The Rise of Rep. Janel Brandtjen
A leader in election lies and demagoguery has become a state Republican power.
Those familiar with the history of state Rep Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) might have expected her to emerge as the legislative leader in pushing lies about the 2020 election.
Back in 2016, Brandtjen made a huge splash in the media with her call to cut state funding to Milwaukee because of an “out of control problem” of crime she blamed on Mayor Tom Barrett. As she put it, “Mayor Barrett may not care about the safety of his family but I certainly do care about mine.”
It was an ugly charge under any circumstances, but doubly so since Barrett had suffered bodily injury in 2009, while trying to protect his family’s safety and defend a woman from a “vicious thug,” as police described the criminal.
As I wrote at the time, Brandtjen attended Marshall High School in Milwaukee and her district actually includes a portion of Milwaukee, but her press release blasting Barrett had no concern or praise for that part of her district, while expressing worry about homeowners in the “flourishing suburbs” in the portions of Washington and Waukesha counties she represents. Brandtjen had safe cover from a gerrymandered district engineered by Republican strategists who cracked apart continuous city districts and attached parts of them to majority suburban districts.
Brantjen has attacked Planned Parenthood in the past, charging it encourages “young women with promiscuous lifestyles,” and supporting a bill outlawing almost all forms of birth control. She was named Pro Life Wisconsin’s “Legislator of the Year,” and in response declared that “America is strongest when we observe the Judeo-Christian roots that our forefathers put forth as unalienable rights.”
But Brandtjen seems to have forgotten about the 8th commandment’s instruction, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
She was one of the state’s leading Republicans spreading false theories about the 2020 election and sent an email telling her constituents “There is no doubt that…Donald Trump won this election in Wisconsin and several methods of fraud were used to change the outcome.”
In January, Brandtjen joined 15 Wisconsin lawmakers and 91 GOP state legislators nationwide who asked former Vice President Mike Pence to delay certifying the presidential election results just one day before the January 6 Capitol insurrection. The letter to Pence sought a 10-day delay so state legislatures in battleground states could overturn the November presidential election results and give Trump a second term.
In March, the Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee run by Brandtjen held a hearing featuring invited speakers only who made unproven assertions of fraud and attacked local elections officials. “The hearing had the air of a staged play with the representatives and speakers following a script filled with compliments toward one another as they spoke of weeding out presumed fraud,” as Conklin reported. “When you have a one-sided hearing like that, where accusations are made, and there’s no opportunity to respond to them, it’s clear that the goal is not to get to the bottom of facts,” said Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit), the ranking Democratic member of the committee. “The goal is a smear campaign.”
In July, the Wisconsin Elections Commission took the unusual step of issuing a statement that devoted 21 paragraphs to refuting Brandtjen’s claims of election fraud, calling them “factually incorrect” and saying she misinterpreted voter data and state statutes. Said Elections Commission Chair Ann Jacobs: “It is unfortunate that Representative Brandtjen is claiming there are ‘ghost voters’ in Wisconsin when nothing could be further from the truth. She should stop spreading these wild conspiracy theories.”
In August, Brandtjen issued illegal subpoenas demanding that election officials in Brown and Milwaukee counties turn over ballots and election data to her committee. She was slapped down by elections officials and lawyers in the two counties who noted that nonpartisan legislative attorneys issued two opinions declaring her subpoenas invalid, because they required and lacked the signatures of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the Assembly Chief Clerk.
But Donald Trump praised Brandtjen’s efforts, declaring that “The people of Wisconsin are lucky to have a strong and great leader like Representative Janel Brandtjen.”
Back in January, months before Brantjen’s run of ever more ugly behavior, Republican and Right Wisconsin editor James Wigderson wrote a column decrying Brandtjen and others for “repeating the lie the election was ‘stolen’ and often supporting the most undemocratic means of overturning the election results.”
Brandtjen, Wigderson wrote, should be removed from her position as head of the Assembly Elections Committee. But Vos, who probably regrets appointing her, is clearly scared to do so, for fear of the pro-Trump mob. With the rise of Janel Brandtjen we can see how the demagogues have taken over the Grand Old Party.
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