Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Evers Election Brings Changes to Capitol

Suddenly jobs for Democrats. And will Vos, Evers do deal on highway funding?

By - Nov 12th, 2018 11:48 am
Tony Evers. Photo by Michael Horne.

Tony Evers. Photo by Michael Horne.

After a fascinating midterm Wisconsin election, how will things change in the state Capitol? Some initial thoughts:

Democratic legislators are reworking resumes for Gov. Evers. If you’re a veteran Democratic legislator earning about $51,000, and facing two more frustrating years of having Republicans make sure you don’t get credit for anything, would you be tempted to seek a much better paying, and pension sweetening, appointment in the administration of new Gov. Tony Evers?

You bet’cha.

It’s a governing tradition. Governors want those they know best and trust most either in unofficial “kitchen” cabinets or their official cabinets.

For example, Scott Walker served in the Assembly from 1993 until he became Milwaukee County executive in 2002. When he became governor in 2011, he gave several Assembly Republicans jobs. That continued this year: GOP Sens. Sheila Harsdorf and Frank Lasee, GOP Rep. Keith Ripp and ex-Rep. Dan Meyer got jobs.

Evers is already getting offers to “help” him govern. Most of those applicants will be screened by his transition team, but closer friends of Tony will make their pitches personally or he will ask them about joining his team.

Unlike Walker, Evers never served in the Legislature. So he may not be as inclined as Walker to hire current or former Democratic lawmakers.

“I don’t think Tony Evers will be handing out appointments like candy,” one veteran Democratic said.

From “Josh who?” to attorney general-elect in two months. In Marquette University’s September poll, 81 percent of respondents had either never heard of Josh Kaul, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, or didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion.

How, then, did he beat Republican Atty. General Brad Schimel?

The explanation of MU pollster Charles Franklin: “The attorney general race inevitably flies below the radar… Candidates are less well known and the race is less salient to voters, as seen by the low name recognition of both Kaul and Schimel.

“By election day, voters do know more than at the beginning but, especially in our partisan and polarized times, the AG’s race is likely to align with that of the governor –  simply for party-line voting, if nothing else.

“One can imagine an AG’s race that stands on its own with vivid issues, but that was not the one we had this year.”

Wanted: Lobbyists who speak Democrat. Over eight years of Republican control of the Capitol, statewide trade associations, nonprofits, businesses and other special-interest groups did not have to call on Democrats. Why schmooze the out-of-power?

That changes in January, when Democrats control all executive branch offices in state government. Clout-seeking groups will scramble to find lobbyists able to get appointments with Evers, his cabinet secretaries and other appointees.

It will be the best of both worlds for the Capitol lobbying corps. Special-interest groups will still need lobbyists who speak Republican, since that party remains in control of the Legislature.

Who runs for governor in 2022? Evers was elected the day after he turned 67, so he’s looking at a 71st birthday when Wisconsin picks its next governor.  He may not seek re-election in 2022.

If Evers doesn’t run, look for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes or Sen. Jennifer Shilling to do so. And several county executives think they would be great governors.

A Madison-area health care executive, Kevin Conroy, is on track to be much wealthier by 2022, so he may run for governor if there is no incumbent. Conroy considered running this year, but didn’t want to be No. 12 in the Democrats’ conga line.

Republicans? Assembly Speaker Robin Vos didn’t run for the U.S. House seat of Speaker Paul Ryan. Vos will be 54, and maybe speaker for 10 years, in 2022. It may be his up-or-out year.

Having been Walker’s lieutenant governor for eight years, Rebecca Kleefisch is likely to not miss future party Lincoln Day dinners. But Kleefisch and her husband, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, will both be out of work in January, since he did not seek run again.

Will Vos, Evers reach deal on highway funding? Vos and his Assembly Republicans were willing to negotiate on highway funding in 2017, but Walker and Senate Republicans were not. Evers will be sure Vos and special-interest groups are part of a compromise deal he wants.

But Senate Republicans became even more conservative when Senator-elect Andre Jacque became their 19th member last week. It may be impossible for those GOP conservatives to accept any revenue-raising highway deal.

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

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