Evers assigns 'homework' to GOP-controlled Legislature


January 10, 2020


FILE - In this Dec. 19, 2019, file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers sits for an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Madison, Wisc. Evers is assigning "homework" to the Republican-controlled Legislature. Evers, a former teacher and state superintendent of schools, has sent a letter to legislative leaders on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, calling on them to spend more money on combating homelessness, restrict the use of water-polluting chemicals and close a loophole that lowers property taxes for large retail stores.

MADISON — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, a former teacher and state superintendent of schools, assigned “homework” to the Republican-controlled Legislature on Thursday, calling on them to spend more money on combating homelessness, restrict the use of water-polluting chemicals and close a loophole that lowers property taxes for large retail stores.

But Republicans gave Evers a failing grade for his approach.

“I thought I had a good meeting with the governor last week where we discussed priorities,” Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement. “But giving a coequal branch of government ‘homework’ in a condescending letter won’t help him grow support for an agenda with Senate Republicans. The tone of this letter is ridiculous."

Republican Sen. Dave Craig said in a Twitter message that Evers couldn't assign homework to the Legislature.

“Just checked Article V of the Wisconsin Constitution and did not find 'authority to assign homework' under 'Powers and duties'... #CivicsClass,” Craig tweeted.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who invited Evers to give his State of the State speech with a snarky letter that noted unemployment had increased since Evers took office, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Many of the issues detailed by Evers in the letter to Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have bipartisan support. But Evers does not name issues Republicans have said they intend to take up, including cutting property taxes.

The Legislature is scheduled to return to work next week but will be in session only a handful of days before adjourning for the session, perhaps as soon as February. Evers said in his letter that he hoped the Legislature would remain in session as long as necessary to act on the priorities he laid out.

“The people of Wisconsin elected us to show up and get to work, so I look forward to working with you in the new year to continue moving Wisconsin forward, together,” he wrote.

Republicans have shown little interest in passing many of the priorities of Evers and the Democrats. Evers called a special session of the Legislature to act on gun control measures, but Republicans refused to debate them. The Senate also fired Evers' agriculture department secretary and nine other members of Evers' Cabinet remain in limbo.

Evers did not renew the call for lawmakers to take up the gun control bills in his letter Thursday. Instead, he focused on seven areas where bills have already been introduced, including five that have bipartisan support.

They are:

— Capping the cost of insulin at $100 for a 30-day supply. The measure has no Republican co-sponsors.

— Closing the “dark store” loophole that allows retail stores to pay less in property taxes by having vacant stores taxed at a lower value. The bill has bipartisan support.

— Directing the state Department of Natural Resources to create and enforce new standards to reduce the level of pollution-causing chemicals known as PFAS in the water supply. No Republicans support the bill.

— Doing more to prevent sex trafficking in Wisconsin. One bill would not allow children to be charged with prostitution if they are victims of sex trafficking. Another would impose a mandatory $5,000 fine for people convicted of patronizing or soliciting a prostitute. Both have bipartisan support.

— Preventing future backlogs of sexual assault testing kits. Evers named two bills that have bipartisan support. Passing the measures also has the backing of Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and victims of sexual assaults who have lobbied the Legislature to take action.

— Spending more to fight homelessness. A bipartisan package of bills spending $3.7 million a year has passed the Assembly, but it remains stalled in the Senate because of opposition from some of the most conservative senators who question the spending.

— Reimbursing local municipalities for the costs of administering special elections. The bill has bipartisan support.

Longtime Democratic Wisconsin state senator to retire

FILE - In this March 12, 2011 file photo, state Sen. Dave Hansen speaks at a rally outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. Hansen, a longtime Democratic Wisconsin state legislator announced Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, that he will retire when his current term ends next January.

MADISON, Wis. —  Longtime Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen said Thursday that he'll retire rather than seek re-election this fall, creating an open seat in a Republican-leaning region and making it that much harder for his party to win the majority in the chamber.

Hansen has represented the Green Bay and Marinette areas since 2001, even though the northeastern Wisconsin district is strongly Republican. Known for his bellowing speeches on the Senate floor, he served as majority leader during the 2009-11 legislative session.

Republicans tried to recall him and seven other Democratic senators in 2011 after the caucus fled to Illinois in a futile attempt to block a vote on then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker's signature bill stripping public employees of their union rights. Hansen survived the recall but the GOP seemed to target his seat during every election cycle, believing he was vulnerable because of the district's conservative bent.

Hansen said in a statement Thursday that he'll retire when his current term ends next January. He said he turned 72 in December and wants to spend more time with his family.

“I believe had I chosen to run again I would win,” Hansen said. “But as anyone who knows me will tell you, Jane (his wife) and my family are the most important people in the world to me and it is important to me that I spend more time with them at this stage of our lives.”

Hansen's decision hurts Democrats' hopes for making gains in the Senate in November. Republicans currently hold a 19-14 advantage in the chamber. Hansen's decision to step down means Republicans won't have to face an incumbent, making their path to capturing his seat easier in a district that already leans their way.

Possible GOP candidates could include state Reps. John Nygren of Marinette, the powerful co-chairman of the Legislature's finance committee, and John Macco of DePere.

Nygren said in a text that he was focused on his legislative priorities and would “consider any opportunity in coming days.”

Maaco didn't immediately return a message left at his state Capitol office.

The other state representative in Hansen's district, Staush Gruszynski of Green Bay, is a Democrat but he's on the outs with his party after he was accused of sexually harassing a legislative employee.

Democratic leaders have stripped him of his committee assignments and have asked him to resign but he has refused to step down.

Gruszynski said in an email that he's focused on winning re-election to the Assembly this fall.

Katie Iliff, executive director of the State Senate Democratic Committee, which works to elect Democratic candidates to the Senate, said the party knows retaining Hansen's seat will be a fight. But Hansen has laid the groundwork in the district, she said.

“We are excited for the opportunity to talk to voters over the net 10 months about Senate Democrats' vision for the future of Wisconsin,” she said.

Republican state Rep. Bob Kulp, who has represented portions of Marathon, Clark and Wood counties in central Wisconsin since 2013, also said Thursday that he won't seek re-election this fall. He said in a Facebook post that he never intended to make serving in the Legislature a career and that his family and faith has been “taking a bigger slice of my consciousness lately.”

Evers, Democrats push bills to cut prison population

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers and fellow Democratic lawmakers have introduced a series of proposals designed to reduce overcrowded prisons, but without support from Republican leaders they are unlikely to gain traction in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Evers told the Wisconsin State Journal in an interview published Thursday that he hoped the bills would spur a bipartisan discussion on the need to address the state's rising prison population, which is expected to reach 25,000 inmates by 2021. Evers campaigned on the pledge to cut the state's prison population in half.

"At the end of the day, this has to be something that is embraced by both parties,” Evers said. “This is an issue that I think transcends Republicans and Democrats. … If we don’t take this first step we could be the last state that embraces criminal justice reform, and I just can’t imagine why we want to be in that position.”

The bills would set incarceration limits for non-criminal supervision violations, extend earned release eligibility to include vocational or educational programs and expand on a compliance credit to allow for shortened community supervision options. The measures, introduced by Rep. Evan Goyke and Sen. Lena Taylor, both of Milwaukee, applies only to nonviolent offenders.

While no Republicans co-authored the bills, Goyke said the proposals were crafted following months of bipartisan collaboration.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have majority party leaders on these bills, but I think as we go through the halls and knock on their doors we’re going to get a lot more Republican support than we had in previous sessions,” Goyke said.

Republican Neumann decides against run for Congress

MADISON, Wis.  — Republican Matt Neumann will not run for Congress, leaving state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald as the only announced GOP candidate so far for the conservative district covering a large swath of Milwaukee's suburbs.

Neumann told WisPolitics.com in a story published Thursday that he is not going to pursue running in Wisconsin's 5th Congressional District. The seat is open due to the retirement of Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner after serving more than 40 years in the House. Democrat Tom Palzewicz, who lost to Sensenbrenner with 38% of the vote in 2018, is also running.

Neumann, 37, is the son of former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann who served two terms in Congress in the 1990s. The younger Neumann has never run for office and he told WisPolitics.com that he decided against the bid for Congress because of the stress it would put on his young family. He has four children between the ages of 2 and 8.

Neumann said he told Fitzgerald that he would support him in the race. Neumann works in his family's home building business and said he may run for office at some point in the future.

Democrat Polack announces bid for Congress against Steil

MADISON — Democratic political newcomer Roger Polack announced Wednesday that he is running for Congress in southeast Wisconsin, challenging Republican freshman Rep. Bryan Steil.

Polack, in a series of tweets announcing his candidacy, promised not to take any campaign money from corporate political action committees. A native of Racine, he also highlighted his background working as a civilian intelligence officer and policy adviser for the U.S. Treasury Department between 2007 and 2017. He then worked as an attorney for nearly three years before launching his campaign.

“I’ll bring the same tenacity to Congress that I brought while serving our country for a decade as an intelligence analyst and senior advisor working to take on the Taliban, to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and to protect our country from harmful foreign investments," Polack said in a campaign announcement.

Polack joins Democrat Josh Pade, a Kenosha attorney and 2018 candidate for governor, and Kenosha attorney Angela Cunningham in seeking to challenge Steil. The primary is Aug. 11 and the general election is Nov. 3.

Steil was elected in 2018, replacing former House Speaker Paul Ryan, and is completing his first term in Congress. His campaign spokesman Alex Walker did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The 1st Congressional District borders Illinois and covers Kenosha and Racine counties, most of Walworth County and portions of Rock, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. It includes the cities of Janesville, Kenosha and Racine.

Associated Press