The New York Times picks up on one of the most compelling state Assembly races.
By virtually any measure, the race for the 34th Assembly District should be a quiet affair.
Four-term incumbent Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) has a Democratic challenger in Kirk Bangstad, owner of the Minocqua Brewing Company. The generally Republican district is unlikely to flip, but the twists and turns of the race, partially documented in an op-ed Bangstad wrote earlier this month for UpNorthNews, were enough to draw a feature in the New York Times on Thursday.
Bangstad has hammered Swearingen and other Republicans for not taking coronavirus seriously, knowing full well his candidacy is a longshot but using his platform to increase Democratic turnout.
“With just days until the election, the contest for Mr. Swearingen’s Assembly seat in this lightly populated area in the Northwoods of Wisconsin serves as a microcosm for the way coronavirus politics are playing out across America,” Times reporter Reid Epstein wrote.
The story covers how Bangstad has become notorious in the district for being a “shamer” who exposes other businesses that don’t follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, all while Swearingen does not require any safety measures at his own supper club (the husband of a waitress at Swearingen’s restaurant died of COVID-19. The Times article quotes his daughter as saying her stepmother caught it at work).
Bangstad closed the Minocqua Brewing Company down for the winter this year. It’s the first time he’s ever closed for a season. He wrote in the UpNorthNews op-ed that he had no other choice, thanks to Republicans like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald who have not passed a bill in nearly 200 days yet have sued Gov. Tony Evers at every turn as he tries to unilaterally fight the virus.
“Our Republican-controlled Legislature spinelessly morphed into the ‘Party of Trump’ in a craven attempt to hold onto power during election season,” Bangstad wrote. “GOP lawmakers sued our governor to open up Wisconsin without a plan, and Wisconsin’s cases exploded, putting our state on a list that couldn’t go to other states without quarantining first.”
Swaringen, on the other hand, refuses to enforce guidelines and told the Times that Bangstad is the “mask police.” Channeling President Donald Trump’s sidestepping of culpability in the nation’s failed COVID response, Swearingen told the Times he doesn’t feel responsible if his employees catch the virus and said he has never personally been tested.