Bruce Murphy
Murphy”s Law

Is Robin Vos Scared of Voters?

Republican legislators condemn Evers' mask mandate, but won’t override it as the law allows. Why?

By - Sep 29th, 2020 03:47 pm
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

In July Gov. Tony Evers issued a statewide mask mandate that went into effect on August 1 and would expire on Sept. 28, requiring people five-years-old and older to wear masks in indoor or “enclosed” public places when people who don’t live with them are present.

Republicans were not happy. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) declared that local governments should decide any restrictions and Wisconsin didn’t need “a one-size-fits-all mandate.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), said “we don’t need statewide mandates telling us what to do” and suggested local law enforcement needn’t enforce the order: “the last thing our police need to be doing right now is serving as part of the mask patrol.”

State Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), called the governor’s declaration “illegal and unnecessary” and urged GOP leaders to call the Legislature into a special session to override it. Under state statute 323.10, the governor may declare a state of emergency by executive order, but that order may be revoked by the Legislature. But Vos and Fitzgerald did nothing. 

Vos said he expected legal challenges to the mask order “from citizen groups,” and the right-wing-funded lawyers of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) got the hint and soon announced they would be pursuing a lawsuit against the governor. 

By late September it was clear that Wisconsin was in the midst of an outbreak, and one of the worst states in the U.S. in the number of new coronavirus cases. “Wisconsin is now experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Evers declared, and announced a new emergency order, to extend the mask mandate for another 60 days, until November 21. 

Oh, were Vos and Fitzgerald angry about the governor’s temerity. “Gov. Evers’ order is moot, illegal, invalid, and almost assuredly headed for litigation,” Fitzgerald thundered. “Evers’ disregard for the state constitution and the role of the three branches of government is mind-boggling,”

“There is already a court challenge and undoubtedly, there will be more,” Vos declared. “No one branch of government can rule outside the letter of the law and go unchecked, even during a pandemic.” 

But if Evers action was so horrendous, why didn’t Vos and Fitzgerald simply have the Legislature strike down the order, as the law allowed them to do, and as Naas once again urged? We’re talking here about two of the most aggressive legislators in modern Wisconsin history, who happily passed unprecedented laws to constrain the powers of Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul as soon as the two Democrats were elected. 

Even WILL President Rick Esenberg seemed to wonder about this, telling Wisconsin Eye he’d prefer that rather than pushing the courts to slap down Evers, the Legislature would act, since Republican leaders could simply void the governor’s order by passing a joint resolution. 

But Vos and Fitzgerald couldn’t do this, because they are afraid of the voters. Not for their own elections, which are assured because Vos has a gerrymandered assembly district while Fitzgerald is a shoo-in for the gerrymandered congressional district he hopes to win, and thereby replace retiring congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. But Vos and Fitzgerald hope to defeat Democratic challenges to GOP-held legislative seats, and are well aware that most voters don’t agree with them about how to handle the pandemic 

The Marquette Law School Poll has consistently found that a sizable majority of voters approve of Evers’ handling of the coronavirus epidemic, most recently by a 57 percent to 38 percent margin. Calling for a legislative vote on overturning Evers order would simply put Republican lawmakers at risk of supporting a measure that many voters may feel endangers their lives. That’s a good way to lose elections.  

The stakes are particularly high for Vos, who hopes to increase the Republican margin in the Assembly, to create a veto-proof super majority. This would mean the Republican Legislature could once again pass gerrymandered legislative seats after the next Census, and could override any veto by Gov. Evers. 

In short, to assure that a majority caucus of Republicans elected by a minority of the state’s voters is maintained for another 10 years, Vos has chosen to bypass the democratic method by which the Legislature could strike down Evers mask mandate. Instead he is hoping an activist conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court will operate as super legislators and do a job the law clearly specifies is up to the Legislature. Whatever it takes to frustrate the will of the people, Vos is behind it 100 percent. 

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One thought on “Murphy”s Law: Is Robin Vos Scared of Voters?”

  1. Thomas Martinsen says:

    I am usually opposed to cruel punishment, but I think that Fitzgerald and Vos should be tarred and feathered and force marched out of the state of WI for their self-serving behaviors in our state legislature – behaviors that have benefited them at great cost to most citizens of this state.

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