Two years ago, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes spent a cold January day on the Stoney Acres Farm in the town of Bern in Marathon County. He arrived with the same message of support for working farmers that he has taken across the state since his 2018 election to the state’s No. 2 job.

Barnes argued for a special session of the state Legislature on agriculture to pass bills that would give working farmers the tools they need to push back against the abuses of corporate interests that exploit rural Wisconsin.

Expressing his concern for producers who “get squeezed out of the market” by agribusiness conglomerates, Barnes said, “We want to move forward so that every little farm has a piece of wealth.”

As the last year of a Donald Trump presidency that was disastrous for rural America began, Barnes bluntly declared his view, and that of Gov. Tony Evers, that, “The state government has to step up where the federal government has failed farms.”

Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature were, predictably, and frustratingly, resistant. But Barnes’ commitment was clear then. And it is clear now as he bids for the U.S Senate in an election that will decide whether Trump’s replacement, President Joe Biden, has a Congress he can work with on behalf of farmers and the people who live in small towns.

There are many excellent candidates running in the Democratic primary to take on Trump-aligned Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Several of them have taken solid stands on the issues — including those of concern to rural Wisconsinites. We’re not making any endorsements at this point.

But we were struck last week when Barnes, who had already outlined a comprehensive farm program, embarked on his “Barnes for Barns” tour of the state’s rural regions. The tour will take the candidate to Brown, Chippewa, Dane, Eau Claire, Green, La Crosse, Marathon and Racine counties. It will give him a chance to amplify his message: “Our farmers feed the country and are a pillar of our state’s economy. But corporate consolidation, bad trade deals, and climate change have put our farmers on the back foot.” It will also give me the chance to discuss his determination to get government on the side of working farmers.

That’s not a new message for Barnes. He’s been championing it for years.

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