'I'm Really Jogging My Brain Here': Dem Senate Candidate Can't Name His Climate Policy Accomplishments

Mandela Barnes in 2018 / Getty Images
March 2, 2022

Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes struggled on Tuesday to name any policies he helped implement as chairman of the state's climate change board, telling an audience of college students at a climate change event that he would "need to get back to you" on that.

Barnes, who currently serves as state lieutenant governor, often touts his leadership position on the Governor's Task Force on Climate Change on the campaign trail. But he seemed caught by surprise when a student journalist asked him how many of the board's policy proposals released in 2020 have actually been enacted, during an event on Wisconsin's Climate Action Plan at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls on Tuesday.

"Of the 55 policy recommendations outlined by the Governor's Task Force on Climate Change report, how many have actually been successfully implemented?" asked one audience member during the question-and-answer session, who identified himself as a reporter with the university's Student Voice newspaper.

Barnes appeared stumped as he shuffled through his notes, according to a video of the event posted by the Republican research firm America Rising.

"Yeah, so, let me pull this up," Barnes said. "In our state budget, it was some of the, it was some of the harder pieces with agriculture that did, actually get—I think that may have actually. I need to get back to you with the legislature, with actually passing the state budget. Some of the money for workforce development grants—um, that's a good question."

"I'm really, really jogging my brain here," Barnes added. "I'd be happy to get back—you're from the paper. I'd be happy to get back to you on more [unintelligible]. I'm just really trying, I should have had these written down."

When reached by the Free Beacon, a spokeswoman for Barnes declined to provide a list of policies that were implemented but sent a link to an August article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. According to the report, the state legislature approved a task force proposal to increase environmental-protection grants to farmers and additional funding to the state's water-quality program.

Barnes attended the event to specifically discuss the Governor's Task Force of Climate Change's 55 policy proposals, which the board published in December 2020.

UWRF chancellor Maria Gallo said she was "thrilled Lt. Gov. Barnes is visiting the campus and sharing the message of sustainability and strategies to address the climate crisis," in a statement announcing the event.

Barnes has often cited his work as chairman of the Governor's Task Force on Climate Change as a qualification for dealing with environmental issues. His role is mentioned prominently in his campaign website biography.

"Governor Evers recognized Mandela's expertise and years of work on environmental issues by appointing him as chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change," says Barnes's website. "The Task Force brought together a diverse coalition of farmers, environmental advocates, Indigenous leaders, and business executives to produce 55 concrete strategies for how Wisconsin can begin to address the climate crisis."

Barnes is considered a frontrunner in the Wisconsin Democratic primary, which also includes hedge fund billionaire heir Alex Lasry and Wisconsin treasurer Sarah Godlewski. The winner will face Republican incumbent Ron Johnson in what is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races of the election cycle.

Update 5:45 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from a Barnes spokeswoman.