Milwaukee advances as likely GOP convention site to mixed reviews

Republican site selection committee recommends the city for 2024 event

By: - July 18, 2022 6:45 am

Donald Trump accepts the GOP nomination for president in 2016 on last night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. (Ida Mae Astute | ABC, via DisneyABC Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

A decision won’t be final until August, but Milwaukee has come closer to being the site of the Republican National Convention for 2024.

On Friday, the convention’s site selection committee announced it was recommending Milwaukee for the nod over Nashville, Tennessee. The selection brought cheers from city officials and others who had worked to attract the GOP event two years from now.

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson of Milwaukee (City of Milwaukee website photo)

“I want Milwaukee to hold a prominent position as a convention city,” said Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson at a Friday news conference, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. “This is about future conventions and future business, trade shows, major membership organizations, sports and entertainment activities happening right here in the city of Milwaukee.”

The selection committee will recommend Milwaukee when the Republican National Committee holds its next meeting, Aug. 2-5.

In a statement, Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), called the recommendation “yet another remarkable opportunity for the Milwaukee region, our businesses and our community.” The MMAC is the city’s primary big business trade group.

“The direct economic impact of hosting this convention will be a vital jump start for Milwaukee businesses and their employees, after being hit so hard by the pandemic and ensuing supply chain, labor shortage and inflation issues,” Sheehy stated, asserting that the convention could help the city “make the case for hosting even more big events in the future.”

Johnson and other city and county officials have framed hosting the convention as purely a business proposition regardless of the fact the political leadership of both the city and Milwaukee County consists of Democrats (although mostly holding nonpartisan positions). Sheehy’s statement emphasized the role of “bipartisan support” in putting Milwaukee in first place for the convention.

Nashville’s bid produced internal friction among city political leaders, which might not have helped that city in the contest with Milwaukee. But Wisconsin’s swing state status might have given Milwaukee the edge regardless. 

In a Twitter thread after Friday’s announcement, Holly McCall, editor-in-chief of the Tennessee Lookout (like the Wisconsin Examiner, an affiliate of States Newsroom), observed that while Wisconsin had flipped from a narrow Donald Trump victory in 2016 to electing Joe Biden in 2020, the Republican ticket won solidly in Tennessee in both elections.

“RNC options: Go to a state you are sure to win but hey — it has fun bars! Or, go to a state that’s up in the air that the GOP needs to win,” McCall tweeted. She also noted that Milwaukee, unlike Nashville, had the infrastructure for a convention in place already, owing to its role as the designated host for the Democratic National Convention in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic drastically scaled back the convention’s presence.

Johnson and VISIT Milwaukee, the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors bureau, have spoken of $200 million in new business to the city, primarily through its hospitality industry. But critics of Milwaukee’s pursuit of the convention have viewed that skeptically. 

In May, Milwaukee city council alders expressed concern about what hosting the convention might mean for the city,  asking for better defined community benefits to be included in the deal. But in June, they went on to unanimously adopt a resolution for the Republican convention agreement that does not define those benefits. Instead, that agreement specifies there will be a “good faith effort” to negotiate terms consistent with past GOP-host city agreements.

Philip Rocco, Marquette University

Marquette University political scientist Philip Rocco, in an analysis he published on Medium July 11, just five days before Milwaukee’s selection was announced, described the promised windfall as “wishful thinking,” particularly in light of funding restraints imposed on the city by the state Legislature under majority Republican control.

Writing that “much of the revenue will be sent to corporate headquarters outside of the city,” Rocco also noted that local municipalities have been blocked from assessing local sales taxes, most recently in the 2021-23 state budget, so that the state, not the city, would benefit from any boost in sales tax revenues that the convention might produce.

Other critics have emphasized the treatment of Milwaukee by Wisconsin Republican lawmakers who have stereotyped the city as dominated by violent crime, and worked to cut state revenue flowing to the city. 

Critics have also protested that the Republican Party’s embrace of far-right politics, from highlighting a ban on abortion with no exceptions — a position embraced by all of the GOP hopefuls running in the party’s primary for governor — to rolling back rights for LGBTQ people and using racist political and policy messaging should disqualify the part from holding its convention in Milwaukee. And some have expressed concern about armed white militia members descending on Wisconsin’s most diverse metropolitan area.

On Twitter Friday, Democratic Sen. Chris Larson of Milwaukee alluded to Republicans’ refusal to address the evidence from the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021.

“Doesn’t seem like a good idea to invite to our community the party that’s having trouble moving past their ‘violently overthrowing democracy and celebrating gun violence’ phase,” Larson tweeted.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.