Steven Walters
The State of Politics

8 GOP Laws Evers Could Target

There’s much new governor opposes. But which issues will he take on?

By - Dec 31st, 2018 12:20 pm
Tony Evers. Photo by Michael Horne.

Tony Evers. Photo by Michael Horne.

Democratic Governor-Elect Tony Evers and Republican legislative leaders have dozens of major things to disagree on in 2019 – so many that Evers and his advisers will have to strategically pick their battles.

“We will not surrender our conservative ideas or allow Wisconsin to move backward,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos repeatedly promised in the weeks after Evers defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who lost his bid for a third term.

Evers defines “forward” as not continuing the conservative rush of changes Walker and Republican legislators enacted since 2011. The long-time educator, who will inherit strong veto powers when he becomes governor in one week, calls himself a “progressive” – a term that Republicans see as opposed to everything they believe.

So, time for a year-end look at some of the dozens of major policy changes Republicans made since taking control of the Capitol in January 2011. One year from now, use this list to score what fights Evers picked, and what fights he avoided.

*Concealed Carry Weapons: Republicans moved quickly to establish a process to issue permits to carry concealed handguns, and legalize the carrying of concealed knives.

But don’t bet on Evers using any political capitol to attack CCW laws; there is too much widespread support for them. Even Democratic lawmakers may not support restoring the 48-hour wait to take possession of handguns. And, the spate of “lame duck” session bills enacted in December told Evers he alone could not ban handguns in the Capitol.

*John Doe limits: Republicans greatly narrowed the authority of prosecutors to conduct secret John Doe criminal investigations. They argued that Walker and his supporters had been unfairly targeted by the “witch hunt” probes of a few “liberal” district attorneys and members of the Government Accountability Board, which they abolished.

Evers ran on three main fiscal issues – expanding the health-care safety net and funding K-12 schools and highways – so it’s also unlikely that he will try to reverse new limits on John Doe probes in his first year in office.

*Act 10: Walker and Republicans targeted public employees in two ways in 2011 – making them pay more for health care and pension benefits and all but destroying the collective bargaining system used by their unions. Police and firefighter unions were exempt from Act 10, however.

Reversing Act 10 poses an interesting choice for the first incoming Democratic governor in 16 years: Can he suggest to voters that public employees are paying too much for health care and pensions? Probably not. But can he propose restoring their collective bargaining rights? You bet’cha.

*High-capacity wells: Despite the protests of environmentalists and Democrats, Republicans grandfathered in high-capacity wells in central Wisconsin, allowing them to be sold, repaired and maintained without new Department of Natural Resources (DNR) review of whether they threaten  groundwater resources. Those wells sustain the region’s vegetables, potatoes and other crops. New regulations of high-capacity wells could be part of a much broader Evers initiative — see the next item.

*Climate change: It’s a term the Walker Administration banned from the DNR’s Website. And DNR Secretary-Designate Preston Cole has promised to restore science-based decision making in the agency. A major “climate change” initiative could include setting a new statewide renewable energy standard, which Republicans didn’t consider. It could also propose repeal of the new law allowing development near small urban wetlands.

*Limits on local governments: Since 2011, Republicans have limited the authority of local officials in many ways. Does Evers think local governments should be able to ban plastic grocery bags, be allowed to determine how to use hotel “room tax” receipts, and not be told how often to inspect some rental properties, for example?

*Right-to-work: Bet on Evers to call on lawmakers to repeal the controversial right-to-work law that unions hate. But then also bet on Republicans who control the Legislature to take no action on that request.

*Women’s health care: Will Evers call for repeal of the GOP law that banned abortions after 20 weeks and restoring funding for Planned Parenthood? Very likely.

Dozens of other GOP changes – making it easier for tenured UW System professors to be dismissed, reworking civil service systems, requiring a one-week wait to collect jobless benefits and expanding School Choice programs statewide – could be targeted by Evers.

But two designations Republicans pushed that will undoubtedly remain: Cheese as the official state dairy product and ginseng as the official state herb.

Those get bipartisan support.

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

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