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Tool of the week: The ‘nonessential’ Missy Hughes

Empower Wisconsin | May 4, 2020.

MADISON — Missy Hughes is one of the more curious of Gov. Tony Evers’ faithful apologists. 

The secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is a most decidedly nonessential cabinet member charged with determining which businesses are “nonessential.” 

Hughes’ testimony last week before the Assembly Committee on State Affairs was absolutely tool-worthy. As she defended the governor’s Badger Bounce Back plan to euthanize the economy he’s crippled, Hughes spouted metaphors about relay races. 

“It is incumbent on all of us in handing off the baton that we do not do so too soon and too carelessly and risk dropping it,” she said.

In other words, let extreme caution be the guide.

The economic development chief suggested nonessential businesses shouldn’t re-open until the state can “make sure customers will be there.” 

Former Gov. Scott Walker corrected the secretary-designee on twitter. 

“The market will ultimately decide when the economy is open, not the government,” wrote Walker, commenting on an Empower Wisconsin tweet. 

“Employees, then customers will come back to employers that are able to open safely and responsibly. If anything, the government should help small businesses do just that,” he added. 

But businesses are all on board the Bounce Back train, Hughes insists. They’re on the relay team for safety first — and so are their customers. 

“A store is taking temperatures of customers as they walk into the store. And, in fact, the customers want their temperatures taken. They’re excited to see whether or not they have a fever,” she said, sounding absolutely tickled. 

So, that brings us to the “nonessential” question. Hughes said WEDC gladly took on the role of determining which businesses were essential or nonessential because the agency was in the best position to do so. Shortly thereafter, she acknowledged that WEDC had no experience in making such decisions. In fact, Hughes said she “hates” the “nonessential/essential designation.” 

“No one wants to be deemed nonessential, unless it’s a snow day. Then you get to stay home —  for one day,” said the director of Wisconsin’s private-public economic development organization, giggling. 

Hughes told the committee that the “governor very much is concerned about the small businesses around the state.” She even managed to do so with a straight face. 

But re-opening Wisconsin’s economy “can only start with assurance, assurance that we understand the risks,” Hughes said. 

We have come to understand what the risks are. As of Sunday, 339 people have died from COVID-19  in Wisconsin — nearly 70 percent of those 70 or over, and many with underlying health conditions. That represents 0.0056 percent of Wisconsin’s population. 

Any life lost is tragic, whether it be from a virus or heart disease or cancer or any number of causes. But some perspective is important. Heart disease kills nearly 12,000 people in Wisconsin each year. Cancer is expected to claim 11,600 lives this year, according to the American Cancer Society. 

But Missy Hughes, the nonessential economic development director, says Wisconsin needs all the “tools in place” to mitigate every risk. 

The tool here is secretary-designee Hughes,  Empower Wisconsin’s Tool of the Week. 

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