Mandela Barnes Wants To Be Wisconsin's Next Senator | Crooked Media
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October 04, 2021
What A Day
Mandela Barnes Wants To Be Wisconsin's Next Senator

In This Episode

Wisconsin’s 34-year-old Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes is one of the many Democrats running to beat Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson. Johnson’s seat has been seen as one of the most likely to flip to Democratic hands next year. We interviewed Barnes about entering the primary with statewide name recognition and his overt effort to be the staunch progressive in next year’s race.


And in headlines: a 126,000 gallon oil spill hits the Southern California shores, a historically Black beach in L.A. is returned to its founders’ descendants, and Ozy Media is shutting down.





Gideon Resnick: It’s Monday, October 4th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast that plays out of a small speaker when you walk by animatronic witches at the Halloween store.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, we did a deal with some Halloween people. It is certainly outside the box, but it might pay off.


Josie Duffy Rice: Polls very well in the 10 and under crowd.


Gideon Resnick: It certainly does. On today’s show, a massive oil spill sludges up the coast of Southern California, plus the mysterious media company known as Oxy announces that it is shutting down.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, we continue our series of conversations with political candidates around the country. Today, 34-year old Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. This summer, Barnes, who has served alongside Governor Tony Evers since early 2019, announced that he was running for Senate in what will be among many closely-watched races next year. He is challenging the incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who has gone on to espouse even crazier things than typical since Trump’s absence from office. Hard to do. Johnson’s public statements are often conspiracy riffs on everything from President Biden’s victory to the Black Lives Matter movement to the COVID-19 pandemic. He covers it all.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, it is a litany. And so Barnes walks into a crowded Democratic primary with statewide name recognition and this overt effort to be the staunch progressive in the race. And Johnson’s Senate seat has been seen as one of the most likely to flip to Democratic hands next year. And he remains personally undecided about whether he will actually run again. So I caught up with Barnes a few weeks after he launched his campaign, as well as a few weeks after the Milwaukee Bucks made it to the NBA Finals. And I started off by asking him what made him different from everyone else in the race.


Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes: I think it’s the work that we’ve been a part of in my last two and a half years in office and even prior to that—my work in the, as a state representative. And the experience, and not just experience in terms of the work that we’ve been doing, experience in terms of life. Having been born in the city of Milwaukee, I spent most of my life in Wisconsin except for college, and have been able to experience some of the best, but unfortunately some of the worse of what the state has to offer. You know, the things that we’ve had to respond to have been, have run the gamut. It could be storm damage. It could be pandemic response. Working side by side with the governor to make sure that there was adequate testing, and also make sure that there were adequate vaccines across the state to make sure that we beat this pandemic.


Gideon Resnick: Right. And another thing that you had to respond to as well, that is a painful memory for Wisconsin, last year, you were very much part of the community response to the shooting of Jacob Blake. How has the progress of the broader sort of anti-racist movement that we’ve seen in the country, and also the lack of federal action on policing, informed your choice to join the race and how you’re going to sort of approach this actual campaign?


Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes: Yeah, I was very much involved in it. You know, I look around too, because there were, you know, a lot of folks who, who pay more attention to issues of racial injustice, who pay more attention to issues of police violence, but paid attention in the sense that a lot of folks didn’t even realize that this was a thing until it happened in their backyard and there was no way you could ignore it. But this is an ongoing struggle. This isn’t something that started last year. This is a fight that’s been going on for quite some time. Especially in the state of Wisconsin, with the significant racial disparities that we have in criminal justice. This could be in arrests and this could also be in terms of incarceration. So I think that we have a long way to go but what happened was he saw so much community being built in places that aren’t particularly diverse in Wisconsin. You see individuals and organizations step up and demand more, to say, you know, although this may not have happened here, although it’s probably not super likely it’s going to happen here, we’re going to stand up to say that it will absolutely not happen here. And so that was one of the amazing takeaways from last year, despite it all, right? But in no way is the problem fixed. In no way are we far enough removed from it where we can turn the page on this chapter. We have to see this work through. And I do fully believe that getting in this race gives an opportunity to bring more attention and light to a needed conversation. Because this is not just something that happens in Wisconsin. We see obviously this being a pervasive issue all across the country. And if we don’t have leaders who are bold enough to step up and call out wrong wherever they see it, then we aren’t going to move in the direction that we need to move in.


Gideon Resnick: Right. What did the 2018 race tell you about the dynamics of Wisconsin, like on that political level, county by county? And what, if anything has changed since then?


Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes: Yeah. So Barack Obama was the high watermark here in Wisconsin, like many other parts of the country. But I’ll say, though, another thing that happens with Democrats is we fall into this Republican trap of an urban-rural divide. Let me tell you, when I go to rural parts of the state, I have the same exact conversations that I have when I’m at home in Milwaukee. There are issues with health care in urban areas where health care could be, you know, accessible because there’s a hospital right around the corner, it’s not always affordable. In rural areas where you know someone may actually have health insurance, but it’s inaccessible because you got to drive like 45 minutes to an hour just to get to an appointment. And another issue as well is whether we are preparing to keep the next generation of farmers on the land, especially as health care becomes increasingly more expensive and out of reach for so many families. That’s one of the main conversations I have besides climate change with farmers is the fact that, you know, if we don’t get some form of universal health care, then we are going to be in trouble. We are going to continue to lose our family farms. And I’m talking about creating an economy that works for everybody. That’s a conversation I have in Milwaukee. That is a conversation I can have at Platteville. And we have to explore, you know, new thinking, especially in respect to a green economy here in Wisconsin. I think we’ve been missing out because we haven’t had the leadership. We were eight years dormant with Scott Walker in terms of addressing the climate crisis, and also in terms of embracing the green economy. The time is now for us to think bold and be incredibly imaginative. That is the approach that people are looking for, regardless of what part of the state you’re in. Am I saying we’re going to win every part of rural Wisconsin again? No, I’m not saying that, but I’m saying we don’t have to get blown out 70 to 30 every time. You know, we can shrink those margins, we can make inroads. But that starts by having good conversations with people. That means having candidates who are not going to be afraid to talk about what needs to be talked about.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And you’re talking a lot about climate and health care, which I think is interesting. More broadly, what do you think right now, these midterms are going to be about on a national level? And what about in Wisconsin? Is it going to be the same issues? Is it going to be a mixture? Like, how are you viewing that right now?


Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes: Look, we’re in a period of recovery, and as much as we like to feel that we’re almost out of it, we’re not. A lot of folks still are having problems putting food on the table. There’s still so much uncertainty. A lot of people left a job that isn’t there for them when they will attempt to go back. And we’ve been through this before. We’ve been through this time and time again with offshoring. We’ve been through this time and time again with the recession of 2008. And the reality is there are some folks in communities all across Wisconsin, like much of this country, who have not even recovered from the 2008 recession yet and they went into the pandemic. And for the people who’ve already had it, you know, had it quite difficult experience in living, with living in America, it became that much worse. So the work that we have to do must include uplifting all communities. And that is, I mentioned health care and climate change. I keep talking about those. And I talk about climate change because there’s such an opportunity for us. There’s such an opportunity for us to not just do right by the environment, but to create jobs, to create good-paying jobs, jobs that will last, union jobs. And we can’t forget that because those are the bread and butter issues, the putting food on the table—you can’t have kitchen table issues if you don’t have food on the table to even have these conversations. And so we have to make sure that quality of life is front and center for people. You know, the health care part, it manifests in so many different ways because health care isn’t just health insurance or going to see a doctor, it is what food is available for a person to eat. You know, what is their community structure, are there safe, walkable routes that you know, don’t include vehicle traffic? Is there mass transportation to get people from point A to point B, to get people to and from the jobs and get people to and from recreation and get people to and from the opportunities? You know, we have, you don’t have many opportunities, many, many chances to create that ideal society that we would all like to live in. But in this moment when there is so much despair, there’s no way we can let this moment go by the wayside. We have to take full advantage of it.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that is my conversation with Mandela Barnes, who is running to replace Republican Ron Johnson. And you can stay tuned for a couple other clips on the What A Day feed coming soon.


Josie Duffy Rice: And a very, very, very, very, very critical reminder. Local elections like this one are more important than ever, so be a part of Crooked’s campaign, No Off Years to get connected with groups on the ground working on political races near you. Just head to VoteSaveAmerica dot com/NoOffYears. And that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


Josie Duffy Rice: A pipeline breach caused over a 126,000 gallons of crude oil to flow into the water off of Southern California’s Orange County this weekend, closing miles of coastline and killing wildlife in the Pacific Ocean. The resulting oil slick spanned a full 8,320 acres—unreal—stretching from Huntington to Newport Beach, and reports say that scores of dead fish and birds are already washing up on shore. It originated at an oil rig operated by the company Beta Offshore. The pipeline had stopped leaking as of Sunday afternoon, and Huntington Beach officials deployed floating barriers called booms to try and contain the spill and protect sensitive wildlife areas. The extent of the environmental damage is still coming into focus, but the Huntington Beach spill is about twice as large by volume as one that happened in San Francisco Bay in 2007, which caused the documented deaths of nearly 7,000 birds.


Gideon Resnick: Dear Lord.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s awful.


Gideon Resnick: On the more positive side of California beach news—which this show is all about—Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill last Thursday that authorized the return of property known as Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of a Black couple that was effectively run out of town nearly 100 years ago. According to the L.A. Times, in 1912, Willa Bruce purchased two lots in an area that is now Manhattan Beach. She went on to reportedly run a café, a lodge, and much more along the beach, which became known as Bruce’s Beach, and it attracted more Black families to the burgeoning community. Initially, there were racist threats against community members from the Ku Klux Klan, and later city officials seized the properties through eminent domain. They said at the time they needed the land for a public park, but the lot actually remained vacant for many decades after. Anthony Bruce, the great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles Bruce, was at the press conference where Newsom signed the bill. He recently told NBC News that even after all these years, he thought the Bruce family would face similar racism should they return to the area.


[clip of Anthony Bruce] I believe if Anthony Bruce or anybody else in the Bruce family comes back here, we’re going to see the same exact thing. I don’t think it’s changed, Harry. I think it’s still here, and that’s why we’re not rushing to set up shop again.


Gideon Resnick: Advocates are hopeful, though, that the move by California lawmakers to return Bruce’s beach can set a precedent to give back other properties that nonwhite residents were forced out of by white communities. The estimated value of Bruce’s beach is $72 million.


Josie Duffy Rice: Now we want to take a second to put a curse on ourselves by joking about the downfall of one of our fellow digital media companies: the enigmatic startup, called Ozy Media, announced its shutdown last Friday after valuing itself at $159 million last year. I also value myself at $159 million dollars. We talked about Ozy last week. The company’s rapid collapse began when the New York Times published allegations that the company’s co-founder impersonated a YouTube exec on the phone to win over potential investors at Goldman Sachs. It turns out that call filled just one slot on Ozy media’s stock lineup of primetime deception. To cite just a couple of examples, they also told employees a show of theirs would air on A&E when A&E had already rejected it and when it was really headed for YouTube. And they once attributed a glowing review of their programing to the trade publication Deadline when really it came from their own co-founder. Advertisers pulled their support for Ozy’s shows towards the end of last week. The Chairman resigned and the Board of Directors subsequently decided to close up shop. After the company announced its closure, one former Oxy reporter said quote, “We were all devastated by the amount of disruption that was going on by leadership, but I would 100% stand by the journalism that was done there.”


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, I would be devastated too. Shit.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s completely devastating. Yeah, absolutely.


Gideon Resnick: An investigation called the Pandora Papers has exposed a vast and secretive offshore system where global elites have shielded billions of dollars from tax officials, creditors, and more for decades. Every day, I come into work wearing AOC’s dress from the Met Gala, but today it feels more relevant than ever. First reported yesterday by more than 150 news outlets, including the BBC, The Washington Post and more, the papers implicate people like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Colombian Prime Minister of Dancing, Shakira. One story says King Abdullah the Second of Jordan, used various shell companies to feed his addiction to quote “luxury homes” and spent more than $100 million on several properties in Malibu, California. Another says that in 2003, an offshore company happened to buy a $4.1 million home in Monaco for a Russian model who was rumored to be in a years-long relationship with Vladimir Putin and just happened to give birth to a child weeks before moving in.


Josie Duffy Rice: Interesting.


Gideon Resnick: In total, the Pandora Papers has nearly 12 million records on more than 330 politicians and a 130 Forbes billionaires. It’s a problem that there’s that many in the first place, but don’t let that convince you to start writing-off fun dinners as business expenses or you were going to spend the rest of your life on the run from the IRS.


Josie Duffy Rice: I have to say I wish that I could do something about my addiction to luxury homes. You know, there’s really not much I can do to fulfill that addiction.


Gideon Resnick: You know, we can all dream.


Josie Duffy Rice: We can all dream.


Gideon Resnick: And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go. Don’t miss out on the final episode of This Land that is out now. You can follow along from the beginning as Rebecca Nagle uncovers a string of custody battles over Native American children, all leading back to powerful conservative forces quietly trying to dismantle American Indian tribal rights. To hear how it all ends, listen to all eight episodes of This Land wherever you get your podcasts.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes, highly recommend. It’s really incredible.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. I you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, pay taxes so billionaires around the world won’t have to, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading, and not just tales of new media intrigue like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And listen for us at the Halloween store.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I’m very famous there. I sound like, just like a witch.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Jazzi Marine is our associate producer, with production help from Jocey Coffman. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.