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Sen. Ron Johnson targets Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes for high security costs

The senator accused Barnes of abusing taxpayer money, though Barnes doesn't make security decisions

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 8, 2022. Andrew Harnik, AP File Photo

At a press conference Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson seized on reporting from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Democratic Senate nominee Mandela Barnes had security for 10 times as many hours as his predecessor while he’s been lieutenant governor.

Johnson spoke to reporters after a speech to veterans at the American Legion National Convention in Milwaukee.

Barnes’ security detail cost about $608,000 during about his first three years in office, adding up to over 14,000 hours of work. That averages out to over 13 hours per day, including weekends and holidays.

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“I would say that’s pretty much an abuse of state resources and taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” Johnson said.

But according to Barnes’ campaign communications director, Maddy McDaniel, Barnes doesn’t make choices about his security.

“Security decisions for the lieutenant governor are made by Wisconsin’s Dignitary Protection Unit,” she said. “We follow their guidance to ensure the safety and security of the lieutenant governor and the people he encounters across the state, which is of the utmost priority to the campaign.”

The Dignitary Protection Unit, which is part of the state patrol, is responsible for protecting elected officials, including the governor and lieutenant governor.

The reporting comes as the cost of security for public officials ramps up nationwide amid increasing threats. Spending on security among congress members surged after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the capitol in Washington, D.C.

In Wisconsin earlier this year, retired Juneau County Circuit Judge John Roemer was shot and killed in his home. The gunman had a hit list that included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers. Whitmer was also the focus of a foiled kidnappings plot that has led to federal charges against several people, including some from Wisconsin.

Johnson says he wants to ‘save’ Social Security, Medicare

Before he took hits at Barnes over security costs, Johnson used his remarks to veterans to defend his position on Social Security and Medicare, saying the real threat to these programs is the federal deficit.

“I have never said I wanted to put Social Security, Medicare and veterans benefits on the chopping block, or cut them,” he said. “I want to save these programs. I want to stop mortgaging our children’s future.”

Johnson has said he wants to make Social Security and Medicare part of the discretionary budget process. That means Congress would have to approve funding for the programs each year.

Barnes has criticized that position.

“Self-serving, multimillionaire senator Ron Johnson wants to strip working people of the Social Security and Medicare they’ve earned,” Barnes said in a statement. “Wisconsinites pay into Social Security through a lifetime of hard work, and they’re counting on this program and Medicare.”

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