Wisconsin gridlock between Democratic governor, lawmakers
FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2012, file photo,
Fourth-graders from Medford Elementary and
Stetsonville Elementary schools perform during a
Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the State
Capitol in Madison, Wis. Gov. Tony Evers has gone
back to calling the state Capitol Christmas tree a
holiday tree, reigniting an old fight over what to
call the evergreen.
MADISON, Wis. — A tumultuous week
that put on full display the partisan agendas of
Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican
Legislature also revealed the limitations both face
under divided government that increasingly results in
Republicans started and ended an Evers-called special
session on guns within seconds, taking no action, and
they fired an Evers Cabinet secretary as the scowling
governor watched from the floor of the Senate. Democrats
rebuffed three attempts to reverse Evers' vetoes, the
first override votes in nearly a decade.
Meanwhile, the Senate ended its work for the year having
passed few bills. The Assembly is coming back for one
more day before 2020.
Evers has signed just 20 bills into law during his first
year in office — a fraction of what his predecessors
have done under divided governments — and has vetoed
seven bills in their entirety. If that continues, it
will be the highest veto rate of any governor in
Wisconsin history, according to the Legislative
In a word: gridlock.
"It disappoints me because I know we're better than
this," said Dale Schultz, a Republican who served in the
Legislature for 23 years before retiring in 2014. "I've
seen us better than this."
Much of the partisan dramatics resulted in very little
that will affect the average Wisconsin family. While
Republicans exerted their power by firing Evers'
agriculture secretary, less than two days later he
appointed an interim replacement who will carry through
with his administration's goals without missing a beat.
Democrats pushed for a pair of gun control bills,
pointing to polls showing broad public support and
arguing that the measures would reduce the number of
suicides by firearms and increase public safety.
Republicans discounted the arguments and took no votes
on the bills calling for a universal background check
and allowing judges to take away guns from people
determined to be a threat.
Tim Cullen, a former Democratic state senator who
crossed party lines to serve in the Cabinet of a
Republican governor, said the gridlock was "bad for
"As I see the problem, there are no outer boundaries
beyond which partisanship doesn't go any more," Cullen
This week of unrest is just a continuation of what had
been going on even before Evers took office.
Republicans convened a lame-duck session to weaken his
powers weeks before he took the oath. Once in power, the
Legislature has looked for every way possible to stymie
his agenda. Ousting his agriculture secretary this week
so angered Evers that he took the seemingly
unprecedented step of watching the debate in person,
just a few feet away from lawmakers. The normally
mild-mannered Evers, a former teacher and state
education chief whose preferred form of entertainment is
the card game euchre, lashed out at Republicans in the
halls of the Capitol in an angry retort sprinkled with
Democrats tried to score a political win in the defeat
of the gun control bills in the special session that
Senate Democrats maximized the drama, pausing for a
moment of silence to recognize victims of gun violence
at the appointed start time of the special session when
Republicans were nowhere to be found. Democrats in the
Assembly, while denied a chance to debate or vote on the
gun bills, still hammered Republicans for dodging the
issue. Polls show more than 80% public support for the
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said he
hoped inaction by Republicans would lead to voters
ousting Republicans, as happened in Virginia this week
after GOP lawmakers there refused to take up gun control
To end the week, Evers threatened to re-ignite an
evergreen fight over what to call a tree decorated ahead
of Christmas in the Capitol rotunda. It was called a
"holiday tree" for 25 years but former Republican Gov.
Scott Walker called it a Christmas tree the past eight
years. Evers on Friday announced he was once again
calling it a "holiday tree" and said the theme for
decorating it was "celebrating science."
The partisan fighting with few tangible results
frustrates people who want and expect the Legislature to
address issues that are important to the state, said
Schultz, the former Republican lawmaker.
"They have to look themselves in the mirror and ask what
responsibility they have for the gridlock and what they
can do to make it better," Schultz said. "We have far
too many people counting coup and not enough people
cherishing friendships and sharing a belief that the
future can be better."
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Tony
Evers has gone back to calling the evergreen on display
at the state Capitol a holiday tree, reversing his
predecessor who declared it a Christmas tree.
The state Department of Administration places a huge
evergreen in the Capitol rotunda every year ahead of
Christmas. The tree has been a tradition in the Capitol
Politicians called it a Christmas tree until 1985, when
they began referring to it as a holiday tree to avoid
perceptions that they were endorsing religion. DOA
allows other groups to place displays in the rotunda as
end-of-the-year holidays approach, including a menorah
and a Festivus pole, a nod to the fictional holiday in
the "Seinfeld" television series. But the controversy
over what to call the tree has never really died.
In 2007 the Republican-controlled state Assembly passed
a resolution to call the tree a Christmas tree, but it
died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Former
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the son of a Baptist
minister, declared the tree a Christmas tree when he
took office in 2011.
Evers, a Democrat, called the tree a holiday tree on
Friday. He announced the tree's theme will be "Celebrate
Science" and asked schoolchildren to submit
science-related ornaments to adorn the tree.
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff didn't immediately
respond to an email asking why the governor has gone
back to calling the tree a holiday tree.
Republican Scott Fitzgerald, the state Senate majority
leader and a 2020 congressional candidate, tweeted that
Evers' move was "'PC' garbage. It's a Christmas Tree
Tweeted Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: "We all
know it's a Christmas tree no matter what @GovEvers
calls it ..."
Asked for his thoughts on calling the tree a holiday
tree, The Rev. Andrew Kurz, the Knights of Columbus
Wisconsin state chaplain, said in an email that "anyone
who is intent on keeping Jesus Christ out of Christmas
could be considered as working against our mission, but
we would forgive them with an invitation to find the
way, the truth and the life that is Jesus Christ."
Asked in a follow-up email if he was saying Evers is
removing Christ from Christmas, Kurz said he wasn't sure
what the governor's intentions are.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from
Religion Foundation, applauded Evers' decision to rename
the tree. She said the move shows the governor is trying
to be inclusive and noted the Christmas tree originates
from pagan traditions.
She also praised Evers for promoting science, saying the
real reason for the end-of-the-year holidays is the
winter solstice, the day in the northern hemisphere with
the shortest period of daylight and longest night of the
"So many people don't even know that that means," Gaylor
Evers promotes deputy after
Senate fires agriculture leader
MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers has
promoted the deputy agriculture secretary after the
Wisconsin Senate fired the head of the agency earlier
Evers' spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff on Thursday said
that Randy Romanowski will take over as interim
secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and
Consumer Protection. Romanowski has worked for a variety
of positions in state government for decades, including
eight years as the safety program chief for the State
Patrol immediately prior to being picked as the
agriculture department secretary.
Romanowski replaces Brad Pfaff. The
Republican-controlled Senate rejected Pfaff's
confirmation on Tuesday, resulting in him losing his
Evers ripped into Republicans following the vote,
calling it "BS." Republicans say they were upset with
Pfaff for pushing more restricting agriculture siting
rules and criticizing the GOP for not releasing money
for farmer suicide prevention efforts faster.
Wisconsin State Senator LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee
speaks during a press conference Thursday, Nov. 7,
2019 in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin Republicans who
control the state Legislature were expected to dodge
the Democratic governor’s call to pass a pair of gun
control bills during a special session Thursday,
even as advocates planned to increase the pressure
on them by holding a rally and flooding the
MADISON, Wis. —Wisconsin Republicans
dodged the Democratic governor's call to pass a pair of
gun control bills during a special session that ended as
soon as it began Thursday.
Gov. Tony Evers, the state attorney general, gun control
advocates and Democratic lawmakers all urged Republicans
to vote on the bills. But Republicans ignored them,
convening the special session separately in the Senate
and Assembly and adjourning within seconds without
Evers last month ordered a special session for Thursday
afternoon to address bills that would impose universal
background checks on gun sales and establish a so-called
red flag law in Wisconsin. Such laws allow family
members and police to ask judges to temporarily seize
firearms from people who may pose a threat.
Citing polls showing broad support for both ideas, Evers
said Republicans will face blowback from voters at the
next election over their inaction.
"If you refuse the people of this state a vote on these
proposals, you are once again denying the will of the
people, circumventing the democratic process, and
refusing to do your jobs as elected officials," Evers
wrote in a letter to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald on Thursday.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said
Republicans should vote or risk losing power as in an
election this week in Virginia, where gun violence was a
major campaign issue.
"Failing to act on basic public safety measures is
accepting there is nothing we can do to make our
communities safer," Hintz said. "We cannot sit back and
do nothing. We have a responsibility to act. ... The
issue's not going away. We shouldn't have to wait for
the next mass shooting to get more attention on it."
Gun control advocates including Moms Demand Action,
Doctors for America and the Episcopal Diocese of
Milwaukee rallied at the Capitol.
"We go to school every day wondering if we will be
next," Karly Scholz, a junior at Madison West High
School and the director of the Wisconsin chapter of
March for Our Lives, said at a news conference before
the rally. March for Our Lives is an anti-gun group that
formed after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
"When lawmakers say they won't even debate this issue,
I'm being told that my life doesn't matter, that my
safety doesn't matter," Scholz said. "When the young
people you refuse to protect turn 18, we will vote you
Assembly Democrats argued that the red flag bill would
do more to prevent suicides than a package of other
measures the Assembly passed that sprang from a
bipartisan suicide prevention task force.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul said lawmakers
have a chance to save lives.
"This problem isn't going to go away because the
Legislature ignores it," Kaul said.
Seventeen states have passed red flag laws. Twenty-one
states have similar universal background check laws.
But Fitzgerald and Vos insist both proposals infringe on
Second Amendment gun rights. Vos said he opposed the red
flag law because it would allow for confiscation of
weapons if there's a suspicion someone may do something
"Even when you yell fire in a crowded theater, it
happens first and you're prosecuted after," Vos said. "I
don't understand those who would want to take away our
constitutional rights on an idea or a threat." He said a
Republican-sponsored bill that would make grants
available to gun shop owners to store guns from people
who voluntarily give them up is less invasive than the
red flag proposal.
Fitzgerald, for his part, has said it makes no sense to
debate bills that won't pass without Republican support.
He convened the special session to an empty Senate
chamber and adjourned it about 30 seconds later. The
Assembly was in special session about 10 seconds.
Despite all the warnings that Republicans will pay at
the ballot box for ignoring the special session call,
it's unlikely they'll suffer much damage in 2020.
The GOP redrew legislative district lines in 2011 to
consolidate its support, leaving only a handful of truly
competitive seats. As a result, Republican incumbents
are less concerned about Democrats than they are about
primary opponents who might appear more conservative
than them. Gun rights are a basic plank in the
Republican platform; any show of support for the special
session bills or Evers would almost certainly invite
such a challenge.
Evers almost certainly understands these dynamics but
calling a special session on guns is still important to
his base and gives him a chance to remind voters where
each party stands.
passes bill expanding birth control access
MADISON — Wisconsin's
Republican-controlled Assembly has passed a bill
opposed by anti-abortion groups that would broaden
birth control access.
The bill approved
Thursday with bipartisan support would allow
pharmacists to prescribe hormonal contraceptive
patches and birth control pills to anyone 18 or older.
Under current law, only doctors can prescribe them.
oppose the measure, arguing that increasing access to
birth control encourages premarital sex and the odds
of unintended pregnancies and abortions.
the intention of Republicans, saying they are pushing
the measure to make themselves more electable.
Democrats favor a more expansive proposal that had no
age limits on who could get the birth control.
It passed on an 82-13
The bill would also
have to pass the Senate and be signed by Democratic
Gov. Tony Evers before becoming law.