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Milwaukee protestors keep heat on anti-Barnes ads in Senate contest, calling them 'racist'

Chuck Quirmbach
Some of the protestors outside Sen. Ron Johnson's event Friday afternoon in Milwaukee

A labor union and other activists continue to say there is racism in some of the negative political ads targeting Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes who is Black.

About fifty members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Power to the Polls and other groups protested outside a Milwaukee campaign event Friday afternoon that featured incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

They chanted, "Hey ho, Ro Jo [Ron Johnson]—those racist ads have got to go."

SEIU Wisconsin State Field Director Calena Roberts, who is Black, says the anti-Barnes ads are not subtle. "They have all these crimes that have taken place throughout the city, as if Barnes told people to create crime, which is ridiculous. Then, they used his picture, they're changing the color of his skin. You use the original photo, then you darken it up. It's all about race," Roberts said.

SEIU Lead Canvasser David Zuniga, who identifies as Mexican-American, says the "racism is plain as day. They black him out. They make him seem like a terrible person, when in reality, he just wants what's best for Milwaukee."

Zuniga also said some of the ads are inaccurate, including ones that state Lt. Gov. Barnes wants to defund the police.

Chuck Quirmbach
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) meets with news reporters Friday, following his roundtable on reducing crime.

The protestors chanted and marched outside the building housing God Touch Milwaukee, 1501 W. Lincoln Ave., a non-profit organization that says it gives people "hope through godly teaching and mentoring," where Johnson held a roundtable on reducing crime.

Asked about the protest, Johnson defended the ads he's run about Barnes.

"We're just telling the truth. Unlike the ads that attack me, [they] are lies, they're distortions. They're character assassinations. We're just laying out for the public in Wisconsin here, what Mandela Barnes, what he has supported in the past. He's trying to run away from his past. He's not being honest. He's hiding from Wisconsinites. We're just telling the truth. I like being in that position. I made two promises when I first ran in 2020—I'll always tell you the truth. I'll never vote, I won't conduct myself worrying about reelection," Johnson said.

Johnson did not comment on ads run by outside groups that support him. Those groups have not apologized for any racial content in their commercials.

The SEIU and some Democratic legislators held a news conference Wednesday, outside a Republican Party office on N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., accusing the GOP of airing racist television ads.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.