Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Evers Appoints Record Number of Women

For first time in history, majority of governor’s advisors are women.

By - Feb 4th, 2019 01:29 pm
Maggie Gau. Photo courtesy of Tony for Wisconsin.

Maggie Gau. Photo courtesy of Tony for Wisconsin.

For the first time since Wisconsin become a state in 1848, a majority of those working in the Office of the Governor are women.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has women as his chief of staff and three deputy chiefs of staff, negotiating with Republicans who control the Legislature and are mostly men. In addition, he named Milwaukee Film executive Sara Meaney as state tourism director, and his transition chief was JoAnne Anton, director of Herb Kohl Philanthropies.

Evers, who had been state superintendent of public instruction, has also named a woman and the first African-American, Carolyn Taylor, to succeed him as chief advocate for the state’s one million school-age children.

Evers is proud to break the pattern of about 170 years of male-dominated governor’s office decision making, Chief of Staff Maggie Gau told a Wispolitics luncheon last week.

“I think it’s a great thing,” said Gau, a veteran capitol aide who worked on President Obama’s 2012 campaign that won Wisconsin. She is a former aide to Democratic Sen. Janis Ringhand, of Evansville.

“Trusting women is something that he doesn’t just talk about,” said Gau.

Evers had a female chief of staff when he was superintendent of public instruction. “He empowers women,” Gau said. “This is something this governor really believes in.”

In remarks that drew applause, Gau said Evers is determined to “show women they can be a part of this process.”

“Who you have in the room affects a lot of the policy decisions you are making,” Gau said. “If you’re talking about a policy, you’re talking about a decision and [if] everyone in the room looks and sounds the same, and is from the same place – guess what – you’re going to have very similar answers.”

Women will play key roles in decisions as the “pragmatic” Evers works on the top three issues that got him elected – expanding health care, more school aid and transportation funding, including mass transit systems, Gau said.

Evers wants a state government that “reflects” Wisconsin, Gau said. The state’s population has slightly more women than men, demographers report.

Gau is the first woman to be chief of staff since Susan Goodwin had that job for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, chief executive from 2003 until 2011. In an interview, Goodwin once observed that she had only one boss – the governor.

The closest adviser to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who lost his re-election bid to Evers, was Walker’s wife, Tonette. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch served two terms with Walker.

There are signs that women played a significant role in Evers win over Walker.

Women tend to vote more often than men – in Wisconsin and across the nation, said political scientist Charles Franklin, director of Marquette University’s Law School Poll.

Marquette’s Jan. 16-20 poll of 800 registered voters also found that women who responded viewed Evers more favorably than men. Specifically, the January Marquette poll found:

*More women (43 percent) had a favorable opinion of Evers than men (33 percent). But 35 percent of women, and 42 percent of men, surveyed had no opinion of Evers.

“There are a lot of people who say they don’t know about Evers as governor yet, which is reasonable enough after so little time in office,” Franklin said. Evers took office Jan. 7. “But men are a little more likely than women to say they don’t know about Evers,” Franklin added.

*A plurality of women respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Walker. The poll found that 54 percent of men had a favorable opinion of the Republican governor, but only 46 percent of women agreed. And just 41 percent of men had an unfavorable opinion compared to 49 percent of women.

*By a margin of 60 percent to 43 percent, women polled disapproved of President Trump’s job performance.

The poll’s margin of error was 3.9 percent.

Overall, Franklin said: “As we’ve seen for some time, women are more positive to Democrats and men more positive to Republicans. The differences are larger for Trump than for Evers or for Walker, though not small in either case.

“Part of the gender difference is because women are more likely to call themselves Democrats and men more likely to say they are Republicans. However, women tend to have a more favorable view of Evers than men, even after controlling for partisanship.”

The last governor to negotiate big deals across party lines was four-term Republican Tommy Thompson, whose senior advisers included few women. Evers wants to do big deals relying on the advice of more women than men.

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

One thought on “The State of Politics: Evers Appoints Record Number of Women”

  1. Patricia Jursik says:

    One more fact: The women being appointed actually have qualifications and experience, not a random pick such as Cathy Stepp for the DNR post under Walker. These women will bring real governance to the people that elected them, not ideologues often intent on dismantling their departments as under the prior Governor.

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