A Rock County Board supervisor is kicking off her re-election campaign early as a resolution vote has sparked a misinformation smear campaign against her.
Genia Stevens told Madison365 that she has her declaration of candidacy for the April 2024 race filed, months earlier than anticipated, after flyers appeared in her district accusing her – falsely – of opposing a ban on child sex trafficking.
“I’m not running scared,” she said in a message to Madison365.
Stevens is one of at least three supervisors subject to flyering and misinformation campaigns.
It began last month with a County Board resolution in support of the YWCA Rock County’s Stand Against Racism.
“That’s pretty standard for various things,” Stevens said in an interview Thursday. “For example, we’ll issue a proclamation that it’s Public Works Week … we just issued one that honors Pride Month, one that honors Juneteenth.”
Supervisor Mike Zoril – who, in 2016, resigned from the Equal Opportunity Commission after posting on Facebook that “Black voters are some of the stupidest people around” – authored a resolution proclaiming Stand Against Illegal Immigration Week.
When that resolution failed to get out of committee, he authored another, proclaiming July 2-8 Stand Against Illegal Immigration and Child Sex Trafficking Week.
That resolution was approved in committee, but the full County Board voted 15-11 to indefinitely postpone the resolution, effectively killing it, at the June 29 meeting.
In debate over the resolution, Stevens noted that most sexual exploitation of minors happens through means that have nothing to do with immigration, but rather social media apps and other means.
“While child sex trafficking victims may be abducted by traffickers, this is incredibly rare. Instead, traffickers often use a variety of subtle ways to recruit their child victims, based upon the victims’ unique vulnerabilities,” she said during the debate. “Children who are victims of sex trafficking are our own kids. They can be your kids, they could be your neighbor’s kids. And because of many myths (and) common misconceptions like the one this resolution wants us to believe – that immigration is the cause of child sex trafficking in the United States – we often miss what’s happening right here in our own backyard.”
On Sunday, flyers began appearing in the mailboxes and newspaper boxes of residents in the districts of Supervisors Brian Knudson and Jim Farrell, as well as Stevens’ district.
Stevens said she has not seen the flyers that appeared in Knudson and Farrell’s districts. She did obtain a copy of one found in her district, which has her face on the front along with the words “Urgent parent and grandparent alert … protect your children from child sex traffickers and arrogant supervisor Genia Stevens.”
It goes on to say Stevens voted against “a bill to ban child sex trafficking” and urges people to see the film “The Sound of Freedom,” which it refers to as a “tastefully done documentary.”
“The flier that has my name on it says ‘she’s arrogant.’ I kind of don’t have a problem with that,” Stevens said in an interview Thursday. “I do have a problem with you saying that Genia Stevens voted against a bill that bans child sex trafficking, because that is so factually incorrect.”
In fact, Zoril’s resolution was not a bill, and would not ban child sex trafficking, which is already illegal. Further, “The Sound of Freedom” is not a documentary but a fictional film based on the life and work of Tim Ballard, who has made questionable and disputed claims about working with law enforcement agencies to rescue victims of child sex trafficking.
The flyers do not say who produced or distributed them, but the language mirrors an email that identifies its author as Paul Lembrich. That email says “Rock County Board Voted 15:11 to DEFEAT a Bill to BAN CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING” and identifies 11 who voted in favor of the resolution as “good guys,” as the flier does.
At this point, Stevens is not considering legal action for defamation, though she did share the flier with her attorney.
“My attorney literally laughed and (asked), ‘Why would you even entertain that? Because these people are laughable,’” Stevens said.
Stevens was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Rock County Board in March of 2021 and won election to a full term in April 2022. As she gears up to run again in April 2024, she regards Zoril’s resolutions as little more than a distraction.
“My priorities will remain the same. My priorities are taking care of families when it comes to childcare, taking care of the community when it comes to childcare. We need childcare so people can get back to work, and our economy can thrive,” she said.
The founder and CEO of Rock County Jumpstart, Stevens also focuses on economic development.
“When I first got on the county board, the first thing I did was … write a resolution to provide funding, grant money, to our businesses throughout the county, and to set up a small business development center for Rock County,” she said.
She added that she supports ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Beloit, “I’m doing the best we can to make sure that the west side of Beloit is not forgotten.”