Mandela Barnes is running in the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin. But local news thought he was either invisible or dead.
On Monday, Madison365 reported that at least three local newspapers — the Lakeland Times, the Rhinelander Daily News, and the Kenosha News — failed to include Barnes’ name in their election notices ahead of Tuesday’s primary race. Barnes, a community organizer and former state assembly member from Milwaukee, is vying for the Democratic nomination, running against Kurt Kober in the lieutenant gubernatorial primary. However, only Kober’s name was listed in the papers.
— Mandela Barnes is Running for Lieutenant Governor (@TheOtherMandela) August 13, 2018
It's very disturbing that the @lakelandtimes left us out of their election guide.
— Mandela Barnes is Running for Lieutenant Governor (@TheOtherMandela) August 12, 2018
To make matters worse, Barnes’ face was mistakenly used by a Milwaukee CBS affiliate in a report about a fatal motorcycle accident.
“After the election notice madness, @CBS58 just tried to kill me off completely,” Barnes tweeted, with an emoji.
“While I certainly understand that honest mistakes can happen, I find it troubling that it happened twice to the same candidate. I want to assure voters across the state that I, Mandela Barnes, am in fact running for Lieutenant Governor and would greatly appreciate your support,” Barnes told Madison365.
The fact that three different Wisconsin newspapers all forgot to include a black candidate’s name on a sample ballot could be interpreted as just the latest example of casual racism in a state known for being one of the most racist in the country. In a 2015 list of “Worst States for Black Americans,” 24/7 Wall Street ranked Wisconsin as #1, given its reputation as having the nation’s highest black unemployment rate and third-highest black incarceration rate.
“Wisconsin is the worst state in the country for black Americans. The median annual income of black households in the state is just $26,053, much lower than the median for black families nationwide and equal to just 46.5% the median income of white Wisconsin households of $56,083… Of all the racial disparities found in Wisconsin, the unemployment gap between black and white state residents is perhaps the most troubling. With a white jobless rate of 4.4%, the state’s job market is relatively strong for the white population. For black Wisconsin residents, however, the unemployment rate is more than five times higher times higher, at 20.8%.”
While the papers told the Barnes campaign that the omission of Barnes’ name was a mistake made by each respective county clerk office, clerks assured the Barnes campaign that his name was on the ballot just like everyone else. On Tuesday afternoon, Mandela Barnes told Grit Post it was frustrating to learn he wasn’t included on the initial notices “in the 11th hour.”
“Regardless of any amount of work that you put in, your name gets put on the election notice. So to not have our in there was very frustrating,” Barnes said in a phone interview.
Despite the errors, Barnes is still likely better known than primary rival Kurt Kober, given that Kober — a wealthy businessman from Sheboygan financing his own campaign — moved back to Wisconsin from California just before running for Lieutenant Governor.
“A lot of people don’t know about him, because he hasn’t lived here.” Barnes said. “It’s very random.”
In fact, Mandela Barnes’ campaign manager, Justin Bielinski, told Grit Post that Wisconsin voters are still well-aware of Barnes’ candidacy, as he’s been traveling across the state since January.
“We’ve traveled as far North as Lac Courte Oreilles reservation, Tomahawk, Winter, people have been responding great wherever we go,” Bielinski said.
If he wins tonight’s primary, Barnes said he’ll continue to work on amplifying issues like the state’s mass incarceration crisis, as well as push for properly funding public education, investing more in renewable energy and environmental protection, and uniting urban and rural Wisconsinites.
“North of Wausau, they very rarely ever meet people from Milwaukee,” Barnes told Grit Post. “There’s a sort of relativity when you talk about issues like healthcare and education… They understand that it’s much better if we talk about things that we have in common and how to improve upon them.”
The three papers have since issued corrected election notices including Barnes’ name on a sample ballot.
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.