Mandela Barnes

Mandela Barnes
Mandela Barnes Headshot.jpg
45th Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin
Assumed office
January 7, 2019
Governor Tony Evers
Preceded by Rebecca Kleefisch
Member of the Wisconsin State Assembly
from the 11th district
In office
January 7, 2013 – January 3, 2017
Preceded by Jason Fields
Succeeded by Jason Fields
Personal details
Jesse Mandela Barnes

(1986-12-01) December 1, 1986 (age 35)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Other political
Working Families
Education Alabama A&M University (2020)
Website Official website
Campaign website

Mandela Barnes (born December 1, 1986) is an American politician who has served as the 45th Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin since 2019.[1] A member of the Democratic Party, he previously served as the Wisconsin State Representative for the 11th district from 2013 to 2017. Barnes, the first African American to assume the state's lieutenant governorship, is a candidate in the 2022 U.S. Senate election in Wisconsin.[2]

Early life and education

Barnes was born in Milwaukee on December 1, 1986,[3] the son of a public school teacher and a United Auto Workers member. He was born Jesse—his father's name—and his middle name, Mandela, is a tribute to the South African anti-apartheid activist and first black president, Nelson Mandela. Barnes says he has gone by his middle name "since birth" and that his name was legally changed to J. Mandela Barnes before his second birthday.[citation needed] He attended the private Holy Redeemer school in Milwaukee, as well as Milwaukee Public Schools, including John Marshall High School; and Alabama A&M University.[citation needed]


He worked for various political campaigns and in the office of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, eventually becoming an organizer for M.I.C.A.H., a Milwaukee-based interfaith coalition that advocates social justice.[4] Barnes served as the Deputy Director of Strategic Engagement for State Innovation Exchange, a national progressive public policy organization based in Madison.[citation needed]

Community involvement

Barnes was active in a number of organizations serving the greater Milwaukee Area including: the NEWaukee Advisory Board, Social X Advisory Board, the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Advisory Board Member for the New Leaders Council, Community Advisory Board Member for the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, NAACP, and the Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals. He also serves as the 2nd Vice Chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.[citation needed]

Wisconsin State Assembly (2013–2017)

Barnes in 2013

In April 2012, Barnes announced his candidacy for Wisconsin State Assembly District 11, representing the north side of Milwaukee and a small part of Wauwatosa, challenging incumbent Jason Fields in the Democratic Party primary election.[5] Barnes's campaign made major issues of Fields's support for the school voucher program and opposition to limiting interest rates charged by payday loan companies, whose charges can exceed a 500% annual percentage rate.[6][7]

Barnes defeated Fields in the August 2012 primary with 2,596 votes to Fields's 1,206.[8] His win was seen as a loss for the pro-voucher American Federation for Children, which pumped over $100,000 into primaries in greater Milwaukee to support candidates, none of whom won.[9] In the November general election Barnes ran unopposed.[10] He received 16,403 votes to 201 scattered votes for others.[11]

Barnes was reelected in 2014 without a primary or general election challenge.[12]

Barnes served on the Assembly Committees on Corrections, Education, Jobs & the Economy, and Small Business Development. He also served as the chairman of the Legislature's Black and Latino Caucus and helped lead a number of international delegations to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.[13]

In 2015, protester and videographer Miles Kristan recorded video of himself asking Barnes in public "if Wisconsin taxpayers should pay for a Bucks arena," regarding Barnes's vote to fund the future Fiserv Forum. After the encounter, Barnes confronted Kristan and seemingly pushed him (at that time, Kristan was known for showing up to the daily Singalong protest in the Capitol and screaming at the singers). Barnes said he pushed Kristan's camera away but did not assault him.[14][15]

2016 State Senate campaign

On April 11, 2016, Barnes announced that he would resign from the Assembly to launch a primary challenge against Lena Taylor, the Democratic incumbent in Wisconsin State Senate District 4. Some political observers, such as professor and former State Senator Mordecai Lee, expressed surprise, noting both the rarity of Democratic Senate primaries and the 90% reelection rate for incumbents in Wisconsin.[16] Some also framed the race as reflective of the broader struggle in the Democratic Party, pitting a young progressive challenger against an older, more centrist incumbent.[17]

Barnes lost to Taylor by a wide margin in the August 9 election, with 7,433 votes to Taylor's 11,454.[18]

2018 Lieutenant Governor campaign

Barnes (at rear) with other elected officials at a March For Our Lives event

In January 2018, Barnes announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin in the 2018 election.[19] He was endorsed by U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, State Senators Tim Carpenter, Jon Erpenbach, La Tonya Johnson, Chris Larson, and Bob Wirch, and over 23 Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Assembly, including former gubernatorial candidate Dana Wachs. Barnes was also endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers Local 212, Communications Workers of America, Democracy for America, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters,, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin (PPAWI), International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Auto Workers WI State CAP Council, and the Wisconsin Working Families Party.[20][21]

In June 2018, Barnes won the Democratic Party of Wisconsin straw poll with 80.9% of the vote, earning 617 out of 763 votes.[22] During the primary, his name was omitted from three newspaper election notices in different counties. The day before the election, his picture was used in a local news report about a fatal motorcycle crash.[23]

On August 14, 2018, he won the Democratic primary in a landslide against Sheboygan businessman Kurt Kober, and became the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Evers. Evers and Barnes went on to win the November 2018 election, narrowly defeating incumbent Republicans Scott Walker and Rebecca Kleefisch 49.5% to 48.4%.[24] Barnes became Wisconsin's first African American lieutenant governor.[25][26]

Tenure as Lieutenant Governor

Barnes being sworn in as Lieutenant Governor, 2019

Barnes was appointed Chair of the Governor's Task Force on Climate change in October 2019.[27] In December 2020, the Task Force released its report containing 55 policy recommendations to address climate change in the state.[28] For the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Barnes served as a vice-chair of both the convention and the host committee.[29][30] In July 2020, Barnes's campaign was fined $1,652 from the Wisconsin Ethics Commission for accepting too much in donations from a Political Action Committee.[31]

In August 2019, Barnes came under scrutiny after admitting that he had never earned a college degree, contrary to previous statements indicating that he graduated from Alabama A&M University in 2008.[32] In July 2021, while preparing for a potential campaign for United States Senate, Barnes revealed that he had received his college diploma from Alabama A&M more than a year prior on May 1, 2020, and had received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications media specializing in performance. Barnes claimed that the delay was due to a "minor technical issue" with his transcript.[33]

2022 U.S. Senate campaign

On July 20, 2021, Barnes announced his candidacy for United States Senate in the 2022 election, a seat currently held by incumbent Ron Johnson. Barnes was the 8th person to enter the race for the Democratic nomination.[34]

Political views

A political progressive, Barnes believes Democrats should uphold stronger ideals in regards to economic and social justice, suggesting that the party would perform more strongly among voters by focusing on bread-and-butter issues. He voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 and 2020 Wisconsin Presidential Primaries.[35] Specifically citing Joe Biden's narrow victory in the 2020 general election in Wisconsin, Barnes has called on the party to fight for "even bolder ideas like Medicare for All" and to build "more trust among communities of color."[36]

Electoral history

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Democratic Primary, 2018
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Mandela Barnes 326,855 68.0%
Democratic Kurt Kober 153,994 32.0%
Total votes 480,839 100.0%
Wisconsin gubernatorial election, 2018[37]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Tony Evers/Mandela Barnes 1,324,648 49.6
Republican Scott Walker/Rebecca Kleefisch (Incumbent) 1,293,799 48.4
Libertarian Phil Anderson/Patrick Baird 20,320 0.8
Total votes 2,673,308 100.0%
Democratic gain from Republican


  1. ^ "Democrat Tony Evers ousts Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker". Politico. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  2. ^ "Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes joins US Senate race". AP NEWS. July 20, 2021. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  3. ^ "Barnestorming". Isthmus. August 9, 2019. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  4. ^ "Micah, Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope". Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  5. ^ Delong, Katie (April 10, 2012). "Mandela Barnes Announces Candidacy for State Assembly". Fox 6 News. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  6. ^ "WisPolitics Election Blog: Progressives pull off series of wins in Milwaukee primaries".
  7. ^ "Longtime state legislators Fields, Krusick lose in primaries".
  8. ^ "G.A.B Canvass Reporting System" (PDF). Wisconsin Elections Commission. August 14, 2012. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  9. ^ "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Milwaukee and Wisconsin breaking news and investigations". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on January 27, 2013.
  10. ^ Richmond, Todd. "13 Wis. incumbents survive legislative primaries" RealClearPolitics August 15, 2012
  11. ^ "G.A.B. Canvass Reporting System; County by County Report; 2012 Presidential and General Election" Wisconsin Governmental Accountability Board (Report Generated - 11/21/2012 1:57:46 PM); p. 11
  12. ^ "2014 Fall General Election Results". Wisconsin Elections Commission. November 14, 2014. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  13. ^ "Meet Advisory Council Member: Mandela Barnes | Social X Website - Social X Milwaukee". Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  14. ^ Thompson-Gee, Justin. "Former State Rep. Mandela Barnes strongly considering run for lieutenant governor." CBS 58 Milwaukee, Oct. 18, 2017.
  15. ^ Bauer, Scott (January 10, 2018). "Former state Rep. Mandela Barnes running for lieutenant governor". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  16. ^ Williams, Justin (April 11, 2016). "Rep. Mandela Barnes Challenging Lena Taylor for Seat on Wisconsin Senate". Fox 6 News. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  17. ^ Edmondson, Catie (July 3, 2016). "Lena Taylor and Mandela Barnes Face Off in Closely Watched Race". Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  18. ^ "G.A.B. Canvass Reporting System County by County Report: 2016 Partisan Primary" (PDF). Wisconsin Elections Commission. August 23, 2016. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  19. ^ "Former state Rep. Mandela Barnes announces run for lieutenant governor". CBS58. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  20. ^ "Endorsements - Mandela for Wisconsin". Mandela for Wisconsin. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  21. ^ Intern. "Wachs campaign: Endorses Mandela Barnes for Lt. Governor, says "experience matters" | WisPolitics". Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  22. ^ Milwaukee, Urban. "Mandela Barnes Wins 2018 DPW Convention Straw Poll with 80.9% of the Vote". Urban Milwaukee. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  23. ^ Stanley-Becker, Isaac. "The news was wrong: Mandela Barnes is alive, not dead. He's black, not white. And he just claimed a victory in Wisconsin". The Washington Post.
  24. ^ "2018 Wisconsin Midterm Election Results". Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  25. ^ "Mandela Barnes To Become First African-American Lieutenant Governor". Wisconsin Public Radio. November 7, 2018. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  26. ^ Press, Gabrielle Mays, FOX 11 News and The Associated. "Mandela Barnes to become Wisconsin's first black lieutenant governor". WLUK. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  27. ^ Bence, Susan (October 18, 2019). "'There's No More Later Left': Wisconsin Launches Climate Change Task Force". WUWM. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  28. ^ Bauer, Scott (December 11, 2020). "Wisconsin climate task force releases its recommendations". Associated Press. Retrieved July 20, 2021 – via Great Lakes Now.
  29. ^ "Democratic National Convention Announces 2020 Convention Officers, Schedule of Events". 2020 Democratic National Convention. July 30, 2020. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
  30. ^ Meyer, Maredithe (October 24, 2019). "2020 DNC Host Committee announces official leadership structure". BizTimes - Milwaukee Business News. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  31. ^ Bice, Daniel (February 10, 2021). "Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes fined $1,600 for campaign violation". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  32. ^ Stocker, Michelle (August 9, 2019). "A year after telling public otherwise, Mandela Barnes says he hasn't completed college degree". Associated Press. Retrieved July 20, 2021 – via Wisconsin State Journal.
  33. ^ Glauber, Bill (July 12, 2021). "Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes reveals he received college diploma in May 2020, 12 years after graduation ceremony". Milwaukee Journal Senitinel. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
  34. ^ Schmidt, Mitchell; Vetterkind, Riley (July 20, 2021). "Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes joins crowded Democratic field for US Senate". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved July 20, 2021.
  35. ^ @TheOtherMandela (April 8, 2020). "No regrets about having voted for him both times" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  36. ^ Golshan, Tara (November 20, 2020). "Wisconsin's Rising Democratic Star Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes Is Scared". HuffPost. Retrieved January 23, 2021.
  37. ^ "Wisconsin Governor Election Results". New York Times.

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin
Most recent
Wisconsin State Assembly
Preceded by Member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from the 11th district
Succeeded by
Jason Fields
Political offices
Preceded by Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin