Empower Wisconsin | Feb. 5, 2021
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Exposing his “brazen” lust for power, Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday hastily dismissed a legislative resolution and issued another public health declaration that extends his statewide mask mandate.
The Democrat declared he was “putting people first,” but his big government politics and disregard for the rule of law were on full display.
Not long after the Republican-controlled Assembly passed a joint resolution ending Evers’ never-ending emergency order and accompanying mask mandate, Evers released a video message to announce he would disregard the Legislature’s majority.
“Tony Evers is now an openly lawless governor clearly in violation of his oath of office and his duty to comply with the rule of law,” state Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said in a statement.
The law is clear on the subject. In a public health emergency, the governor may declare a health emergency and use the extraordinary executive powers therein for 60 days. After that, the Legislature must sign off on an extension. That did not happen. Evers took the powers the Republican-controlled Legislature would not grant him and continued to issue new — or extended — orders declaring a health emergency. That included his statewide mask mandate, first ordered in August.
Assembly and Senate Republicans say the resolution isn’t about masks, it’s about reining in the powers that the executive branch has abused over the better part of the last year.
Now they are calling on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to end the “constitutional crisis.”
The court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit that alleges the governor broke the law when he effectively reissued the same order over and over again beyond the 60-day limit. In May, the court struck down the Evers administration’s extended statewide lockdown, issued without the consent of the Legislature.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said the governor’s actions Thursday proved he was more interested in holding on to his extraordinary powers than following the law.
“As we told the Court in November, even if the Legislature revoked the Governor’s illegal renewal of his 60-day state of emergency, the question would remain just as relevant and urgent because we believed he would simply issue another extension. That has now come to pass,” LeMahieu said.
Constitutional law experts say Evers went too far in shrugging off the Legislature’s resolution.
“What the governor has done is to embark on a pretty brazen and ambitious power grab. That’s the only way I can think to describe it,” said former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, who was on the 4-3 Supreme Court majority decision that overturned Evers’ lockdown.
The issue is not about the mask mandate but who has the authority to make such decisions, Kelly said. The law clearly gives that authority to the Legislature after 60 days, and the former justice believes the Supreme Court will rule at least 4-3 that Evers exceeded his authority.
“His response to that (the Legislature’s resolution) was a slap in the face. It is completely lawless. That’s the behavior of a banana republic,” Kelly added.
Evers issued his order even after a majority of Assembly Republicans signed a letter urging the governor to introduce rules to the Legislature that would enact “reasonable masking requirements” in places in Wisconsin that are susceptible to transmission of the virus to the most vulnerable. The Assembly members assured the proposal would be “reviewed fairly and judiciously.”
Some Republicans weren’t pleased with the overture to a governor who has repeatedly abused his authority. It seems Evers wasn’t impressed, either.
“Yet again, Governor Evers pushes away an olive branch to reach common goals, instead opting for continued authoritarian rule,” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) said. “I’m disappointed that the Governor would rather continue issuing orders that he knows to be illegal as opposed to working with the legislature to keep Wisconsinites safe.”
Also Thursday, the Assembly passed a revised version of a COVID-19 relief package that would guarantee Wisconsin receives millions of dollars in federal food assistance funding even as it curtails Evers’ emergency powers.
The Senate will be back today in an extraordinary session to vote to move AB 1 to the governor’s desk.
“This is a true consensus bill and we expect a quick signature to preserve the enhanced federal UI benefits which will expire Sunday without this law change,” LeMahieu said.