MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the first African American to hold the post in state history, had nine times more hours of security protection during his first two months in office than his Republican predecessor had all of last year, records show.
The online publication WisPolitics.com first reported on the issue Tuesday based on records it received from the Wisconsin State Patrol and Barnes’ official calendar. The Associated Press also received a portion of the records later Tuesday.
Barnes is a former state representative who ran on the ticket with Gov. Tony Evers. They defeated then-Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in November.
It’s not clear why Barnes was receiving so much more protection. Wisconsin State Patrol spokesman Mark Rescheske said the decision was made by the patrol and the governor’s office.
He would not say whether a security threat warranted the coverage. Barnes, when asked about it Tuesday, declined to comment and referred questions to the patrol.
Evers’ spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, said it is ultimately up to the State Patrol to determine coverage.
“We will not compromise when it comes to safety and security,” she said.
Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Charles Nichols called the additional security Barnes is receiving “appalling” and said he was misusing taxpayer money to “use the State Patrol as his own personal chauffeur service.”
Wisconsin’s Dignitary Protection Unit, which is part of the State Patrol, provides security to the governor, his family and staff. It also provides security to other elected officials, including the lieutenant governor and those visiting Wisconsin on official business, as directed by the State Patrol superintendent.
The records provided run from Dec. 28, 10 days before Barnes was sworn into office, through March 1.
The records show that Barnes had protection for seven days when he had no official events, based on the WisPolitics.com review. Three of those days were Sundays, when the only entry on Barnes’ calendar was church. Another day, a Saturday, all Barnes had listed was a 30-minute phone interview.
On one of the Sundays, Barnes received 18 hours of protection when he attended church with Evers in Milwaukee and then came to Madison six hours later.
The records also show that Barnes received protection on six days when the majority of his scheduled events were either in the state Capitol or within a couple blocks of it. He averaged more than 18 hours of protection those days, one of which was the Jan. 7 inauguration.
Barnes also had security protection on Feb. 26 when he went ice fishing for the first time with Democratic state Rep. Nick Milroy in Springbrook, located about 270 miles north of Madison.
The total cost of the 898 hours of work from the Dignitary Protection Union over the two-month period totaled $36,662. Kleefisch received protection for just seven days and 95.5 hours in all of last year, compared with 47 days that Barnes did over two months, the WisPolitics.com review found.
In 2017, Kleefisch had 170.5 hours of coverage. Barnes had five-times as much in just over two months.
Kleefisch’s former chief of staff, Dan Suhr, said that when Kleefisch first took office in 2011 she did not have State Patrol protection. Kleefisch did have it during the Act 10 union protests, but only for official or campaign events where she was appearing as the lieutenant governor, not personal reasons such as going to church, he said.
After that volatile period when Walker and others were receiving death threats, Kleefisch stopped receiving State Patrol protection and instead received it from less-expensive Capitol Police, Suhr said.
Then in 2017, when Kleefisch’s office added a staff member, she only received law enforcement protection on an as-needed basis for events that were considered higher risk, Suhr said.
The only reason Suhr said he could see for Barnes to have around-the-clock protection is “if there’s a security threat which justifies it.”
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP