Defund the police. One of those phrases that will grab most people’s attention.
One candidate has labeled the other with this phrase in the La Crosse mayoral race between Vicki Markussen and Mitch Reynolds, as the two get set for a WIZM debate at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
La Crosse Mayoral Debate
WHO: Vicki Markussen vs. Mitch Reynolds
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 23
WATCH: Live WIZMNews.com, or from your Apple TV or ROKU device, by searching for the Around River City channel.
LISTEN: 1410 AM and 92.3 FM and on your WIZM news app.
Last week, after another debate, Markussen posted a Facebook video, where she read part of a quote from Reynolds and then labeled his position as wanting to defund the police.
“To clarify, Mitch is saying he wants to defund police,” Markussen said, in part.
That came after she read part of a Reynolds’ quote from the debate: ‘I’m not going to back away from this. I’ve said before that I don’t have a problem with looking at reallocating resources from the police department to other resources.”
Reynolds sort of laughed at the labeling on La Crosse Talk PM last week, before discussing the complicated topic of enforcement, budgets, policing, homelessness, addiction and how they’re all intertwined.
In regards to the position, Reynolds said, “I think that quote is correct, actually, but I’ve never said anything about defunding the police. It is really interesting, that incredible gross mischaracterization of my stance.”
Before the “I’m not going to back away from this,” quote Markussen read, there was more to what Reynolds said.
“The key is that I need to listen to our community, I need to listen to the people in our community to understand how it is that their experience is different,” Reynolds said during the debate. “I need to understand how the experience of members of our BIPOC community are looking at policing differently, and they’re having experiences that are not the same as mine. That’s the first step in making certain that we’re making the right choices in relation to policing.”
Reynolds addressed his position at length on WIZM. Before getting to that, however, Markussen went on to say in her video that a group that has endorsed Reynolds has that same defund message. Though, it has denied that stance.
“The organization Our Wisconsin Revolution has clearly stated that defunding the police is their main mission,” Markussen said. “They have endorsed Mitch. He has whole-heartedly accepted that endorsement.”
Defunding the police, not quite Our Wisconsin Revolution’s thing, according to its executive director, Mike McCabe.
“She’s assigning us a position that isn’t found in our organization’s platform, and politicians do that,” McCabe told WIZM. “The bottom line is that we’re not bashful about saying, ‘What’s happening with policing in America needs reevaluation.’ “
McCabe added that his group had reached out to Markussen and sent her a questionnaire, which included its platform.
“She’s seen our platform and it doesn’t say what she says we’re for — so she’s kind of assigning us a position,” McCabe said. “And, our La Crosse chapter has invited her to meet with them and she’s declined. She chose not to answer our questions and chose not to meet with our group, (but) the invitation stands.”
In Reynolds’ discussion on the topic last week, the word conversation was used a lot, because that’s the stage he’s at with this stuff.
“These are getting down to the granular level of these conversations, where we’re identifying specific areas of budgetary concern within the city of La Crosse, (it) is going to require a whole lot of concentrated effort when I’m in office,” Reynolds said. “There’s a lot of possibilities for changing how we are looking at enforcement of certain ordinances in the city of La Crosse — whether that be loitering, vagrancy or whatever it is we’re enforcing in relation to homelessness — and then identifying a means or method so that it is not simply police that we’re relying on to have an impact on issues that involve mental health, that involve social issues, that involve addiction.”
He went on to bring up that police aren’t trained well to deal with social issues, but soon after admitted — on more than one occasion — he’s not an expert, and that getting more informed would take, you guessed it, more conversations.
“I need a better understanding, and I admit that,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers for policing right now. I’m not going to dictate how the city’s going to change on Day 1.”
He added, “Honestly, I’m not a specialist in this area and I don’t want to speak out of hand. And there definitely is training that is going on. I think that we can find a way to make that interaction a better one.”
McCabe told WIZM that he’s about being proactive in talking about the issues with policing.
“If we simply say that things have got to be the way they’ve always been and we can’t contemplate any changes and we can’t think about reinventing our approach to criminal justice,” he said, “then we’re just going to continue to spend money hand over fist, locking people up, throwing away the key and we won’t enhance public safety and we won’t make our communities stronger.”
While McCabe said defunding the police isn’t part of Our Wisconsin Revolution’s platform, it was a tweet back on July 2, right in the middle of countless protests on policing throughout the city, state and country. McCabe also did write about it, calling the column, “The Power of Those 3 Words.”
During the campaign, Markussen has made it her stance that she is not taking endorsements from groups. She stated, “This IS a nonpartisan race. We cannot let political divide consume this race that is supposed to be about one thing.”
Meanwhile, Reynolds is racking up endorsements, including last week from the La Crosse area firefighters and paramedics, along with the La Crosse County Democratic Party. Before that endorsement, however, the La Crosse County Republican Party said to vote for Markussen.