GOP candidates for governor tout 'tough on crime' agendas after violent weekend in Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- After Milwaukee's downtown entertainment district was rocked by gun violence over the weekend, Republican candidates running for governor are calling on local leaders to crack down on crime.

Outside Fiserv Forum Monday, Rebecca Kleefisch, a Republican candidate for governor, was joined by representatives from the Milwaukee Police Association and community members urging local leaders to hire more police officers after three shootings left at least 21 people wounded Friday night.

"There's a lot of people, the crowds are big [and] there is not enough staffing," said Alex Ayala, vice president of the Milwaukee Police Association who endorsed Kleefisch for governor. "They [police] are outnumbered."

If elected, Kleefisch wants to hire 1,000 police officers across Wisconsin and suggests using a portion of the state's $3.8 billion surplus to pay for it. She also called on the offices of the Milwaukee mayor and county executive to shift money around to prioritize public safety.

"Both the mayor and county executive have had ample funding for Covid-19, as has the governor," Kleefisch said. "Money can be moved around based on priorities and we all know that money is fungible."

Kleefisch's plan released months ago also includes firing Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and using officers from the State Patrol to assist local police departments.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley have floated other ideas to boost funding for police departments. Both have called for increases in shared revenue and support proposals to raise the county sales tax, which can generate more money for public safety.

However, Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature have rejected those ideas.

"Unfortunately, what they've [Republicans] done is cut shared revenue and also restricted the ability of local units of government to raise funds for themselves," said Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson from Milwaukee.

Governor Tony Evers proposed increasing shared revenue to local governments in his 2019 and 2021 state budgets, but GOP leaders opposed it.

"For years, the Legislature and previous administration slashed local funding from Milwaukee and other communities, forcing them to do more with less – the governor is working to fix this and give communities the tools they need to combat violent crime," said Kayla Anderson, a campaign spokeswoman for Evers.

Evers has invested over $100 million in violence prevention and public safety measures by using federal coronavirus relief aid. He's also repeatedly called on Republican lawmakers to pass gun safety measures such as expanding universal background checks and implementing red-flag laws, which allows courts to temporarily take guns away from those who might be a threat to themselves or others. Top Republicans have rejected those calls.

Businessman Tim Michels, who entered the Republican field for governor last month, released his tough on crime plan Monday. It includes hiring more prosecutors, putting more police officers in the violent crime areas, and enacting a two-year minimum prison sentence for felons convicted of gun possession.

"Criminals are abusing the system, and this governor [Gov. Tony Evers] sits idly by as weak prosecutors and liberal judges make a mockery of the hard work done by local law enforcement across the state," Michels said in a statement.

Other GOP candidates in the governor's race include Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson and State Representative Tim Ramthun (R-Campbellsport). All four candidates will face off in the primary election on August 9. The winner will advance to go head-to-head with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the general election.

Nicholson has proposed implementing mandatory minimum sentences and mandatory bail amounts for violent offenders and proposed creating a law enforcement liaison in the governor's office.

On Monday, Nicholson released a statement blaming Democrats for the recent string of violence.

"We’re seeing the fundamental dissolution of law and order right before our eyes," Nicholson said. "Governor Evers, Attorney General Kaul and District Attorney John Chisholm have let lawlessness fester – and the rest of us are sick of it."

Nicholson joins Kleefisch and Michels, who have called for Chisholm to step down or be fired. Chisholm's faced pressure to resign after his office recommended $1,000 bail for Darrell Brooks, the suspect in the deadly Waukesha Christmas parade who was released on bail a few days prior to the attack which left six dead and dozens injured.

It remains to be seen how Chisholm would be kicked out of office if Wisconsin elects a Republican governor. State law only allows a governor to remove a district attorney if they receive a formal complaint, launch an investigation and then find evidence of “inefficiency, neglect of duty, official misconduct or malfeasance in office."

Ramthun's campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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