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State Dem leaders condemn “bullying” of senate candidate by sitting Dem senator

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Both the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) and the leader of the Wisconsin State Senate Democrats have condemned Senator Tim Carpenter’s use of social media to engage in what they call “bullying” of a State Senate candidate over the weekend.

Carpenter, who represents Milwaukee’s south side and southern and western suburbs in the State Senate, was assaulted by protesters around midnight on June 23 when he was seen taking video of them. Earlier that evening, protesters had toppled statues of Lady Forward — a replica of the statue that represented Wisconsin at the Colombian Exposition of 1893 — and Union officer Hans Chrisitan Heg, a Norwegian American who died at the Battle of Chickamauga. 

Last week, Carpenter, a Democrat, announced that he was cosponsor of a bill with Republican Rob Hutton of Brookfield, that would make defacing or damaging such statues a felony punishable by up to three and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Nada Elmikashfi, who is Black, Muslim, and running to represent Madison in the State Senate, criticized the proposal on Twitter Thursday.

“I urge you to reconsider your statue bill @TimCarpenterMKE & the implications it has for racial justice,” she wrote. “It would go a long way towards being an ally if you had discussions w/ activists & blk Wisconsinites instead of partnering up w/ republicans to further criminalize BIPOC.”

“Sorry Nada-you don’t have a clue,” Carpenter responded. “I got legislation passed making it a felony for vandalizing churches/cemeteries-was that racial then-no! I’M ALREADY AN ALLY &don’t have to prove it to you. What if MLK, LGBTQ, Gandhi statues were smashed- would you feel the same? Bet you would!”

Elmikashfi then wrote a private message to Carpenter, which both of them later shared publicly.

“Senator, I have the utmost respect for you,” she wrote. “I have no doubt you are a tremendous legislator, with an outstanding record because I’ve witnessed it. But what matters now is the future, not the past.”

Carpenter seized on the private message as evidence of “duplicity,” saying Elmikashfi was “praising me in private & pummeling me in public.”

Elmikashfi, on the other hand, said the private message proved that her original statement was only criticism of the proposal he had sponsored, not a personal attack on him.

Carpenter spent the weekend escalating the conflict, including a stint Saturday night during which he posted a screen capture of the private message so many times that Twitter temporarily restricted his account for harassment. 

Monday morning, DPW chair Ben Wikler issued a statement condemning Carpenter’s actions.

“Late on Saturday night, State Senator Tim Carpenter escalated an argument online with State Senate Candidate Nada Elmikashfi with a series of Twitter responses that crossed the line into online bullying,” the statement said. “As a result, Carpenter’s Twitter account was temporarily restricted. Nobody should be subjected to online bullying, which disproportionately harms women and people of color — not during this moment of long-overdue reckoning with racial justice, and not ever. We apologize to Nada that this took place and urge Senator Carpenter and all in public life to ensure that it does not happen again.”

State Senate Minority Leader Janey Bewley echoed the DPW’s statement.

“I have spoken with Tim, & he recognizes that his behavior crossed a line, and that he behaved inappropriately,” she wrote on Twitter. “We need to ensure that we are treating people with respect and that we are mindful of the impact of our actions, especially across lines of racial difference. Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable. Senator Carpenter is preparing a public apology and is committed, as are all of us in the caucus, to truly listening and working to bring about positive change.”

Elmikashfi issued a public statement as well on Monday.

“What happened this past weekend was unfortunate and unnecessary,” she wrote. “As a member of the Democratic Party and a candidate for state Senate District 26, I know that our party has immense groundwork to cover when it comes to making sure that our allyship to BIPOC is continuous and constructive — the harassment from Senator Carpenter I received must turn our attention to the work we still have yet to accomplish in intersectionality. We must treat each other with respect and the understanding that in order to better each other, we must first seek to better ourselves. I am appreciative that Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Ben Wikler and Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley understood the gravity of the situation and have taken and promised steps going forward to make sure that BIPOC candidates like myself, do not receive harm like this from a legislator again. They have also pledged to better the party’s and senate caucus’s commitment to racial justice, and for that I am also grateful.”

Monday afternoon, Carpenter issued an apology in the form of a reply to the DPW’s tweet.

Elmikashfi is one of many candidates vying to replace Fred Risser, who announced his retirement after she announced her intentions to run against him. Other declared candidates include Aisha Moe, former State Rep Kelda Roys, former Madison alder Brian Benford, Shorewood Hills trustee John Imes, organizer and business owner Amani Latimer Burris and former Lt. Gov candidate William Davis III.