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Northern Wisconsin brewery owner files lawsuit to block Trump from Wisconsin ballots

Kirk Bangstad claims former President Donald Trump ineligible for office because he engaged in insurrection against the US

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Minocqua Brewery owner and liberal activist Kirk Bangstad addresses reporters after filing a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court seeking to block former President Donald Trump from Wisconsin ballots in 2024. Anya van Wagtendonk/WPR

A northern Wisconsin brewery owner has filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court to block former President Donald Trump from the ballot in Wisconsin, claiming Trump forfeited his right to run again when he attempted to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in 2020.

A copy of the complaint shared by liberal activist and Minocqua Brewing Company owner Kirk Bangstad is asking the court to declare that Trump is disqualified from serving as President under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted after the Civil War. That amendment, the suit alleges, bars Trump or anyone else who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the United States from holding public office.

Bangstad told WPR that Trump “continuously lied” about his loss to Biden nearly four years ago by pushing false claims of election fraud that culminated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Bangstad said hundreds of people have faced charges and convictions since for their actions that day. Two former leaders of the Proud Boys have been sentenced to a combined 32 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and other crimes committed during the riot.

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“They committed violence against our country because Trump essentially asked them to,” Bangstad said. “There’s no question about that. So to me, it’s worth trying even though it’s an anachronism of an amendment that hasn’t been used since the Civil War.”

Trump and Republicans have pushed back against efforts to keep him off of presidential ballots in other states. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling disqualifying him from participating in the presidential primary. It will be the first time the nation’s highest court will consider the meaning post-Civil War provision in the 14th Amendment. Oral arguments will be held in early February.

Trump also filed an appeal, Tuesday, seeking to overturn a decision by Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to deny a petition to place him on that state’s primary ballot because of his involvement in the Jan. 6 riot.

The former President is facing criminal charges for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding related to efforts to disrupt Congress’s certification of Biden’s victory and one count of conspiracy against rights for attempting to oppress people’s right to vote in an election.

The “conspiracy against rights” charge dates back to the Civil War era when Congress passed the Enforcement Act in an attempt to stop members of the Ku Klux Klan from intimidating Black voters in the South.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin’s Presidential Preference Selection Committee, which is run by the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, voted unanimously to place seven candidates, including Trump, on the ballot for the state’s presidential primary in April.

Bangstad referred to his lawsuit as a “hail mary” and criticized U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Democratic Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul for not filing charges against Trump.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he opposes blocking Trump from the ballot and said those who think he should be disqualified “can vote against him.”

Bangstad accused Evers of placing his reelection hopes above “what’s good for Wisconsin.”

“I’m still going to support Evers,” Bangstad said. “He’s good. He’s doing the right stuff. He’s on the right side. But I’m disappointed in the timidity that a lot of our top Democrats have in the state of Wisconsin and in the country.”

Bangstad filed a similar complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Dec. 28, which the commission “disposed of without consideration.” In a subsequent statement, Bangstad called that decision “a win for us” because it allowed him to file his lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court.

Bangstad, who also operates a federal super PAC that supports Democratic candidates, is no stranger to the courtroom.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is now controlled by a 4-3 liberal majority, declined to hear a lawsuit he filed seeking to end Wisconsin’s taxpayer-funded voucher school system. That suit was opposed both by Evers and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

In October, an Oneida County jury ordered Bangstad to pay $750,000 for defaming a northern Wisconsin newspaper publisher via social media posts accusing the publisher of engaging in elder abuse and letting his brother bleed to death in a hunting accident.

In a written statement, Republican Party of Wisconsin Chair Brian Schimming said, “only someone as disreputable as Kirk Bangstad would try to deny voters the freedom to decide the next president.”

“Like his word, Bangstad’s self-serving lawsuit is not worth the ink and paper on which it is printed,” Schimming said.

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