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Giant Biden campaign signs ignites controversy for Minocqua Brewing Company owner

Kirk Bangstad, who owns Minocqua Brewing Co., has a few things going on.

First, he's running as the Democratic candidate for state Assembly District 34 opposing Republican incumbent Rob Swearingen.

Then there's the giant Biden sign hanging from his brewpub and restaurant, which has drawn the attention of the Oneida County department of planning and zoning.

Karl Jennrich, zoning director for Oneida County, said he sent a worker to photograph the sign after someone complained about the size.

He followed with a department letter dated Sept. 29, that says the sign appears to be larger than the county ordinance allows (32 square feet) and it should be taken down. The letter advises "each day this situation continues may be considered a separate and distinct violation for which this Department may seek injunctive relief and/or forfeiture in Oneida County Circuit Court."

Bangstad said he never measured the sign.

 "I just told my graphic designer to cover the wall, and basically that's what he did," Bangstad said in a phone interview.

"It irritates me because everywhere in the Northwoods are huge Trump signs," Bangstad said. "You're really going to single me out for a Biden sign?"

He has a couple options. Among them: He could cut the sign in half and put it back up, even with both halves close to each other, and stay within the statutes. Or he could take it down.

Bangstad plans to ride out any fine or sanction. He called a lawyer who suggested that the fine would probably cost between $25 and $250 a day.

He started the #freeourbidensign, which he calls a Legal Defense Fund. Fans can buy Minocqua Brewing T-shirts to help raise money to pay the fine, which he estimates could be as much as $8,500.

As of Tuesday, Bangstad had taken 1,500 orders for T-shirts. The goal is $17,000, double the potential fine. The remainder will be spent against District 18 Supervisor Lance Krolczyk, the next time he runs for office, according to a Minocqua Brewing Facebook post.

But Bangstad might not need money for a fine after all.

Jennrich said he won't be sending anyone with ladders to measure the Biden/Harris sign.

In fact, he'll probably just let it go.

"At this time I'm not going to be issuing citations," Jennrich said.

Bangstad, 43, is a native of Stevens Point who moved to Minocqua from New York City and bought the brewpub six years ago. He said he thought he was doing the right thing during COVID-19 by serving only on the restaurant patio.

Instead, he said he was ridiculed. People anonymously posted bad reviews on Yelp and Trip Adviser about Minocqua Brewing, which serves food, makes its own beer and hosts live musical acts.

He declined to open for winter — a first.

"In order to be open and not lose my shirt I would have to open indoors, and that puts my employees at risk because nobody wants to wear a mask up here. They've been told it's a hoax by Donald Trump and the Republican legislature."

Minocqua counts 60,000 residents in summer but just 8,000 in winter, Bangstad said.

Bangstad has worked as a consultant to blue-chip tech companies, an opera singer and a speechwriter for former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. He previously ran against then U.S Rep. Sean Duffy in the state's 7th District.

Contact Kathy at (414) 224-2974 or Follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @katflanigan.

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