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Johnson, Feingold Propose Solutions to Problems that Sparked Milwaukee Unrest

Former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (left) will challenge incumbent Ron Johnson (right) this fall.

Wisconsin’s two candidates for U.S. Senate have been crisscrossing the state this summer, talking about issues that matter to voters. In Milwaukee lately, people have been concerned about a fatal police shooting and violence in the Sherman Park neighborhood. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Russ Feingold have weighed in on Milwaukee’s struggles. The two have differing solutions.

While speaking to the Kiwanis Club in Milwaukee, incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson says the violence that broke out near Sherman Park is understandable.

“It is decades of failed programs that have trapped individuals in the inner city, cities like Milwaukee, in a cycle of poverty and dependency and despair. So, it probably doesn’t take that much of a catalyst to spark that type of, when you have that level of frustration, that level of despair,” Johnson says.

But, Johnson says violence isn’t the answer, and he fears the arson fires that ruined businesses will make other companies reluctant to locate in the central city. Johnson insists the solution lies in fewer large scale government programs, such as the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care program.

“I don’t think it’s worked very well when we outsource our compassion to the federal government, a one size fits all solution. I think we should devolve some of these programs, some of the spending, some of the taxing authority back down to the state and into the communities, where problems are actually solved,” Johnson says.

Some problems must be worked out at the local level, according to former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold. Such as more dialogue between police and community members. Feingold says he’d be happy to participate.

“We can’t just talk about this after there’s been a problem or a tragedy. We need to have ongoing communication to reduce the tension. Many people in the community are uncomfortable with some of their police encounters while many of the police find it stressful and difficult to deal with these encounters in the community,” Feingold says.

Feingold also campaigned in Milwaukee this week. He promised that, if elected, he’d pour more federal money into struggling neighborhoods, such as into its police force and schools.

“For me, making sure that we have schools, the public schools being properly funded and being safe is very much at the top of the list. You can’t just abandon those schools and say, well we’re going to have students go some other place. The streets have to be safe. People have to feel that police officers know the people in the community. Community policing is a good practice and sometimes it’s been less funded than in the past,” Feingold says.

Marquette University Political Science Professor Julia Azari says she’s not surprised by the candidates’ responses to the violence Milwaukee experienced.

“It exemplifies the way the two parties have approached social problems for the last 40-50 years. On the one hand, the idea of increasing federal involvement, increasing government funding and government programs and on the other hand this Republican notion that this is about what happens outside of the public sphere, it’s about family, it’s about church, it’s about voluntary organizations,” Azari says.

Azari believes the candidates’ positions reflect a need to play to their base supporters in order to drive turnout this fall.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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