Legislative assembly

Will the government of Wisconsin be able to become functional again?

Politics has become so dysfunctional in Wisconsin that the legislature has begun to simply ignore the things people actually care about, in order to focus on wild conspiracies about how the election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Whether it’s removing toxic chemicals from our drinking water, properly funding our schools, or dealing with a completely useless backlog of professional licenses that keeps hairdressers, psychologists, and hundreds of other types of professionals from getting to work, our state government is stuck.

Gov. Tony Evers expressed his frustration with the state of affairs during a luncheon at the Madison Club hosted by WisPolitics on Thursday. In response to my question about how to break toxic partisanship, he lamented how voters got discouraged. “They say, ‘I don’t care. I don’t care what those problems are, because you’ll never solve them because Republicans and Democrats can’t get along. »

Focusing exclusively on disagreements between Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor is unnecessary and not entirely fair, Evers added, because he signs far more bills than he vetoes. He highlighted the bipartisan effort that led this week to the legalization of fentanyl stripswhich can prevent overdose deaths.

But, as WisPolitics’ Jeff Mayers quickly pointed out, Evers also set a new veto record. And legislative leaders have complained loudly that Evers doesn’t contact and talk to them – “so there’s no good relationship.”

In response to my question about what Evers can do personally to make government work better for people, he said he tries to avoid partisan bickering, to stay above the fray. “To stay on the highest possible road”, to avoid “tac for tat, back and forth”, although, he concedes, he sometimes slips.

Perhaps he couldn’t have done much to get along better with Republican leaders. Immediately after his election, they began their campaign to try to strip him of his powers. When they asked if he would meet with them every Wednesday like Republican Gov. Scott Walker did, Evers told them no. He met them sometimes, he said, but “I’m not Scott Walker.”

The rest is a familiar and frustrating story. Republicans who control the legislature have worked vigorously to obstruct everything Evers has tried to do, repeatedly walking in and out of special sessions he called without discussing school funding, school safety firearms, health care or police. Perhaps more diplomacy couldn’t have prevented the politicization of the pandemic, which Evers calls “really unfortunate.” The GOP celebrated the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision to end safety at Evers house the order of public health, just like research has shown that it was saving thousands of lives, Evers pointed out. “What’s the trade-off?” he added. “Let more people die to achieve a political goal?”

Evers can perhaps be forgiven for sounding a bit bitter, considering how mindlessly destructive his political opponents have become. A few times during lunch he took detours from the main road.

When Mayers asked him about strategies to mitigate learning loss during the pandemic, he reminded everyone that he called on the Legislative Assembly to accept his proposal to spend some of the unprecedented surplus of the state in schools, adding, “I was hoping for the Legislative Assembly to come in special session – that would have been good.

Likewise, as Republicans lean into the idea of ​​rising crime and call for more funding for police, Evers pointed out that they “could and did not” increase the government’s revenue-sharing payments. state to cities. “If you want a stronger police force, if you want better violence protection programs — violence prevention programs — that’s where the money comes from,” he noted.

” It’s a big problem. And I have, in two budgets, I’ve had raises for that. It would have made a hell of a difference. And that’s the first thing Republicans took out of the budget,” he added, “So take that.”

Might as well avoid tit for tat.

Evers has, in fact, advanced a series of constructive policy proposals. As Republicans spread fear and run campaign ads making Milwaukee and Kenosha the dark streets of Gotham, Evers has fixed roads, put money into schools and businesses, and expanded broadband — mostly thanks to the federal pandemic relief money he was able to direct. He has invested millions in improving housing, unemployment programs, transportation, and education — long-term strategies to make Wisconsin a safer, more livable place for everyone. And he talks about how we need to “link” those investments to reducing crime and having a better state.

The Republicans were better at connecting the dots themselves. As Wisconsin mourns the passing of former Republican Lt. Governor. Margaret Farrowwho was a champion of the UW system and our state’s great public schools, and adored the former Republican governor. Tommy ThompsonWisconsin’s No. 1 booster who frequently worked across the aisle, it’s remarkable how far we’ve fallen.

As Evers spoke, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos roamed the state spreading the notion that our election in 2020 was afflicted with “widespread fraud.”

Vos tried not to get involved with the moody fringe who claim, against all the evidence, that Trump somehow won Wisconsin and that Joe Biden isn’t really the president, while feeding the base with the nonsensical investigation. and eternity of Gableman, while keeping his distance from his savage pretensions. This week, for the first time, he took the position that Wisconsin election fraud is rampant.

“It’s not leadership,” said Evers, who is convinced Vos knows best. “I find it disgusting,” Evers added. “I think he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I think that’s one of the dumbest things he’s ever said.”

“Robin Vos could end it today and say, ‘Gableman, go home. Stop your circus,’ Evers added.

Instead, Vos keeps the circus going.

When it comes to connecting the dots, the most significant connection of all is between Republican attacks on democracy and our government’s failure to truly meet the needs of the people.

This breakdown will accelerate if a Republican candidate defeats Evers in November and, after becoming governor, signs the whole series of thoughtless election bills that Evers promised to veto.

The good news for democracy is that Evers won a surprise victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which chose its cards over the legislature’s alternative, making our already worst gerrymander in the country even worse.

A big part of why our state government is failing the people’s needs is the way the maps are designed to lock in Republican control and eliminate competitive elections. Politicians who choose their own voters do not need to listen to the concerns of the majority.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Wisconsin’s voting maps is only a partial victory, since the court insisted in advance that the new maps make as few changes as possible to existing gerrymandered maps.

But it’s still a significant step forward, says attorney Jeff Mandell of the progressive law firm Law Forward, which has been involved in the redistricting lawsuits.

Mandell calls the court’s acknowledgment that the Voting Rights Act requires a majority-black seventh congressional district in Milwaukee “a big deal.”

And the anticipated election results under the Evers map, which the court chose, “bring us much closer to fair maps in Wisconsin than we have been in a dozen years,” Mandell said.

In addition to giving more black Wisconsinites the opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice, the Evers map reduces the lopsided Republican majority in the Legislature.

Mandell points out modeling which shows Evers’ maps will reduce Republican dominance of the Assembly from a majority of 61 seats to 55 seats.

“If the assumption is that Wisconsin should have about half Democrats and half Republicans representing an evenly divided state, reducing the Republican majority by six is ​​halfway fair,” Mandell said.

You have to hand it to Evers and his team: Playing by unfair rules, they beat the Republicans at their own game. They did remarkably well on an inclined playing field. It is a sign of hope.

Additionally, Mandell adds, “There’s no reason to believe these maps will hold up for an entire decade.” There will be more trials and more elections, including for the Wisconsin Supreme Court itself. A court with a different ideological balance could take over the cards, before the next census.

Perhaps Evers is the right leader at the moment – doggedly, even at times reluctantly, scoring small wins and not giving in to discouragement.

Defending democracy and restoring common sense to our state, for now, seems like our best bet.