By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers has been accused of being an “absentee governor.” A review of his calendars shows he certainly can’t be accused of being a workaholic.
The calendars, obtained by Empower Wisconsin through open records requests, show the Democrat has often put in less than an eight-hour day over his term, much less a 40-hour week, doing the people’s business. A good portion of his schedule is redacted, apparently devoted to personal or political campaign time.
Even in times of crisis, the governor has put in an average workday at best. Let’s just say he’s no Lincoln.
For instance, on March 13, 2020, the day he directed closing all K-12 public and private schools in Wisconsin in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, Evers began his unredacted, official day at 9:30 a.m. He didn’t get to the Capitol until 2 p.m. And was heading back to the Executive Mansion by 5 p.m.
On March 23, 2020, as he was preparing to close “nonessential” businesses, Evers began his work day at 8:30 a.m.. He didn’t make it in to the Capitol until 1:15 p.m., but was back at the Executive Residence by around 5 p.m. He wrapped up his government business day at 6 with a cabinet call.
On May 30, 2020, as rioters ravaged downtown Madison, the only item on Evers’ calendar was a half hour call with federal leaders. We know that a Black Lives Matter demonstration devolved into bedlam that night, as rioters looted and smashed State Street stores, wrecked a squad car and set it on fire. Evers did call in the Army National Guard at the city’s request.
Less than a month later, rioters ravaged downtown Madison again. Another Black Lives Matter anything but peaceful protest, as thugs damaged stores, ripped down iconic Capitol statues, badly beat a state senator, and firebombed Madison’s city-county building. On June 23, the day the riot began (going into the wee hours of the next morning), Evers’ schedule remained relatively light. He ended his official scheduled business day at 3:15 p.m., according to the day’s calendar. We do know that after the riots broke out that night, Evers ordered Wisconsin State Capitol Police to stay inside the building as criminals were smashing statehouse windows. Texts and other communications from the governor and his staff on that long night of violence show the feckless executive had no plan to stop the mob.
Same with the night the Kenosha riots began. His calendar for that day, Sunday August 23, 2020, is redacted. We do know he sent out an incendiary political statement after an officer-involved shooting of a black man. The statement was filled with rush-to-judgment rhetoric that law enforcement officials condemned for worsening tensions. The next day, as the riots literally burned out of control, Evers called it a day at 7 p.m., according to his calendars. If he was doing anything work-related after that time, his calendars do not say.
Counting the hours
A governor’s schedule is prone to variation. That’s the nature of leading the state’s executive branch. Oftentimes, the job, which pays $152,000 a year, comes with long days. But in terms of workweek hours, Evers’ schedule has remained pretty consistent.
Empower Wisconsin compared the governor’s calendars for the first week in February in the years 2019, 2020, and 2021. This is historically a busy week for a governor. The Legislature was in session, and Evers was preparing a budget in two of the years. He was also dealing with a pandemic and related problems. But the governor kept a relatively light schedule. He averaged just under 36 hours of total official government work, according to his calendars.
On Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019, Evers put in just over six hours of official business, according to his calendar. That included a 45-minute breakfast with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and a half hour of drive time back and forth between the Executive Mansion and the Capitol. He got home at 2:45 p.m. The rest of the day is redacted.
The average Wisconsin worker logged nearly 42 hours per week last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average worker was paid a lot less than Tony Evers.
Over the last year-plus, Evers has been spending a lot more time on the road — or in the air, using the state plane. Much of that travel has to do with the billions of dollars in federal COVID aid the Democrat has been able to use as a kind of unregulated campaign slush fund. He’s handed out a lot of big checks, covered by the taxpayers of the United States of America. Despite his travels, Evers is generally back at the mansion in time to watch the “Wheel of Fortune.”
It’s not all work and no play. A few days before Christmas last year, Evers jumped on the state plane for a tour of the Potawatomi Community Center and a pickleball match. It’s well known Evers is a big pickleball fan. His official day ended at 2:35 p.m.
Evers took the rest of the week (through the day after Christmas) off. There was one item listed on his Dec. 27 calendar: A phone call with President Biden, who also isn’t known for burning the midnight oil in office. His calendars show no activity on Tuesday, Dec. 28, just a quick COVID-19 Response check-in call the next day, and then very little on his schedule until Jan. 3. The governor apparently had settled his brain for a long winter’s nap.
‘Nobody is there’
While Democrats and the mainstream media dogged Gov. Scott Walker, Evers’ Republican predecessor, for spending a lot of time at his home in Wauwatosa, Evers has made full use of the taxpayer-funded Executive Residence in the affluent Madison suburb of Maple Bluff. His calendars show him there constantly during the work day. He often begins his official duties at the estate. Sometimes after just a few hours at his Capitol office he returns to the governor’s mansion.
You could say Evers is a homebody. And so are thousands of state workers thanks to his orders shutting down state offices during the pandemic. While private sector employees have long since gone back to their places of work, many in state government continue to work remotely with the blessing of the Evers administration.
State offices remain fairly cloistered, even as President Joe Biden declares the pandemic over. Several state offices in Madison observed by Empower Wisconsin last week were open to the public by appointment only. At the Department of Health Services office on West Wilson St., Empower Wisconsin was told that “nobody is really working in the building.” At the Department of Workforce Development on East Washington Avenue, the offices were closed to the walk-in public. And the state offices housed at the Hill Farms complex had limited public hours. In the case of the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), office hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily, but “nobody is ever up there,” a security officer told Empower Wisconsin. “There is a front desk, but nobody is there.”
Call these offices, like the governor’s office, and you will likely get a recording telling you to leave a message. The folks who have been through the DSPS and DWD phone tree wasteland will tell you not to hold your breath waiting for a call back.
With the governor’s limited office hours, should it be any wonder state government offices are ghost towns? More so, is it any surprise that these agencies have failed the public so miserably?
Evers’ dysfunctional Department of Workforce Development kept tens of thousands of people waiting for their unemployment benefits for months. Some were stuck in DWD’s bureaucratic nightmare for over a year. Evers had just a few meetings with his Workforce Development chief and his administrators during the crisis. Schedules and emails obtained by Empower Wisconsin show Evers met with Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman just one time between March 1 and Sept. 18, 2020 — the day he fired him. Meanwhile, a state audit underscored DWD’s many failures, including the fact the agency did not resolve issues with claims “even though it had the information to do so and because DWD had not requested information it needed from individuals and employers.”
The Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) has proved to be as incompetent. Wisconsin has been mired in a license crisis for nearly two years. as professionals across the state have been forced to wait several months or more for their credentials to be processed.
State Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers), who has led two committees investigating the problems at DSPS, in August asked, “(H)ow can Wisconsinites get their licenses, when their ‘leader’ is an absentee governor?”
For light schedule Evers, there are just so many hours in the day.
Empower Wisconsin | Sept. 21, 2022