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Democrats question Republicans interest in Milwaukee votes, amid controversy over official's remarks

LaTonya Johnson
Maayan Silver
Wisconsin Election Commissioner Bob Spindell (center of photo, in dark suit coat) attends the opening of a Republican campaign office on Milwaukee's near north side, in 2020.

A Democratic Party motion to have Milwaukee business executive Bob Spindell removed from the Wisconsin Election Commission has widened. Democrats are also questioning the commitment of the Republican Party to win more votes in the state's largest city.

Spindell is a Republican appointee to the six-member panel that oversees state elections.

He's made headlines over the last week for recently bragging about a "well thought out" plan to reduce voter turnout in Milwaukee last fall, with the significant reduction in overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. There were 37,000 fewer votes cast in the city in November compared with the fall general election in 2018.

On Wednesday, State Sen. LaTonya Johnson, (D- Milwaukee) criticized Spindell at a State Capitol news conference.

"As an African-American, a person of color, and an election official who works tirelessly in this building, trying to improve the lives of the residents of Milwaukee, and communities of color, I am angry. I am irritated, and I am frustrated," she said.

LaTonya Johnson
Screenshot from WisEye
State Sen, LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) speaks at a State Capitol news conference Wednesday.

Johnson joined other Democratic lawmakers and faith and voting rights groups in calling on Senate Majority Leader Devin LaMahieu (R-Oostburg) to remove Spindell from the Election Commission. A spokesperson for LeMahieu later said, '"At this moment, we do not have a response to share."

CBS 58 in Milwaukee reports that on Tuesday, LeMahieu walked away from reporters when asked about calls for Spindell to be removed from the commission.

Democrats say Spindell's remarks and leaving him on the Commission call into question Republican efforts to pick up more votes in Black and brown Milwaukee neighborhoods. Three years ago, the GOP opened a campaign office on the near north side. Last year, Republicans opened an office on the near south side.

Johnson challenged the sincerity of the mostly-white GOP:

"I just want the Republican Party, and Bob Spindell to know, that communities of color are not stupid. And, we are not desperate. In the famous words of Maya Angelou, 'When someone shows you who they are, believe them.' And I want Republicans to know, communities of color know exactly who they are, and we believe what we see," Johnson said.

The Wisconsin Republican Party said Chairman Brian Schimming was sick Wednesday and unavailable for an interview.

Executive Director Mark Jefferson issued a written statement:

"Democrats are simply trying to distract from their declining support in urban communities, brought on by policies which have led to more poverty, higher crime rates, and declining student achievement. Republicans offer better alternatives, and that's why the [Democrats] margins continue to shrink in urban areas," he said.

Milwaukee votes still gave a big boost to Gov. Tony Evers in his win over Republican Tim Michels, and helped Mandela Barnes, who came up short statewide in his bid to unseat GOP incumbent Senator Ron Johnson.   

Votes in the city could be crucial in this April's State Supreme Court race.

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