Empower Wisconsin | May 14, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Like so many Wisconsin business owners in the pandemic era, Joel Posthuma faced a critical decision: violate Gov. Tony Evers’ lockdown order or watch his new bar and restaurant die.
Posthuma said he decided to fight.
He and business owners across the state got some critical backup from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which late Wednesday issued a 4-3 decision striking down the Evers’ administration order locking down the state.
Last weekend, Posthuma re-opened 6th Gear, his popular hangout in Beaver Dam, without the permission of government bureaucrats and against the Evers administration’s public emergency order. That order asserts bars, restaurants and a host of other businesses aren’t essential and can’t provide in-person service.
The order has forced establishments like 6th Gear to the brink of extinction.
“I said, ‘Enough is enough.’” Posthuma said. “I felt a responsibility as a business owner to my employees. They have kids, they have houses, they have rent.”
He said he tried for two months to work through the state to obtain assistance while his restaurant and bar were shut down. He was first told he didn’t qualify for disaster relief because he didn’t bank at the right bank. Posthuma said he heard nothing for weeks. When he finally got through, a WEDC official told him they were still working on getting him the assistance.
“I said, ‘You’ve had a goddamn month. Are you waiting until after the business fails until you get the money out to us?’” Posthuma said.
Over eight long weeks, he said he watched the bar’s employees suffer. They couldn’t pay their electric bills, their rent. Posthuma said he would cover expenses where he could. He grew more frustrated. The entrepreneur also owns an auto repair shop, a business Team Evers considers essential. Without the success of the shop, Posthuma said the bar wouldn’t have been able to pay its mortgage last month.
He couldn’t take much more.
“I just came to a point where our liquor license and our food license was due in June. I thought, ‘Why would I renew a license that I cannot renew,’” Posthuma said. “My theory is that it’s like the state saying, ‘We need money for you to register your car. Thanks for the money but you can’t drive it on the road.’”
He posted on his Facebook page that 6th Gear was re-opening. The response was incredible. Customers wanted to show their support, Posthuma said, and they’re coming back.
His decision didn’t come without consequences. The business owner has heard plenty of criticism and threats from people who don’t like that he is violating Evers’ orders, people who think he’s putting the public’s health at risk.
Posthuma said Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt has been a true defender of the constitution, even as he has taken criticism for not shutting down the bar.
“That’s where our sheriff stands, standing by the constitution,” he said. “He told me that he’s very concerned that we’re turning normal citizens that (law enforcement officials) don’t see on a daily basis into criminals.”
On Wednesday, before the Supreme Court issued its ruling, Posthuma said he was working with fellow restaurant owners to help them re-open. He said one restaurant owner he knows has taken a job at a local supermarket to try to make ends meet. She still can’t pay the mortgage, Posthuma said.
The freedom fighter says he’s been called a hero by some who are tired of the government locking down their lives and livelihoods. He doesn’t see himself that way.
“I’m just standing up for my rights as an American,” he said.