Steven Walters
The State of Politics

The Republican Revolution Part II

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has a really big agenda for Wisconsin. It reads like a papal encyclical.

By - Nov 10th, 2014 09:41 am
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

You’ve heard the phrase: State governments are the “laboratories of democracy.”

Starting in January, the Republican-led Assembly wants to be the most ambitious laboratory for change in the Capitol. Its agenda will push and challenge not only Democrats, but even fellow Republicans Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Republicans.

Two weeks before Tuesday’s election, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos unveiled the Assembly Republican Agenda for the 2015-16 session. It read like a papal encyclical, issued to all other Capitol GOP bishops, vicars and acolytes.

It assumed, whether Walker won a second term (he did) and no matter which party controlled the Senate (Republicans kept control), that Assembly Republicans would be the Capitol’s R&D, marketing and branding headquarters. On election day, the Vos agenda became more important, since voters gave Assembly Republicans their biggest margin of control since the 1950s – up to 63 of the 99 Assembly seats

At least 16 Assembly Republicans will be new, exploding with energy, ideas and idealism. And there’s no shortage of zeal among the GOP Assembly veterans: Thirteen of them will vie for six leadership team spots Monday. The only sure things are that Vos will remain speaker and Rep. Tyler August speaker pro tem; nine others are scrambling for the three next leadership spots.

And, four other Republicans seem headed for seats on the Joint Finance Committee: Reps. John Nygren, Dean Knudson, Dale Kooyenga and Amy Loudenbeck.

Overall, Capitol Republicans agree on the need for new tax cuts, removing limits on the number of choice students who attend private schools at state expense, accountability benchmarks for schools, and replacing Common Core educational standards with “Wisconsin-based standards.”

But other changes Assembly Republicans listed in their Agenda for the 2015-16 session may have surprised Walker and Senate Republicans, including:

*A new requirement that school districts “keep a majority of their operating expenses in the classroom.”

*UW System: New rules dictating on how much faculty members should actually teach, and a “review of courses offered to identify possible inefficiencies that make it more difficult for students to enroll.” How many of the 26 UW System campuses now teach Art in the Renaissance, for example?

*“A reasonable cap on the amount of revenue the state can raise, and only voters should decide when to lift that cap.” Assembly Republicans will discuss whether a constitutional amendment is the best way to impose that cap, Vos added in a WisconsinEye interview.

*New campaign-finance rules letting companies contribute directly to campaigns – a change that incorporates federal and state judges’ rulings that effectively removed contribution limits to candidates and parties. That will be part of a “course correction” remake of the state Government Accountability Board, which enforces campaign-finance and ethics laws. The GAB has been “riddled with criticisms about overreaching and inconsistent standards,” according to the Assembly GOP Agenda, and Vos has already made clear that GAB executive director Kevin Kennedy has got to go.

*New tax deduction: Letting all taxpayers, whether they itemize deductions or not, “deduct their charitable contributions.” And, Assembly Republicans also want taxpayers to be able to “deduct up to 100 “certified hours of volunteer work” per year.

*Public-aid EBT cards: Assembly Republicans want all public benefits to “be administered through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card system” and “cards should be programmed to automatically decline at places like casinos, liquor stores or strip clubs.”

*Unemployment benefits: Making job searches required to keep collecting unemployment benefits “more meaningful” by telling workers jobless for 12 weeks to sign up with “temporary” help agencies. They could still collect jobless benefits, however.

*Prison inmates: “Creating a program to help secure temporary employment for inmates before release” from prison or jail.

*Ready-to-develop sites: Making sure each county “has property that is available and pre-approved for businesses considering relocation.” Governments should get all needed permits and approvals for those sites, so “businesses can be spared the red tape that sometimes discourages their relocation.”

*Cell phone “kill” switches: Requiring the sale of cell phones with kill switches would protect personal data, if a phone is lost. “The kill switch will enable the phone’s rightful owner to remotely disable it and clear its sensitive information,” the agenda explained.

Despite the aggressive agenda, Vos laughed when questioned about whether he’s pushing it to prepare for a 2018 run for governor. “I hope to stay (speaker) for a good long while,” Vos said. “This is where good public policy happens.”

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the non-profit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at


6 thoughts on “The State of Politics: The Republican Revolution Part II”

  1. PMD says:

    Please don’t turn us into Kansas. And do a lot of people use EBT cards at strip clubs and casinos? I honestly have no idea.

  2. Wauwatosa says:

    As a Burke voter I honestly see a lot to support in that agenda with the exception of School Choice. Why on earth we are creating a 2nd publicly supported school district statewide is beyond me and smacks of excessive entitlement spending. Those of us close to Milwaukee and knowledgeable of the current school choice program are well aware of the millions squandered on storefront schools with little to no accountability in the City. One only needs to open the Journal Sentinel to learn of charlatan school operators who have absconded with public money all in the name of “school choice”. For every success story like St. Marcus Lutheran School you have dozens of schools who aren’t even measuring up against typical MPS schools.
    I think outstate Wisconsin voters are about to get a real wake up call as their public schools continue to lose funding while they pay for their neighbor’s private school tuition.

  3. Jerry says:

    I feel politicians making themselves experts in the educational field is a recipe for disaster. They know nothing about curriculums and nearly none of them could name a specific aspect of CommomCore that is objectionable and as to why that is. To expect public schools to succeed when this legislature gives voucher schools nearly triple the per pupil aid per student and allows parents of privately enrolled students $4,000 and $10,000 tax credits for each child enrolled as elementary or high school students is beyond comprehension. They are setting up competing educational systems but entitling private schools with 3 times the funding and incentives How is this a cost effective and honest way to educate our children. If this system is promoted for the next 4 years public schools in rural and low income areas will be forced to close. With teacher compensation limited to 1% of inflation the best and brightest teachers will leave the field as there is no longer an incentive to continue in a career that offers not enough earnings to pay back student loans and support a family!

  4. Nicholas says:

    Will there be more political litmus tests for business in Wisconsin?

    First Trek? Now Edens and Lasry, whats next? New Glarus?

  5. Richard Leson says:

    “How many of the 26 UW System campuses now teach Art in the Renaissance, for example?” Mr. Walters is right that the UW system should be ready for further attacks by this Governor and the legislature.

    Also, in light of Steven Walters’ apt comparison of Robin Vos’ agenda to a “papal encyclical,” how ironic that as an art historian of the European tradition who teaches in the UW system I spend a great deal of class time discussing theology.

  6. Frances says:

    While Vos’ language in his agenda is formal and grandiose enough to be compared [and I like this comparison] to a papal encyclical, I’d like to argue, Mr Walters, that there is a lot of cynical irony in your comparison. The last papal encyclical issued by Pope Benedict was Caritas in Veritate, or Charity in Truth. The main point of this encyclical was to call out free market fundamentalism and to argue, generally speaking, that the Catholic principals of Social Justice must be involved in the preservation of capitalism.

    Furthermore, it is sad, but darkly funny, that Vos calls out Renaissance Art as his rhetorical example. Many of the formative ideas about how to make a Republic came from the Renaissance Florentine Republic and informed the minds that formed the United States of America. Suggested reading for Speaking Vos — The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition, by J.G.A. Pocock.

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