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How the lawmakers saved Christmas

Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 22, 2020

MADISON — Gov. Grinch hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!

Somehow or other, it came just the same!

Try as they might, Gov. Tony Evers’ administration will not have the last word in the 2020 Capitol Christmas tree saga. 

State Rep. Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc) tells Empower Wisconsin he and Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) will put up their artificial Christmas tree one last time this morning. 

The lawmakers twice before set up and decorated an artificial tree in the Capitol Rotunda after Evers declared there would be no tree at the statehouse this season because of COVID-19. The governor early on in the pandemic had ordered the Capitol closed to the public. 

Capitol police on both occasions removed the lawmaker’s gesture of peace on earth, good will to men, insisting that they needed permission from a capitol grounds committee to put up the tree. 

But it’s clear Evers, the Burgermeister Meisterburger of state government, doesn’t like his authority to cancel challenged by Christmas tree-defending legislators. It was Evers, after all, who last year changed the official designation of the beautiful evergreen that graces the rotunda each December from Christmas to “Holiday” tree. He even sought “science-themed” ornaments from K-12 students. 

Last month, Gov. Grinch issued his tree ban and asked children to send their hand-made ornaments to nursing homes instead of to the Capitol.  

Tittl and Sortwell will do the same with the ornaments, after they have one last bash. 

“We decided we’re going to put it up one last time (this) morning art 11:45 a.m.,” Tittl said. “At noon, we’ve invited all legislators and staff to go to the rotunda and sing a few Christmas carols.” 

Then the lawmakers will take down the tree and ship the scores of ornaments they’ve received to nursing homes in their districts. Tittl said since the story of the Christmas tree battle broke, he and Sortwell have received ornaments from as far away as West Virginia and Sacramento, Calif. 

Zach Pfaffenbach, an aide to Sortwell, said the office has received mostly positive responses from district residents. The real opposition is coming from “crabby” residents in the Madison area, well outside Sortwell’s district.

While Tittl has been on several radio shows around the country talking about the bureaucratic battle, he said he doesn’t know why two lawmakers putting up a Christmas tree is a story at all.  

“It doesn’t use any resources, it’s not hooked up to lights,” Tittl said of the artificial tree, noting that the governor doesn’t need a permit to put up the seasonal tree. 

“We don’t believe you should kill a 100-year-old tradition because” of a pandemic. If anything, Tittl said, the Capitol could use a little holiday joy this year more than ever. 

Meanwhile, it appears Evers is looking to shake off his Grinch image while sticking it to the Republicans. A Capitol aide sent Empower Wisconsin a photo of a decorated tree on the balcony of Evers’ Capitol office. 

Maybe, Evers thought, Christmas doesn’t come from an order, an edict or rule. 

Maybe Christmas is bigger than some old elected bureaucratic fool. 

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