By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ partisan petulance — his disdain for and inability to work with Republicans — is well known.
But Capitol sources say the Democrat is an equal opportunity employer of the political cold shoulder, notorious for ignoring his own party members in the Legislature.
They say Evers and his staff don’t return Dem lawmaker calls, fail to loop them in on everything from major policy initiatives to bill signings, and that he has refused to listen to Democratic legislative leadership ideas and suggestions.
That’s the kind of treatment Republicans have come to expect from a highly partisan liberal Democrat who has called them “amoral,” “stupid,” and “bastards,” among other “intolerant” descriptors. His Mr. Nice Guy “Gee Folks” image has always been one of the lamest lies in Wisconsin politics. But sources say Evers is turning on the ones he loves.
“He doesn’t return calls to Janet Bewley,” one Capitol source told Empower Wisconsin, referring to Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason). Bewley, who earlier this year called her constituents “not smart because they wouldn’t support local tax increases, did not return a request for comment.
Another legislative source tells Empower Wisconsin that Assembly Democratic Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) is “frustrated.”
“He expected to get some part in the administration as secretary,” the source said, adding that Dem representatives have complained that there is “little communication” from the governor’s office. Hintz’s office did not return a request for comment.
The legislative insider noted Evers’ signing of a bill aimed at lowering prescription drug prices and checking the power of pharmacy benefit managers. In a time of deep partisan division, the bill proved to be extraordinarily bipartisan, with more than 130 lawmakers from both parties signing on. Team Evers sent out a press release at 5:30 p.m. the night before he signed the bill in Wausau.
“What the hell! Even his side was wondering what his thinking was,” he said. “You don’t want to give Republicans any wins. I get it. But this one was such an easy win for everybody.”
Sen. Van Wanggaard wondered the same this week. In a press release celebrating the signing of a bipartisan package of law enforcement reform bills, the Racine Republican was taken aback by Evers’ low-key handling of the event.
“It is curious, however, that rather than celebrate the Republicans and Democrats coming to agreement on these bills, Governor Evers signed these bills in private with no notice,” Wanggaard said. “Instead, he puts out a statement complaining that he didn’t get everything he wanted and advocating for ideas that make every man, woman and child, regardless of race, less safe. For someone who claims he wants Republicans and Democrats to work together to improve Wisconsin, he once again shows otherwise.”
It was another example of Evers catering to his far left base when he could have been building bridges on important policy issues.
Part of the problem, according to one Capitol source, is that Evers and the people who advise him have made “some really rookie mistakes.” And some egregious ones, too. This is the same governor whose staff secretly recorded Republican leadership in a private policy conversation. That Nixonesque style of leadership doesn’t instil a lot of trust in anyone.
More so, Tony Evers is not a conciliator. He’s not a uniter. He’s used any olive branch he’s gotten his hands on to beat his political opponents with, and, it seems, his legislative allies.
“It’s either his way or the highway,” a Capitol source said.