After the city was battered by Black Lives Matter riots that cost $50 million in damage, Kenosha has chosen its first-ever Republican executive. Samantha Kerkman was elected as county executive after the state went red for the first time since 1998. Republicans endorsed Kerkman, despite the campaign being advertised as ‘nonpartisan.’ Kerkman was competing against Democrat Rebecca Matoska-Mentink, and political commentators are predicting that Kerkman’s victory is another indicator of the ‘red wave’ that will see Republicans crush Democrats in November’s midterm elections.
Kenosha had been considered a swing county in the past, but it hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon ran in 1968. Wisconsin is a swing state as well. In 2020, Kenosha County voted for Trump, but the state voted for Vice President Biden. The Democrat party has been chastised for being reluctant to denounce BLM rioters, and many progressive members of the party have asked for police funding to be cut. This week’s support for a GOP congressman might be regarded as an insult to them.
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‘Red tsunami is coming!’ said Mercedes Schlapp, a former Trump White House spokeswoman, in a tweet celebrating the victory. Since then, crime has risen in most major American cities. Late Tuesday, Kerkman thanked her supporters and said her experience as a state lawmaker resonated with voters. Kerkman praised her fans on Tuesday night, saying, “I think it was the expertise that I bring from Madison.” ‘I’ve been collaborating with the county executive on matters that affect the county for years.’
The police killing of black man Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed from the waist down, brought Kenosha, a town of only 99,000 people, to the attention of the whole country. On August 23, 2020, Blake was shot in the back during a domestic altercation with his children’s mother. Because Blake, who survived but is paraplegic, was carrying a knife, the officer who shot him was never prosecuted. Within 24 hours after the shooting, demonstrators took to the streets, and hundreds of people from all around the country traveled to the little town to take advantage of the opportunity.
Following the killing, there were riots and protests around the country, which coincided with similar demonstrations across the country following the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor, Tony Evers, backed up the protests by condemning the Blake shooting on Twitter on August 23. The town of Kenosha, 113 miles from Governor Evers’ house in Madison, was under siege within 24 hours. On August 24, there were over 1,000 people in the courtroom alone, but only 466 officers and National Guard personnel were on the ground to deal with them.
Kyle Rittenhouse killed two men and wounded a third on the second night of violence in Kenosha. During his high-profile trial last year, he was cleared of all counts, but the city was left ‘looking like a war zone,’ according to shop owners, with the cost of the damage estimated at $50 million. On the ground that night, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department had 116 sworn deputies. There were a few dozen more at the Kenosha Police Department, but less than 200. The county board tweeted on August 26, the day after the Rittenhouse incident, that it had requested 1,500 troops for that day.
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‘We got the aid, but not as swiftly or as much as we’d hoped for in the time limit,’ a department insider stated. Kyle Rittenhouse, who resided 20 miles over the state line in Antioch, Illinois, but visited Kenosha to see his father’s family, was watching the chaos unfold on social media at the same moment. When the riots broke out on August 24, he had just ended a shift at the Pleasant Prairie RecPlex, a gym. ‘I was aware that there were rallies, demonstrations, and disturbances planned for later that evening.
‘I watched recordings on social media, Facebook live streams, TikTok, the lot being burned down, a police officer being beaten, a rock hurled at his head, and the mattress business owner being knocked unconscious.’ ‘I believe his jaw was fractured,’ Rittenhouse said during his trial, ‘and it had to be wired shut or something.’ After a night of violence, the Kenosha County Board urged Governor Evers for greater support on August 25, requesting for more troops to be dispatched to help. However, Evers only dispatched 250 additional troops, and he turned down a federal force offer from then-President Donald Trump, arguing that he could manage the crisis on his own.
‘We have a National Guard standing by that if the general for the National Guard wants further support, we’re there to do it,’ White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said at the time. Evers, sure that 250 National Guard personnel would suffice, believes that having federal forces there would send the wrong message to the demonstrators. ‘I have no regrets because the one thing I said no to was Homeland Security, and I knew it wouldn’t work out because of what I saw in Portland,’ he added, referring to federal forces stationed in Portland, which outraged demonstrators.
Vigilante groups in Kenosha, such as Rittenhouse’s, were skeptical that the violence would be restrained. They were gaining momentum as they watched the previous night’s carnage unfold. Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, was upbeat about the election results, saying Republicans should have done better in a year that is supposed to be favorable to them. He stated that they needed to improve their performance in swing areas of the state. ‘What we saw last night was a very divided state that will likely come down to the wire in October,’ Wikler said.
In Waukesha, Wausau, and Kenosha, conservative candidates won school board seats, but lost in Beloit and the western Wisconsin communities of La Crosse and Eau Claire. The results support Ford’s theory that Republicans putting their support behind school board candidates in a way they haven’t in the past was to bolster their base ahead of the midterm elections. It also demonstrates that crucial voters in Milwaukee’s suburbs, who were hesitant to vote for Donald Trump, turned around and voted for conservatives in school board elections, he added. That might be excellent news for Republicans in November, when Evers and Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson are up for reelection.
Prior to the midterm elections, Johnson spoke on the significance of local elections, encouraging people to “take back our school boards, our county boards, and our city councils.” Republican victories were not limited to school board elections. Maria Lazar, a Republican-backed candidate for a state appeals court seat in southeastern Wisconsin, defeated an Evers-appointed sitting judge.