Empower Wisconsin’s Top 22 stories of 2022

Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 29, 2022

MADISON — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Yes, 2022 had a kind of Dickensian feel to it, with crushing defeat and triumph baked into the political pie.

Along the way there was an anticipated “Red Wave” midterm that didn’t quite pan out, endless state government incompetence, and justice for a monster. It was amazing what Wisconsin lived through in 2022.

Today, Empower Wisconsin presents our top stories of the year — 22 in ’22.

1.  Evers wins, red wave falters

The so-called red wave turned into an election night struggle for Republicans, with Gov. Tony Evers winning a second term and the GOP-led Legislature’s hopes for a veto-proof supermajority coming up short.

Meanwhile, it appeared early Wednesday morning that U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) had enough votes to defeat far left Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in a must-have Senate race for Republican dreams of taking back control of the U.S. Senate. The dreams were quickly quashed, but Republicans did narrowly take back the House.

2. Budget surplus nears record $6.6 billion, Evers itchy to spend

Wisconsin’s closing balance on the current fiscal year is projected to come in much higher than expected, with a surplus of nearly $6.6 billion, according to the state Department of Administration.

Republicans who hold the purse strings are putting Big Government Gov. Tony Evers on notice: The money belongs to taxpayers, not for growing his bloated bureaucracy.

3. Evers’ license crisis hits health care hard

Few are on the COVID-19 front lines quite like respiratory therapists. Over the past two and a half years, these unsung heroes have been overworked and overexposed to a respiratory disease that has claimed nearly 15,000 lives in Wisconsin, more than 1 million nationwide.

The ongoing licensing crisis at Gov. Tony Evers’ dysfunctional Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) has made life even harder for these critical health care workers.

4. Waukesha Christmas Parade killer convicted, accountability remains

Nearly a year after he plowed his SUV into Waukesha’s annual Christmas parade killing six people and injuring dozens more, Darrell Brooks Jr. was found guilty Wednesday on all 76 counts against him.

But the people behind Milwaukee County’s revolving door criminal justice system that freed the career violent criminal on $1,000 cash bail days before the parade have yet to be held accountable.

5. Special Investigation: Records show Evers has been an absentee governor

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.

6. Student test scores plummet

The Department of Public Instruction on Thursday morning quietly released the latest statewide test scores. The results are pretty grim — hence the quiet release, according to a review by the Institute for Reforming Government. IRG notes the scores, led by the state’s Forward Exam, illustrate just how far Wisconsin’s pre-K-12 public schools have fallen behind during the pandemic

7. Evers uses billions in COVID aid like a campaign slush fund

A conflict of interest problem involving Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has caught lawmakers’ attention, exposing a bigger question of potential corruption in how the Democratic governor has handed out billions of dollars in federal COVID relief funds at his disposal.

“From Day 1, there has been a significant lack of transparency into how these moneys are distributed, about who is making these decisions, and this administration has not been willing to answer these questions,” said Mike Mikalsen, chief of staff for state Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater).

8. WEC violates election law again

In a big win for election integrity, a Waukesha County Judge on Wednesday issued a ruling confirming what should have been clear to the Wisconsin Elections Commission years ago: it’s not legal for local clerks to cure — or fill in information — on absentee ballot envelopes.

Judge Michael Aprahamian’s decision confirms that state law allows only the voter to complete or correct the ballot certificates.

“If the right to vote is to have any meaning at all, elections must be conducted according to law,”  Aprahamian said.

9. Pro-abortion violence strikes surrounding Supreme Court ruling

Julaine Appling never thought she’d live to see the day — the end of Roe v. Wade.

While the executive director of pro-life Wisconsin Family Action is jubilant about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down the nearly 50-year-old flawed ruling granting constitutional protections for abortion, Appling is wary of what’s to come.

Seven weeks after Wisconsin Family Action’s Madison headquarters was firebombed by pro-abortion terrorists on Mother’s Day, her trepidation is understandable. 

“This is a day I have been waiting for for nearly 50 years,” Appling said Friday within minutes of the official release of the High Court’s 6-3 Dobbs v. Jackson ruling. “Part of me never believed I would live to see it. I’m still trying to take it all in.”

10. Evers’ Parole Board chairman steps down

John Tate II, Gov. Tony Evers’ soft-on-crime Parole Commission chairman has resigned after mounting public pressure.

Tate’s record of releasing brutal murderers and cop killers finally caught up with Evers, who reportedly asked the Parole Commission chair to step down. The Democrat governor, facing a tough re-election, requested Tate’s resignation on Friday.

Evers’ appointee was set to release from prison Douglas Balsewicz, who brutally murdered his wife in front of his young children in 1997. Balsewicz had served just 24 years of an 80-year prison sentence. After intense public objection, Evers finally asked Tate to reconsider his decision. The parole board chairman relented a few days before Balsewicz was scheduled to be released.

11. Gov. Veto strikes again

A week after smashing a 95-year-old veto record, Gov. Tony Evers killed another 28 bills on Friday. The Democrat canceled everything from legislation on universal school choice and a parents bill of rights to measures checking government power over health emergencies.

12. Troubling questions in Milwaukee’s latest election scandal

As Milwaukee’s No. 2 elections official faces charges in the city’s latest election scandal, the lawmaker she targeted is asking a critical question: Why would Kimberly Zapata risk her job, her excellent benefits, her freedom, when she could have just stepped forward with her concerns?

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office on Friday charged Zapata with a felony count of misconduct in office and three misdemeanor counts of making a false statement to obtain an absentee ballot.

The charges come a day after Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced at a hastily called press conference that Zapata had been fired as deputy administrator of the Milwaukee Election Commission after she allegedly requested three absentee ballots meant for military members and had them sent to state Rep Janel Brandtjen’s home.

13. Supreme Court approves Republicans’ political maps

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has rejected Gov. Tony Evers’ racially motivated political maps and implemented the Republican-controlled Legislature’s redistricting plan.

The 4-3 ruling comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court scolded the state court’s earlier ruling approving Evers’ state legislative maps despite their clear violation of the constitution’s equal protection guarantees and the Voting Rights Act.

“Racial motivations drove the Governor’s selection of district lines, and the Supreme Court reasoned that the court relied on insufficient evidence to endorse such race-based decision making,” Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler wrote in the majority opinion.

14. Taxpayers pay $600,000 for defunder Barnes’ police protection

If Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes still has any interest in defunding the police, perhaps he should start with his taxpayer-funded security detail.

According to a Fox News Digital investigation, the presumptive Democrat nominee for U.S. Senate racked up a nearly $600,000 bill for his State Police detail over two years, while he was embracing the defund the police movement.

Barnes’ total bill between Jan. 7, 2019 and Nov. 6, 2021, was $587,281— funded by taxpayers. Liberal Gov. Tony Evers’ second-in-command recorded 8,868 regular hours of police protection, 4,900 hours of overtime protection, and 203 hours of holiday protection, records requests show.

15. Real coalition of law enforcement endorses Johnson

A real coalition of Wisconsin sheriffs — Republicans, Democrats and Independents — has endorsed U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s re-election run, according to the Oshkosh Republican’s campaign.

A total of 51 of Wisconsin’s 72 county sheriffs are backing Johnson over his Democrat challenger, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who has had some problems acquiring and keeping law enforcement endorsements.

16. Lawmaker: State Veterans Homes must be audited

As Gov. Tony Evers continues to celebrate his re-election victory on Tuesday, one of his biggest failures looms large this Veterans Day.

The state-run Veterans Home at Union Grove has been a house of horrors for hundreds who selflessly served their country. An outgoing member of the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee says it’s time for a deep dive review of the skilled nursing facility.

“Now, post-election, I would hope that this would not be seen as a political gotcha but as a good-faith audit to find out what the issues are and to make things better,” said state Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield). “The status quo simply is not acceptable.” Kooyenga, an Iraq War veteran, is a member of the nine-member Joint Legislative Audit Committee. He did not seek re-election. His term ends in early January.

17. Lawmakers ask Evers to open the books on COVID aid

What are Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction doing to make sure the billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief to the state’s school districts is being spent properly? What is Evers — who has an abysmal record on open government — doing to make sure the public has access to information on the expenditures?

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Allouez) and state Reps. Joel Kitchens (Sturgeon Bay) and Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) are asking those questions in a letter to the governor.

18. Extreme liberal Judge Protasiewicz enters Supreme Court race

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz jumped into the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court Wednesday, bringing with her a far left record as a soft-on-crime prosecutor and a progressive justice judge.

Protasiewicz is running to fill the seat of Justice Patience Roggensack,  who is not seeking a third 10-year term.

There’s much at stake in the election, slated for next April. Roggensack is part of a four-justice conservative majority on the seven-member Supreme Court, although Justice Brian Hagedorn has frequently sided with liberals.

19. Evers’ remote government costing Wisconsin

For the professionals stuck in Gov, Tony Evers’ dysfunctional licensing agency, the aggravating delays are all the more frustrating knowing that the vast majority of Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) employees are still working remotely.

Hell, they’re not even showing up at the help desk.

As Empower Wisconsin reported last month, nearly 70 percent of the agency’s workforce was working remotely under Evers’ questionable COVID mitigation policies. Sources tell Empower Wisconsin the front desk in the DSPS office at the state’s new Hill Farms Transportation Building in Madison often doesn’t open until after noon.

20. Conservative spring: Right-of-center candidates rack up big wins

Conservative candidates won scores of local seats in some nationally watched races, blue-leaning Kenosha County elected its first Republican county executive, and a conservative easily defeated Democrat Gov. Tony Evers’ liberal appointee to the state’s Second District Court of Appeals.

Paul Farrow, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said

Tuesday’s elections proved the GOP’s grassroots operation is battle-tested and well-positioned to carry its momentum into the November mid-terms.

“Conservatives fought and won across the state, including in swing and deep blue areas,” Farrow said in a press release.“

21. Evers handing out another $1 million in COVID relief to Planned Parenthood

Gov. Tony Evers plans to issue $1 million in federal COVID relief funding to abortion provider Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Inc.

It’s all part of more than $82 million in what the liberal governor is billing as “Equitable Recovery Grants.” It’s the kind of funding initiative that has raised questions about Evers’  spending of the approximately $4.5 billion in federal COVID aid — money he effectively has sole discretion over.

22. Evers tries to weasel out of holding Chisholm accountable

Gov. Tony Evers has found a way to try to weasel out of dealing with a complaint asking him to fire Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm: He secretly hired a Madison attorney who proclaimed the complaint “insufficient.”

So instead of doing the politically uncomfortable work of investigating why Chisholm’s office helped free the man suspected of murdering and maiming dozens of people in Waukesha, the governor sicced a high-priced attorney from a Madison firm on the six citizens who filed the complaint.

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