By Robert Chappell

This story also appeared in Madison365

A crowd of about 100 supporters crowded into the common area of the Sherman Phoenix building on Milwaukee’s North Side to hear Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes announce an important prediction:

“Bucks in six.”

Besides predicting that the Milwaukee Bucks will win their first NBA title since 1971 — long before the 34-year-old was born — Barnes announced his bid to become the first Black US Senator to represent Wisconsin.

“This is an opportunity that only exists in the United States of America and the state of Wisconsin,” he said of his rise from being born in the 53206 ZIP code to the State Assembly to the Lt. Gov’s office and toward the United States Senate.

In a speech lasting about 15 minutes, Barnes stressed a message of equal opportunity.

“Most wealthy people in our society and our communities continue to get richer,” he said. “The rest of us are being left and there are far too many elected officials who are focused solely on winning the next partisan showdown, the next political battle, rather than delivering for the people who elected them in the first place. Wisconsin families all over each of our 72 counties deserve the opportunity to get a job that pays the bills and more. It shouldn’t just be satisfied with paying the bills. You should have some money to have some (rest & relaxation), be able to take a vacation. You should be able to have a job with some benefits so you can retire comfortably. And your health insurance shouldn’t be tied to your job.”

He stressed that his parents worked hard to provide a middle-class life for their family, which is becoming harder to do. 

“The principles, the values that I have fought for my entire career (include) leveling the playing field for everyday people right here in Wisconsin, as an organizer in Milwaukee and as a member of the state legislature, and now as your lieutenant governor, I fought for equal opportunity and I can guarantee that’s the fight that I’ll continue in the United States Senate,” he said. “You know, speeches, these are just a moment in time, but today let’s dedicate ourselves that this moment becomes a movement that carries us through the next election and beyond.”

Barnes joins seven other Democrats vying for their party’s nomination to challenge incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, or another Republican nominee — Johnson has not yet announced whether he will seek a third term. Only one of the other candidates has held statewide office — state treasurer Sarah Godlewski. Other candidates include Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, State Senator Chris Larson and Milwaukee Bucks Vice Presiden Alex Lasry.

“I think today Mandela Barnes is the front runner of the US Senate race,” said Madison School Board Vice President Savion Castro, who attended the event along with fellow Madison School Board member Ananda Mirilli. “The speech was forward-thinking. It was inclusive of everybody in Wisconsin and had a vision that unites us to tackle the challenges that we have ahead of us.”

“Senate races have never been a thing I, as an immigrant, have connected deeply with, have seen myself or heard myself in,” Mirilli said. “He delivered a story that is also my story … It’s such a critical race for the state of Wisconsin and (Barnes) understands the historical context of Wisconsin, understands the position, understands what this seat is and what this race is and what it means for people like myself and other immigrants and, and people of color, women of color. It’s an honor to be here.”