Mike Pence and Kamala Harris hold dueling Labor Day events in Wisconsin

    Vice President of the United States Mike Pence speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
    Vice President of the United States Mike Pence speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) (photo by Gage Skidmore)

    Speaking outside the Dairyland Power Cooperative in La Crosse on Labor Day, Vice President Mike Pence told the crowd: “I can’t think of a better place to be on an American holiday when we celebrate America’s tradition of hard work and the American Dream.”

    Pence said he brought greetings from “the best friend American workers have ever had … President Donald Trump.”

    “What a difference the decision that Wisconsin made,” Pence said, alluding to the importance of this swing state, which handed Trump his victory in 2016 by a narrow margin of less than 23,000 votes. Pence touted the Trump administration’s accomplishments cutting taxes and regulation “unleashing American industry,” appointing pro-life and pro-gun-rights judges, standing with law enforcement and supporting the military. He did not reference news reports that Trump had disparaged U.S. soldiers killed in the line of the duty as “losers” and “suckers,” but instead, focused on recent protests.

    “There is no excuse for the rioting and looting that we have seen in Kenosha and in cities across the country,” Pence said. “And this violence against civilians, against law enforcement and against property must stop and it must stop now.”

    “We quelled the violence,” in Kenosha, Pence said, blaming Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for statements supporting “peaceful protesters” and criticizing law enforcement. Pence also repeated the false statement that Biden had said he supports defunding the police.

    Summing up the administration’s accomplishments over the last four years, Pence said, “We rebuilt our economy, we restored our liberties, we stood for law and order.” 

    “It was jobs, jobs, jobs right here in Wisconsin,” he added. 

    Leaving aside the stunning job losses of the last several months during the pandemic, Pence said wages were rising in the first three years of the Trump administration, particularly for blue-collar workers. “Manufacturing has been roaring back,” he said, and unemployment reached its lowest point in history.

    “None of that would have been possible without the strong and principled support of Sen. Ron Johnson,” Pence added.

    Pence also touted Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the president had saved thousands of lives and brought the full force of the federal government to bear on containing the disease. 

    The virus has killed more than 189,000 people in the U.S. according to Johns Hopkins University

    He also claimed that there are several vaccines in the final stages of development and promised a safe and effective vaccine before the end of the year.

    Three of the six vaccines being developed in this country are in stage three clinical trials, but will have to pass an independent review board before being approved.

    “We’re opening up America again, and we’re opening up America’s schools,” Pence declared, on the same day the University of Wisconsin in Madison announced new restrictions on student activities due to the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

    Pence attacked Biden saying he “wants to crush American energy” with a “climate change agenda”

    He also attacked NAFTA as a job-killing trade deal, echoing Trump’s 2016 attacks on NAFTA, but touted the USMCA trade deal, which is commonly  known as NAFTA 2.0,  saying it would increase dairy exports by more than $300 million next year and create 600,000 new jobs.

    Noting that Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris was in Milwaukee on Monday, Pence said, “Dairy farmers in Wisconsin deserve to know that Sen. Kamala Harris is one of only 10 senators to vote against the USMCA.  She said it didn’t go far enough on climate change. Here at Dairyland Power you deserve to  know, Sen. Harris put their radical environmental agenda ahead of Wisconsin dairy and ahead of Wisconsin power.”

    Kamala Harris waving with a big smile
    U.S. Senator Kamala Harris speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People in Las Vegas, Nevada.
    Photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

    Harris, meanwhile, was touring an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility. She then attended a roundtable with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Black Milwaukee business owners, where she discussed economic recovery and racial equity. 

    Shortly after she landed at the Milwaukee airport, Harris met with the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police.

    “I mean, they’re an incredible family and what they’ve endured and they just do it with such dignity and grace, and you know. They’re carrying the weight of a lot of voices on their shoulders,” Harris told reporters after the meeting, according to ABC News.

    She added that the meeting was “to let them know that they have support.”

    At the conclusion of the business roundtable, Harris described what she called an important discussion of “the dignity of work, and the dignity of human beings and the importance of leadership to then tap into that dignity in a way that we grow capacity.”

    “If we are going to have safe communities, then we must invest in healthy communities,” she said. “And one of the attributes of healthy communities is that there is access to capital for small businesses.” 

    Noting that up to 90% of minority and women-owned businesses did not get the benefit of emergency loans provided by the Small Business Administration during the pandemic, Harris said “Donald Trump has been concerned about the wealthy,” and that the people who are working every day and concerned about their families do not have the access to those kinds of relationships and don’t have access” to Paycheck Protection loans.

    Promising that “access to capital for small businesses” would be a priority of the Biden administration, Harris said, “During this pandemic, COVID, it has been an accelerator in many ways … highlighting the disparities in technology based on race.”

    She described the need to address broadband access as families send their children back to school virtually and promoted a plan to provide $5 billion annually in credit to low and moderate income areas.

    On behalf of the campaign, Harris said to small business leaders, “we see you, we understand the significance of what you are in terms of the health and well being of communities … and we see the benefit to the entire country to invest in our small businesses and our small business leaders.”

    She also seconded Barnes’ shoutout to Milwaukee’s unions on Labor Day, and “the pride that Milwaukee and so many of us have in organized labor” and expressed support for “working men and women to be able to collectively bargain.”

    Barnes expressed his appreciation for Harris’ visit to Milwaukee in her very first campaign trip, saying, “We know how crucial the state of Wisconsin and especially the city of Milwaukee will be in the upcoming election.”

    “It is important to have leaders who show up and show concern,” Barnes added, noting that Harris’ meeting with Black business leaders came shortly after the Trump administration’s decision to cancel all racial sensitivity training at federal agencies, calling them “divisive.” 

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    Ruth Conniff
    Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.