In key Wisconsin battleground, law and order becomes Achilles heel for Democrat incumbents

While most of the country braces for a pocketbook election driven by runaway inflation, record gas prices and baby formula shortages, Wisconsin is seething over a crime wave.

Updated: May 21, 2022 - 10:57pm

Nearly two dozen shot outside an NBA playoff game. A notorious murderer almost released on parole. A Christmas massacre carried out by a repeat felon released on low bail. Record car thefts and drug overdoses.

While most of the country braces for a pocketbook election driven by runaway inflation, record gas prices and baby formula shortages, the key battleground state of Wisconsin is seething over a crime wave driven by policies that are shaping up to be an Achilles heel for Democrats running the state, like incumbent Gov. Tony Evers and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.

Former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a leading GOP candidate to challenge Evers in the fall election, gave a preview of the attack lines Wisconsin voters are certain to get plenty of on the TV come November. In a recent interview with the "Just the News, Not Noise" TV show she gave a statistical tour of the state's more famous blue cities.

"The murder rate in Green Bay is up 60%," Kleefisch said. "There are more cars stolen in Milwaukee today than there are in Chicago. If you are a child in Wisconsin right now, you are likelier to die a murder victim in Milwaukee than from COVID-19. La Crosse, the other side of the state, just had their biggest meth and their biggest fentanyl busts in La Crosse history. Crime is terrible here."

Kleefisch has fashioned a law-and-order campaign around the theme of "take back control" and has offered a plan to hire 1,000 cops in the state. She's hardly alone.

She and fellow Republican Tim Michels are promising to fire Chisholm, the Milwaukee County district attorney who had advocated for bail reform, presided over a massive crime spike in Milwaukee and painfully admitted his office should not have allowed Waukesha parade massacre suspect Darrell Brooks out on a $1,000 bail before his deadly spree.

Michels is promising to fire other prosecutors across the state who don't get tougher on crime. "I will review all the D.A.s, and the ones who have an awful pattern of catch-and-release, dropping charges quickly, and letting guys out on the street, I will remove them from office," Michels told a radio show recently.

Last weekend, 21 people were shot and 10 arrested in the aftermath of a Milwaukee Bucks playoff basketball game, an episode that left Evers expressing sympathy but no immediate plan to end such violence.

"Kathy and I are heartbroken by last night's horrific acts of gun violence in Milwaukee," Evers tweeted on behalf of his wife and himself. "We are thinking of all the people who were injured and are praying for their full recovery, and we are thinking of the many people affected by this senseless tragedy."

The lack of an action plan gave Republicans a fresh opening. "Twenty one shot on Friday; 3 murdered last night," GOP candidate Kevin Nicholson tweeted over the weekend. "Out of control car thefts. Record-breaking homicides. We're sick of it. Time to turn the page. We need new leaders who are serious about getting this back on track."

The crime wave has also been inflamed by political anarchy, such as the recent firebombing of a pro-life group in Madison that renewed concerns among conservatives that groups like Antifa are not being pursued by law enforcement seriously enough.

"We just got done with an election in which Black Lives Matter played such a pivotal role there against the family, against any traditional values," Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wisc.) told Just the News last week. "So when you see them under attack like this, it's very scary. And we still have not brought to justice Antifa and that crowd."

The increasingly rancorous debate has had some impact. 

Evers was forced to ask the state parole commission a few days ago to rescind its plan to release convicted murderer Douglas Balsewicz, who was slated to be freed after serving less than 25 years of his 80-year sentence for killing his wife in 1999. The commission agreed.