To fully understand who Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes is, one must first understand that he is, at heart, not really a Democrat.
He is running as a Democrat and serves as the Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, but he is a founding member and self-described “long-time leader” of the state’s chapter of the Working Families Party, a national left-wing organization responsible for supporting and mainstreaming the most radical ideas and politicians in America.
It was the primary force behind Socialist Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Corttez's shocking rise to power in 2018, a major driver of the "Defund the Police" movement in 2020, and for years has promoted the the abolition of both the Electoral College and Senate filibuster and packing of the Supreme Court for partisan advantage.
It is and has since its inception been one of the farthest left political parties in the country, and Barnes has been with it since its beginnings in his state.
“I was a member of the Working Families Party before I ran for lieutenant governor, because the Working Families Party is committed to building the America that we all want to see,” Barnes said while delivering the official Working Families Party response to President Trump’s State of the Union Address in 2019.
Founded in New York in 1998 by union leaders and members of the controversial community organizing group ACORN, the Working Families Party has active chapters in 14 states and the District of Columbia and calls itself “a multiracial party that fights for workers over bosses and people over the powerful.”
Rather than run its own candidates who would have served as third-party spoilers for Democrats, the Working Families Party took advantage of New York’s “electoral fusion” laws, which allow multiple political parties to list the same candidates. Very often, the Working Families Party would support the most radical Democrat in the field order to sway the primary vote.
In its very first statewide race in 1998, it listed as its candidate Democrat gubernatorial nominee Peter Vellone, who lost in a landslide to incumbent Republican Governor George Pataki. Despite this loss, the Working Families Party received enough votes to qualify for the New York ballot for the next four years.
Within six years of the party’s formation, the Communist Party USA was singing its praises, saying that it has built “a beautiful working class multi-racial base” and that “the efforts of the Working Families Party to expand into more states deserve full support.”
As it did expand, the Working Families Party started to rack up electoral wins, listing as its 2006 New York gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer, the Democrat won by a huge margin but resigned amid a sex scandal less than two years later.
It backed socialist Bill de Blasio for New York Public Advocate in 2009 and then again when he ran for mayor of New York City in 2013. One of de Blasio’s closest allies in his rise to power was Bertha Lewis, a Working Families Party leader who had served as the national leader of ACORN when its members were convicted of voter fraud during the 2008 election and caught on undercover video helping purported sex traffickers ply their craft.
When the organization was disbanded in 2010, Lewis went to the Working Families Party, and political corruption apparently followed her. A major investigation published by City Hall News revealed that the Working Families Party routinely skirted campaign finance laws, engaged in a “pay for play” candidate endorsement process, and gave unlawful in-kind contributions to the candidates it did endorse.
By far its most successful in New York City was de Blasio, but his eight years in office were not, as crime increased exponentially--especially murder, which was up more than 50 percent.
This was due in large part to de Blasio's relentless cutting of the New York Police Department budget, culminating in a staggering $1 billion cut in 2020.
Defunding the police was a major component of the Working Families Party's platform even before the death of George Floyd brought the issue to national prominence, and Barnes has been in lockstep with his party for years.
"Do you agree that police budgets should be maybe completely done away with or defunded?" he was asked in a PBS Wisconsin interview shortly after Floyd's death.
"Not completely done away with," Barnes answered, [but] we need to invest more in neighborhood services and programming for our residents, for our communities on the front end. Where will that money come from? Well, it can come from over-bloated police departments."
Less than a month later, he tweeted "Defund the police only dreams of being as radical as a Donald Trump pardon," and in September 2020 called for the dismantling of the entire system of law enformcent following the decision by a grand jury in Kentucky not to charge officers in the death of Breonna Taylor.
"You can feel how you want about to calls to reform, defund, or abolish but the question is, how can a system that allows this to happen continue to be upheld?" he asked.
Similarly, as the Working Families Party has repeatedly called for the abolishment of the nation's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Barnes has been a quiet but still staunch supporter of the so-called "Abolish ICE" movement.
When a member of the Democratic Socialists of America tweeted at him a picture of a red "Abolish ICE" t-shirt, Barnes responded on July 4th, 2018, with "I really need that."
A few days later, he was pictured smiling and holding up his Abolish ICE shirt.
This open hostility to law enforcement is a core tenet of the Working Families platform. Earlier this year, it pressured candidates seeking its endorsement to shun the support of law enforcement unions, asking on its questionnaire “Will you refuse all donations from corporate PACs, real estate developers, police and corrections associations, and the charter school industry?”
Likewise, even as bail reform in New York has put thousands of dangerous criminals back on the street and proven to be an unmitigated disaster, the questionnaire asks, “Will you fight to ensure there are no further rollbacks to bail reform?”
Once again, Barnes has been in lockstep with the Working Families Party’s position on bail reform. As a state representative in 2016, he sponsored a bill that would end cash bail in Wisconsin. That died in committee, but Barnes was undeterred. If elected to the Senate, one of his top aides says, he will push to end cash bail nationally.
"The lieutenant governor believes we should decide who is imprisoned before their trial begins based on how much of a risk they pose to the community, not on how much money they have," Barnes aide Maddy McDaniel told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "The bottom line is money shouldn’t have anything to do with public safety."
Rather amazingly, those comments came just three months after a man free on bail rammed his car into the Waukesha Christmas Parade, killing six people and injuring more than 50 others.
Such radicalism is par for the course for the Working Families Party of Wisconsin that Barnes helped found. It doesn’t just want to defund the police, but also to “defund the 1% and give the public ownership stakes in all corporations receiving bailouts.”
This is open socialism, and Barnes openly supports it. That’s why during his run for lieutenant governor in 2018, Wisconsin’s Working Families Party gave $27,652 to his campaign. Much like the New York Working Families Party’s issues years earlier, this violated campaign finance laws, which cap donations from political action committees at $26,000.
Barnes agreed to pay a $1,652 fine, but still rather hypocritically railed against the influence of so-called dark money in politics.
"There’s a very corrupting influence of money in politics, and we’ve seen that for a long time," he said during a candidate forum in the summer of 2018. "We wouldn’t be where we are in Wisconsin if it were not for the corrupting influence of money.”
Barnes has also railed against so-called “election deniers” like his opponent in the upcoming Senate race, Ron Johnson, but when he gave the national Working Families Party response to the 2019 State of the Union Address, he lavished praise on Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, who had just given the Democratic Party’s response.
Abrams lost the Georgia governor’s race that November, but refused to accept the results, saying that her opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, had effectively rigged the election by suppressing the vote of blacks and Hispanics. Barnes echoed this sentiment in his speech.
“Stacey, you are an inspiration to us here in Wisconsin, and an inspiration to the entire country,” he said. “We’re so proud to say you were born here in the state. The Working Families Party was an early, enthusiastic support of Stacey’s run for Governor and I believe that if not for deliberate attempts at voter suppressions, she would be Governor today.”
Barnes’ address called for a number of radical left-wing policy proposals long endorsed by the Working Families Party, including mass amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants as well as government benefits to entice more illegal immigration.
“We need an immigration system that treats all people with dignity and respect. That says no human being is illegal,” he said. “In our states, we can start by making sure immigrants have access to drivers licenses and in-state college tuition. Because they are part of our community too. But Congress must act to create a path to citizenship, instead of doubling down on a militarized border.”
This radical approach to the border crisis was codified in the Working Families Party's 2020 People's Charter, a list of socialist policies that serves as the organization's platform. It seeks to "shift resources away from policing, jails and detention centers, endless wars and agencies that separate families," "extend expanded $600 per week Unemployment Insurance...to everyone, regardless of immigration status," "cancel rent and suspend debt payments," "cancel student debt," and "give the public ownership stakes in all corporations receiving [COVID-19] bailouts."
These are the extreme policies favored by Ocasio-Cortez and her socialist squad, and it should come as no surprise that the Working Families Party has supported each of them since they first rose to power in 2018. During his 2019 address, Barnes congratulated each of them.
"I see hope in a new class of dynamic leaders in Congress, who are making this the most progressive Democratic caucus in history," he said. "Many were called unlikely candidates, but they are the most likely Americans — and they represent so many people who haven’t always been heard. They are young and smart and hungry to make a difference. People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Jahana Hayes. They’re bringing big, bold ideas to Capitol Hill, and they are changing the status quo in DC."
And now they are endorsing his candidacy. Ocasio Cortez in June urged supporters to back Barnes in order to "do more to pursue" her and the Working Families Party's "agenda items more aggressively." Barnes has also racked up endorsements from other big-name socialist and Working Families-backed leaders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Last year, unsurprisingly, the Working Families Party announced that it was endorsing Barnes' candidacy and, when he won this month's Democratic Senate primary, it congratulated him, calling him a "WFP champion" and crowing about "how strong our movement is when we come together to fight for working families and to build the country of our dreams."
In the same message to supporters, the party congratulated Ilhan Omar on her primary win, saying "these candidates and the rest of our Working Families champions need to win in November before they can make the change we need to see."
That change, based on the Working Families Party's longtime embrace of left-wing radicalism, will largely be an even further push into socialism, as Barnes would be the first founding member of a state Working Families Party chapter to be elected to the United States Senate. The Party is clearly excited about his chances, as well as the possibility of him being the Senate's first Squad member.
As the Party put it in a message endorsing the current Squad members earlier this year: "Our progressive coalition in Congress is growing, and so is our power. When we re-elect the Squad and elect more progressives to join them, we’ll achieve the real working families majority we know is possible."