Gov. Evers Plays Hardball
Too-nice Tony looks to beat the Republicans -- repeatedly -- at their own game.
Tony Evers continues to surprise as governor.
The candidate even some Democrats dubbed “boring,” the politician some Republicans derided as “Tony too nice,” the governor that Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald thought as nowhere near their political equal in take-no-prisoners Capitol wars, has turned out to be far more formidable than expected.
No sooner had Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ruled that the lame duck laws passed last December violated the state constitution then Evers moved to take advantage of the situation. The law had given the Legislature rather than governor the power to determine what cases the attorney general takes on, but once the judge invalidated it, Evers quickly asked Attorney General Josh Kaul to withdraw from the multiple state lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, and Kaul immediately did so.
The lame duck laws also included one approving 82 last minute appointments by Gov. Scott Walker, a nasty parting gift intended to greatly hamstring Evers in carrying out his campaign promises. But once Niess ruled, Evers quickly announced he was withdrawing all 82 appointments and would make his own appointments.
An outraged Fitzgerald condemned Evers’ move as “irresponsible” But what Evers did was well within the law — for now — just as the lame duck laws were legal until a court declared otherwise. What Fitzgerald’s comment really showed is his shock — and it hasn’t been the first time — that Evers plays it just as rough as the Republicans.
Meanwhile, his condemnations of a Republican power grab struck home with voters: the most recent Marquette poll found 55 percent disapproved and only 31 percent approved of the lame duck laws. And a plurality of those surveyed believed Evers was trying to cooperate with legislative leaders and that legislators are really not interested in cooperating.
But Republicans continue to play hard ball. It wasn’t just that Fitzgerald condemned Evers $2.5 billion capital budget as “alarming,” but that Republican legislators on the State Building Commission voted down all 82 proposed projects. Evers response? The governor held a press conference at the UW-La Crosse campus where he noted that the move will delay planning and create uncertainty for projects supported by private gifts and grants. It’s a smart move, as many business people in the state graduated from and donate to UW System institutions and support more growth for the universities.
More than likely a compromise will be reached to support some of these projects, but it will meanwhile put some of these legislators on record as opposing many projects with support from voters.
Fitzgerald has condemned Ever’s $83.5 billion biennial budget, complaining that “Republicans weren’t even consulted before he rolled out one of the most liberal budgets in Wisconsin history.” But Evers has called it a ‘’people’s budget,” which included many provisions supported by a hefty majority of voters, as the MU Poll found: increased school aid, more money for special education, a middle-class tax cut, accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid, legalizing medical marijuana, raising the minimum wage and non-partisan redistricting.
On issue after issue, Evers has made it clear he will be a strong governor. Republicans handed him a bill with a middle class tax cut, an issue he ran on, but it was funded by a phony budget surplus and Evers didn’t fall for it. He vetoed it, arguing instead for a cut with more permanent funding, through a cut in the Republicans’ manufacturing tax credit that overwhelmingly benefits millionaires.
Evers announced he was bringing the state’s National Guard troops back from the U.S./Mexico border, where Walker had sent them in response to President Trump’s claim of a national emergency. “There is simply not ample evidence to support the president’s contention that there exists a national security crisis at our southwestern border,” the governor announced. “I cannot support keeping our brave service men and women away from their families without a clear need or purpose that would actively benefit the people of Wisconsin or our nation.”
This brought the expected attack from Fitzgerald, who accused Evers of “playing politics instead of working to keep Wisconsin safe,” but Vos was more careful in his comments. It appears that Fitzgerald is going to play the role of attack dog, while Vos, who has eyes on a run for governor in 2022, has been less strident.
If Evers is smart, he will play on that when negotiating over the biennial budget, a grand battle of strategy that may stretch into September or beyond. Much of what Evers is pushing for is supported by the voters, and he might want to remind the Assembly Speaker of that during negotiations.
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