Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Evers, GOP Tie in Early Innings

Capitol ballgame tied, but Republican legislators have big hitters coming to the plate.

By - Apr 1st, 2019 01:14 pm
Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Wisconsin State Capitol. Photo by Dave Reid.

Democrat Tony Evers has been governor for almost three months. If they were the first innings of a baseball game, the score would be 3 to 3 between Evers and Republicans who control the Legislature.

Republicans will be at bat for the next three months, however. They plan to draft and adopt a state budget alternative that looks almost nothing like the spending plan Evers gave them on Feb. 28.

By July 1, Republicans may have run up the score and put a 2019-21 budget on the Democratic governor’s desk he will have to veto.

Will it be a grand slam —- a total veto — or a bunch of runs added up through partial vetoes? That could even the budget game for the final innings, which could be played into the late summer or fall.

For his part, Evers was able to act to withdraw Wisconsin from the federal lawsuit filed to kill the Affordable Care Act. A Texas judge struck down the ACA, but an appeal is now pending before a U.S. Court of Appeals. One additional reason the case is important: If the ACA is struck down, there would be no additional federal cash for Wisconsin to draw on to expand Medicaid – a top Evers priority.

Evers directed Democratic Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul to get Wisconsin out of the ACA lawsuit minutes after Dane County Judge Richard G. Niess struck down the “lame duck” laws and appointments approved by the Legislature and outgoing GOP Gov. Scott Walker in December.

One of those “lame duck” laws said Wisconsin could not pull out of the ACA lawsuit without permission from legislative leaders – permission that was never going to be given.

The ruling that – for now – invalidated “lame duck” laws was the first Evers touch of home plate against the GOP. But after Republicans objected to his ACA withdrawal, a second Dane County Judge, Frank Remington, who had been appointed to his position by Walker, also ruled that legislators could not control lawsuits pursued by the Attorney General. Score another run for Evers.

But umpires – Court of Appeals judges – have now stopped play for the legal equivalent of video review last week, with no final decision likely for weeks.

The Democrat’s third score was rescinding 82 Walker appointments the state Senate rushed to confirm in December – something else he did immediately after the ruling voiding “lame duck” session actions. Those appointments ranged from making state government veteran Ellen Nowak the critical third vote on the utility-regulating Public Service Commission to less important boards like the one that certifies dietitians.

Thursday, Evers reappointed many of the 82, but his first move to cancel them all sent Republicans this message: Team Democrats have a new manager.

But Republicans also put up three runs in the early innings.

As Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Federalist Society, GOP legislators will discard the Evers budget, which would increased spending by 10 percent over two years.

Vos included this brushback-pitch threat: “I believe the Senate and Assembly will craft our own budget – starting at [current spending levels] or less… If, for some reason, [Evers] believes he’s going to veto the entire budget because it doesn’t spend enough, the budget he will get – number two – will spend less than the first one.”

Vos and Senate Majority Republican Scott Fitzgerald pushed across their second run when they got GOP Building Commission members, who had tentatively endorsed a $2.5-billion plan, to reverse themselves and block that proposal.

Evers wants to add prison beds, expand a Madison mental health treatment center for juveniles, build a new Milwaukee state office building and new Capitol Square historical museum, and repair and upgrade dozens of UW System campus buildings.

But Republicans scored with the new Building Commission deadlock.

“Republicans on the Commission voted to support this Capital budget a day ago—they were for it before they were against it,” Evers lamented.

No, Vos and Fitzgerald said, state government simply can’t afford to borrow $2.5 billion – three times what Walker’s last budget borrowed to build and repair buildings.

Finally, Republicans scored by not saying when – or if – they will vote to confirm Evers roster of cabinet secretaries. Cabinet secretaries are the every day players in Evers lineup. They can play until – and unless – the GOP Senate ejects them by refusing to confirm them.

The winner?

The game is ongoing and big calls made by the judicial umpires – a U.S. Supreme Court ACA ruling, for example, or a state Supreme Court ruling on “lame duck” laws – may play a role.

And, which team will have a Josh Hader for when the going gets really rough?

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

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