Empower Wisconsin | April 17, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Conservatives blasted Gov. Tony Evers’ latest power grab, with Republican lawmakers calling for an extraordinary session to rein in Evers and some urging the removal of his controversial Department of Health Services-designee.
On Thursday, the Democrat announced he was directing DHS chief Andrea Palm to extend by one month his Safer at Home social-distancing order, “or until a superseding order is issued.” Evers’ latest lockdown edict “allows” for certain activities to resume. Public libraries will be able to provide curb-side pick-up of books and other library materials. Golf courses may open again, with restrictions. “Non-essential businesses” will be able to “do more things as Minimum Basic Operations,” including deliveries, mailings, and curb-side pick-up.
It’s not much, but Evers believes it’s enough for now.
“A few weeks ago, we had a pretty grim outlook for what COVID-19 could mean for our state, but because of the efforts of all of you, Safer at Home is working. That said, we aren’t out of the woods just yet,” Evers wrote in a statement.
As Wisconsin’s unemployment rate surged past 16 percent this week and job creators from farmers to manufacturers face going out of business, conservative lawmakers are saying “enough is enough!.”
“Gov. Evers’ unilateral decisions are reckless and are destroying our state,” said Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst).
Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Gibson) said the governor’s actions “cross the boundary from chaotic and arbitrary to lawlessness.”
“State law is clear. The Governor cannot extend his emergency authority beyond 60 days without the consent and approval of the Legislature. Nor can he use a secretary or administrative officer to subvert the legal requirement of legislative approval,” he said.
“The people of Wisconsin elect a Governor to execute the laws, not to disregard the laws and act like a king.”
But lawmakers admit there is confusion in the statutes that need to be clarified. That’s why some are calling for an extraordinary session to make sure Evers can’t continue to make unilateral decisions, It’s even more critical, as we’ve learned the original dire projections on the pandemic have not come to pass — not simply because of Evers’ sweeping lockdown, but because they were wrong.
Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) urged the Republican-led Legislature to call an extraordinary session to pass legislation “limiting the expansive powers of the DHS and local health departments in issuing public health orders without proper justification …”
Of course, Evers could veto such legislation, but he would do so at his own political peril. Wisconsin residents, much like those in Michigan, are rising up against the sweeping restrictions to their civil liberties. State Sen. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon) said his office has never experienced the amount of calls it is taking, the vast majority asking for relief from Evers’ edicts. Other lawmakers say the same.
“Our phones have been ringing off the hook since the announcement came out. People are frustrated and so are we,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in a press release.
Craig is calling on Senate leadership to reject Palm’s nomination as DHS secretary “and remove her from her position.”
“Enough is enough!” I’m calling on Senate Leadership to convene the Senate immediately,” Craig said. “Until we reject Palm and re-open the state, the very avoidable economic suffering will continue. The people of Wisconsin cannot wait for action any longer!”
Nass and Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), agreed. Stroebel said the Legislature “must take the gloves off and resist this power grab from Evers and Secretary-designee Palm.”
Nass also advises citizens, businesses and the Legislature to consider filing lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state law granting the executive emergency powers.
For many, Evers’ extended lockdown is uneven in its scope.
As the governor opens up golf courses, he continues to close rural clinics because they can’t perform routine health care or elective procedures, Tiffany said. And school districts in areas with limited broadband won’t be able to go back to classes after Evers cancelled school for the rest of the year.
“Instead of considering regional differences, the Governor is currently ceding his authority to Chicago and Detroit so their governors determine when people in Northern Wisconsin can go back to work and to their normal lives, and it’s unacceptable. We can protect people’s health and return them back to work,” Tiffany said.
Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said Senate Republicans are “planning to act with legal and legislative options to deal with the extension of the order and get answers to the questions our constituents are demanding.” Just what those options entail, the leaders did not say.
“People are not only afraid of the virus, they’re afraid of losing their livelihood. We all know the governor can’t control the coronavirus, but he can control the impact on the state’s economy,” Vos and Fitzgerald said in a joint statement.
Evers is joining six other Midwest governors, many of whom have been criticized for their tactics during the coronavirus crisis, in coming up with a plan to reopen the region’s economy.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Saturday that she would be joined by Evers, JB Pritzker of Illinois, Tim Walz (Minnesota), Eric Holcomb (Indiana), Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Andy Beshear (Kentucky).
“We recognize that our economies are all reliant on each other, and we must work together to safely reopen them so hardworking people can get back to work and businesses can get back on their feet,” Whitmer said in a statement.
Whitmer’s unilateral lockdown, recently expanded to prohibit residents from visiting even family, has fueled the frustration of Michiganders. Thousands took the streets this week to protest the Democrat’s power grab.
President Donald Trump unveiled a three-step program to get the nation up and running again, leaving it to states to make decisions about reopening.
“Now that we have passed the peak in new cases, we are starting our life again. We are starting rejuvenation of our economy again, in a safe and structured and a very responsible fashion,” Trump said. “We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time.”