Wisconsin's Democratic leaders are denouncing "online bullying" perpetrated by Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, after he targeted Madison Senate candidate Nada Elmikashfi in a flurry of Twitter posts over the last few days that eventually led to the brief suspension of his account for harassment.
Both the state Democratic Party and Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley decried Carpenter's actions in statements Monday morning, noting the Milwaukee senator's behavior "crossed the line."
"Nobody should be subjected to online bullying, which disproportionately harms women and people of color — not during this moment of long-overdue reckoning with racial justice, and not ever," party officials wrote in their statement.
At the center of the issue is Carpenter's response to pushback from Elmikashfi over his decision to co-author a bill with Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, that would make it a Class I felony, punishable by up to three-and-a-half years in prison and a $10,000 fine, to damage or vandalize a "monument of commemorative or historical significance that is on public property."
The bill was drafted after protesters pulled down two statues on the Wisconsin Capitol grounds at the end of last month. On the same night, Carpenter was punched, kicked and forced to the ground by demonstrators after he took a picture of the gathering.
While Elmikashfi noted Carpenter shouldn't have been assaulted, she wrote Thursday on Twitter that it doesn't give him reason "to block our civil rights movement."
The 26th Senate District contender also urged Carpenter to reconsider the proposal and discuss the topic with activists rather than working with Republicans "to further criminalize [black and indigenous people of color]."
But Carpenter repeatedly pointed to his nearly 40-year record in the state Legislature, writing in a tweet reply to Elmikashfi early Friday afternoon: "I’M ALREADY AN ALLY &don’t have to prove it to you."
It only escalated over the following day, with Carpenter repeatedly insinuating Elmikashfi was acting hypocritically after she posted screenshots of a direct message with the Milwaukee senator, in which she called him a "tremendous legislator with an outstanding record" while stressing the potential harm of his bill and again urging him to reconsider it.
Carpenter, in multiple Twitter replies to Elmikashfi Saturday, questioned why she would "praise me privately & publicly pummel me."
"Yes, behind the scenes you praise & recognize my long battle for civil rights & my constant battle against the GOP," he said in a separate tweet. "Then on Twitter you attack & slander my character, record & honor to try to elevate yourself in the middle of your campaign. How duplicitous and disingenuous."
He then repeatedly posted a screenshot of the private message in replies to Elmikashfi and others defending her, leading users reporting him and Twitter temporarily restricting his account.
Elmikashfi, though, shared screenshots of all her public Twitter responses and noted that none contradicted her direct message to Carpenter, as she implored him to "just move on."
In a statement Monday following Democratic leaders' responses, Elmikashfi noted the party "has immense groundwork to cover when it comes to making sure that our allyship to BIPOC is continuous and constructive."
"The harassment from Senator Carpenter I received must turn our attention to the work we still have yet to accomplish in intersectionality," she said. "We must treat each other with respect and the understanding that in order to better each other, we must first seek to better ourselves."
Carpenter apologized Monday afternoon for "the way that I chose to engage in a debate over Twitter," as he pledged "to confront rashness within myself and to avoid being reactionary." His response did not address the substance of the bill.
"I will dwell on the lessons of the great leaders who I have had the fortune to learn from, and work not to betray their memories and teachings, but to bring their wisdom back to the State Capitol through my actions from now on," he added.
Elmikashfi, 24, is one of seven Democrats looking to succeed veteran Sen. Fred Risser in the 26th District. She's been outspoken on Twitter over the course of her campaign, defending the removal of the "Forward" and Hans Christian Heg statues and calling for changes within the state Democratic Party to make it more inclusive.
The bill from Carpenter and Hutton gained support from around two dozen lawmakers, including just one other Democrat: Milwaukee Rep. Christine Sinicki, according to a list of backers from Hutton's office.
It's unclear whether the legislation would be acted on this session, as it's unknown when or if lawmakers would convene given the current election cycle.
Still, it's possible, for example, that the state Senate could return to finish up any regular session bills members want to sign off on, or that both chambers may convene during the lame-duck period after the November general election to act on police overhaul efforts.