $600 per week pandemic unemployment assistance benefit, which expired last week, saying the federal money is disincentivizing work.

Leaving aside the existing problems of What Johnson fails to realize is that there’s a pandemic going on and certain businesses can’t open. And if some businesses rush open without taking the proper precautions, they can make the pandemic worse and people can get sick and die. So, there’s that. We should avoid that. 

There’s also the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that people aren’t avoiding work because they are comfortable living on the $600 per week assistance. It’s because there just aren’t enough jobs, given the number of businesses that are closed. Not even close.

Johnson was one of only eight senators to vote against coronavirus relief back in March. He specifically opposed paid leave mandates. 

This is all as the Congressional Integrity Project is accusing Johnson of corrupt practices, saying his personal fortune has doubled as he’s advocated policies that personally benefit him, all as his business is not in a blind trust, breaking a campaign pledge. 

Johnson also this week shared blatant falsehoods about the coronavirus in an appearance on a far-right radio show hosted by former Trump cabinet member Steve Bannon. Johnson said the virus is “not that much worse” than the flu. This is just wrong. 

UpNorthNews reported that during last year’s flu season in Wisconsin, 17,210 people were infected, and 167 people died. That was without lockdowns, social distancing, masks, or any containment measures. As of Thursday, with all of those things, 57,779 people have tested positive for covid-19 since March and 978 people have died in Wisconsin from the virus. 

He just doesn’t get it. Ron Johnson is emblematic of the magical thinking covid truther that’s come to define the Republican Party in Wisconsin. He’s looking to skip the steps necessary to contain the pandemic, deny the realities of the virus, and just be ready to send everyone back to work and pretend this isn’t happening and that it will all just go away on its own. It won’t. Here in reality, the economy isn’t going to come back until the pandemic is under control. You’d think people like Johnson would begin to understand this after five months, nearly 5 million confirmed cases, and more than 160,000 American deaths from coronavirus, but apparently not. Ron Johnson continues to be a disgrace.

Republicans in the Legislature have no statewide coronavirus response plan, but expect teachers to go back to school

It’s been more than 110 days since the Wisconsin State Legislature last passed a bill and more than 85 days since they wrestled control of the state’s coronavirus response away from the governor and health secretary, offering no statewide plan since, but that’s not stopping them from telling local leaders how to do their jobs.

In a letter, obtained by UpNorthNews (producing some of the best journalism in the state right now), Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Assistant Majority Leader Mary Felzkowski are pressuring superintendents across the state to hold in-person classes to begin the 2020-’21 school year.  

These are the very leaders that have allowed the virus to explode across the state, leaving cash-strapped local governments and health departments to manage the pandemic in their communities. Wisconsin Republicans like to tell people that they are the party of local control (which is almost never true when it comes to Milwaukee and Madison), but here they are telling local school districts how to go about their business and protect their students, teachers and staff. 

If they want schools get back to holding in-person classes — which, to be clear, should be the goal — Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature need to do their part and actually get to work and make an effort to control the outbreak instead of continuing to abdicate their responsibilities in this dire moment of crisis. 


August 11 is Election Day. Vote.

If you’ve read anything in this space in the last few months, you understand how damaging the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature has been during this moment of crisis. Voting in the August 11 primary is the first step toward deciding the next wave of leaders to go to Madison and begin to turn the tide.

Hopefully, you’ve already requested your absentee ballot so you vote as safely as possible, but if not, be sure to show up and protect yourself at the polls. Before you make your decision some time researching your local candidates. In Milwaukee, start with guides from Urban Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Madison will have important primaries to watch, particularly in the 76th Assembly District and the 26th Senate District. The campaigns of Francesca Hong (in the 76th) and Nada Elmikashfi (in the 26th) have been especially compelling, and it will be fascinating to see how they fare in their respective races. 

Also worth watching: the Democratic primary for Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District. Other congressional primaries are all but decided, but there are three candidates — Michael Beardsley (a 2020 Bernie Sanders delegate), Matthew Boor (a business executive) and Jessica King (former Oshkosh Common Council member and Wisconsin State Senator) — in the running in the district that spans from the northern Milwaukee suburbs to the Fox Valley. The winner will face Rep. Glenn Grothman, one of America’s worst congressmen, who recently promoted a coronavirus conspiracy theory in a committee meeting on a potential covid-19 vaccine. Learn more about the candidates here

Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record.

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