Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 7, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Taking the Oath of Office a year ago today, Gov. Tony Evers sounded a bi-partisan tone, urging Wisconsin politicians to “dare to transcend divisiveness.” He asked for a return to “our Wisconsin values of kindness and respect, empathy and compassion, and integrity and civility.”
It was a case of do as I say, not as I do.
The Democrat and his liberal activist advisers put the divisive in divided government.
Days before he began his term, Evers threatened that it would take legal action to compel him to follow laws passed the month before in extraordinary session. Democrats complained the laws, signed by Walker not long before he left office, usurped executive branch authority. Evers quickly changed his tune, perhaps after being advised that it’s not good form for a governor sworn to uphold the constitution to selectively break state laws — something any student with a basic understanding of civics knows.
His left-wing supporters, as planned, sued the state in an attempt to overturn many of the provisions, and as soon as Evers got a favorable ruling from a liberal Madison judge, he spitefully fired 82 Walker appointees approved during the December session. An appeals court eventually checked the lower court’s decision, and Evers was forced to rehire the public servants he had displaced — over politics.
In a time of divided government not seen in eight years, high-pitched policy battles were expected. But the sparring quickly slipped beyond politics into the personal.
During the budget debates, Evers’ spokeswoman charged that Republican leaders were sexist because they wouldn’t meet female aides to the governor. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the allegation was preposterous, countering that Evers refused to meet with Republicans.
The governor’s image of bridge builder collapsed in November when Evers described Republicans as “amoral and stupid” for rejecting his choice as ag secretary.
He went on to call his political opponents “bastards” in a pep talk to employees at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which first reported Evers’ less-than-civil comments.
State Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) said it was Evers “basket of deplorables” moment, referring to Hillary Clinton’s infamous comments about conservative Americans during the 2016 presidential race.
More so, Evers’ demonizing underscored the broader view of the people who constructed his liberal agenda — that they won’t let any opponent of their far- left policies stand in their way.
Early on, Evers suggested he was committed to open and transparent government. He quickly abandoned any pretense of transparency.
The administration is the subject of open records and First Amendment lawsuits. One in federal court alleges the administration barred conservative statehouse reporters from a February budget briefing even as it allowed liberal news organizations in on the closed-door meeting. A Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty review earlier this year found Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and various state agencies have failed to follow the lauded government transparency practices defined in executive orders by Walker.
Evers’ legal team would not even allow the release of one day of his emails to a Fox 6 reporter. Evers told the reporter that the documents would be “pretty boring.” He said if he sent out one email a day, “that’s an extraordinary day.” In the exchange, the governor seemingly revealed the light work schedule he has been criticized for keeping while closing the door on open government. Fox 6 is suing.
Beyond Evers’ phony facade as a moderate leader seeking compromise are his struggles with the truth. It didn’t take the new governor long to break key campaign assurances in pursuit of a bigger government.
He finished his 2018 campaign insisting he had no plans to raise taxes, if he should be elected.
He was elected, and it took but a few weeks before he shot that pledge to hell. He proposed some $1.3 billion in tax hikes in his budget plan — from gas tax increases to a proposal to do away with a successful manufacturing tax credit to a tax hike on retirement savings.
In February, Evers rolled out a massive budget filled with a mind-boggling number of far-left initiatives.
“It’s a liberal tax-and-spend wish list,” Vos said. Republican leadership vowed the whopping $83.5 billion budget proposal had no chance of passing as proposed. They kept that pledge, stripping out scores of provisions. As it stood, the governor’s budget plan would have expanded state government by more than 700 employees and dozens of new programs and initiatives.
Mainly it was payback to his liberal base in Madison and Milwaukee, including driver’s licenses and state ID cards for illegal immigrants, decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, and a $15 minimum wage for state employees.
Evers sought what state Democrats have long demanded: an expensive expansion of Medicaid under the troubled Affordable Care Act, which would have expanded the size and scope of government. The Republican-led Legislature said no.
He proposed a middle-class tax cut that would have raised taxes on the state’s manufacturers and some retirement income. Republicans countered with a tax cut of their own, without tax increases on some to bring tax relief to others.
In another nod to his liberal base, Evers’ budget abandoned key taxpayer-friendly reforms and worker freedom protections such as the state’s right-to-work law and mandatory prevailing wage. And Evers wanted to freeze the number of spots in the state’s school choice programs. The Republican-controlled Legislature checked him on those proposals, as well.
He found some areas of compromise from Republicans looking to spend more on K-12 education and transportation. The Joint Finance Committee boosted funding for schools and roads by over $1.2 billion. Of course, Evers wanted a lot more, but he called the final product a good “down payment on the future.”
While Evers has tried to present an assertive position in his confrontations with the Legislature, it has all come across as show. As was the case in the governor’s call for gun ownership restrictions.
In the wake of high-profile incidents of gun violence, Evers followed the liberal script and demanded the Legislature pass tougher gun-control laws. To show he meant business, the governor called a special session of the Legislature to take up two measures: a universal background check bill, and a “red flag” measure that would give courts and law enforcement officials the power to take away guns from individuals deemed a “threat.” Leading up to the session, Evers said he would be open to a mandatory buyback — government confiscation program — of assault weapons, similar to the proposal offered by failed Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.
“With Governor Evers considering confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens, it shows just how radical Democrats have become,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a joint statement.
Ultimately, Evers gun show failed miserably when Republican leadership quickly gaveled in and out of the session. They said they would do nothing to limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. That was that.
More than anything, Evers and his team showed how much they despise the previous governor. The Democrat has spent much of its time trying to burn down any signs of the Walker era. He has mainly failed in that endeavor.
Evers signaled budget constraint was a thing of the past early when he delivered double-digit raises to his department heads. He attempted to rip out some of Walker’s signature policies within his budget proposal. And his secretaries have turned the most apolitical state agencies, like the Department of Tourism, into centers of the liberal social justice movement.
One year later, the Evers myth has been shattered. The new governor who challenged Wisconsin to “dare to transcend divisiveness” has shown he is every bit the partisan liberal his uncivil, far left political base demanded.