Democrat Tony Evers sworn in as Wisconsin's 46th governor

January 8, 2019

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, right, is sworn in by Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Pat Roggensack as Kathy Evers watches during the inauguration ceremony at the state Capitol, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Madison, Wis.

MADISON Newly sworn-in Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called for a rejection of "the tired politics of the past" in his inauguration speech Monday, urging lawmakers to find bipartisan solutions to the biggest issues facing the state.

Evers, the state superintendent of schools since 2009, took over for Republican Scott Walker and faces a Republican-controlled Legislature that will oppose many of his biggest priorities. Republican legislative leaders, also speaking on inauguration day, echoed Evers' call for bipartisanship but said they wouldn't back down in the face of a new Democratic governor.

"We must turn the page on the tired politics of the past, we must lead by example," Evers said during his inauguration address in the rotunda of the state Capitol. "It's time to remake and repair our state and reclaim our better history. The people of Wisconsin demanded a change this November, and that change is coming."

Evers called for transcending divisiveness.

"May we have courage in our conscience," Evers said. "And may we be willing to do what's best for the next generation rather than the next election."

Former Wisconsin Governors Scott Walker, left, Jim Doyle and Scott McCallum talk before the inauguration of Tony Evers as Wisconsin's governor at the state Capitol.

Evers' ascendance as governor marks a new era in Wisconsin politics, ending eight years of Republican dominance. It also marks the first time since 1986 that all constitutional officers are Democrats.

Evers called for a return to the values of kindness, respect and civility, and he urged Republicans and Democrats to set aside party allegiances to work for a greater good. While some have said divided government is a recipe for gridlock, Evers called for compromise.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said some may expect the Assembly to "veer into the left lane" now that Evers is governor, but the body will have to move down the center and Evers won't "drive the car alone."

"I promise you over the next two years, we will not let government expand at the expense of your freedoms," Vos said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters that he opposes Evers' call to raise the minimum wage. But he's also warning GOP senators to think twice before pursuing bills on topics like abortions and "some Second Amendment stuff" that they know Evers won't sign into law.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul gets a standing ovation during his address at the inauguration of Gov. Tony Evers.

Evers emphasized his campaign priorities, including fully funding public schools "at every level" from pre-kindergarten through college; making health care more affordable and accessible; and improving the conditions of Wisconsin's roads.

"We cannot fix these problems unless people come before politics," Evers said. "We've become paralyzed by polarity and we've become content with division. We've been indifferent to resentment and governing by retribution."

This marks the first time since 2006, when Democrat Jim Doyle was governor, that the entire Legislature is controlled by the opposite party of the governor. In 2007 and 2008, Doyle was governor and Democrats had control of the Senate, but Republicans had the Assembly. In 2009 and 2010 Democrats controlled everything, and since 2011 Republicans had it all.

Walker and Doyle were joined by three other former Wisconsin governors at the inauguration: Tommy Thompson, Scott McCallum and Martin Schreiber. Among the others who attended were both of Wisconsin's U.S. senators, Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, members of Congress, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and numerous past office holders.

Evers took the oath of office from Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Pat Roggensack.

In addition to Evers, all other constitutional officers elected in November were also sworn into office. Those were Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Attorney General Josh Kaul, Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Secretary of State Doug La Follette. La Follette is the only incumbent.

Barnes, the first African American lieutenant governor in Wisconsin history, said "the gravity of this moment is not lost on me as we strive for equity."

Newly elected members of the Legislature also took office. In the Assembly, 63 Republicans and 36 Democrats were seated. Of them, eight Republicans and seven Democrats are new, including 19-year-old Kalan Haywood, the youngest member of the Legislature.

In the Senate, 11 Republicans and six Democrats took office. Of them, three Republicans and one Democrat are new. Republicans hold a 19-14 majority.

Evers issues limited health care-related executive orders

MADISON, Wis. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed a pair of executive orders Tuesday designed to fulfill his campaign pledge to increase access to affordable health care and insurance.

Without the support of the Republican Legislature, though, it will be nearly impossible for Evers to get what he wants. The executive orders call on state agencies to make recommendations and take action where they can to protect consumers with pre-existing conditions, expand health care access and make insurance more affordable.

Expanding Medicaid as Evers promised while campaigning would require the Legislature's approval. He also would need its blessing to drop Wisconsin's involvement in a multi-state lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Care Act. And while Evers has called for protecting people with pre-existing conditions, he's been lukewarm about legislative attempts to enact a state-level protection.

Evers and other Democrats instead have called for protecting the stronger guarantee in the federal law, also known as Obamacare.

One of his executive orders Tuesday calls for the state Insurance commissioner's office, Department of Health Services and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to implement plans and make recommendations on how to protect people with pre-existing conditions.

The Republican-controlled Assembly passed a state-level coverage guarantee for people with pre-existing conditions in 2017. But despite pleas from Walker for the Senate to pass it as well, the bill died there last year due to a lack of support.

It may not fare any better this year.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Monday that he wants the bill to be the first one passed this year. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he didn't want to "overpromise" and he cast doubt on whether he would order it up for a vote.

Democrats generally oppose the state's pre-existing condition protection because it doesn't go as far as the federal law's guarantee. For instance, only the federal government can regulate self-funded plans. That means people insured by more than 150 companies in Wisconsin would lose the guarantees of coverage for pre-existing conditions if the Affordable Care Act were to be repealed.

The Evers order also calls on state agencies to enhance health care plan affordability, access and consumer protection, and to guard against attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act marketplace with short term plans that aren't in accordance with the law's requirements.

Evers is also calling for the creation of insurance literacy curriculum for students and requiring insurers to provider clarity and transparency on health plan costs, coverage and benefits.

The other order Evers signed tasks the state health department with developing a plan to ensure that more people have access to quality, affordable health care by expanding Medicaid eligibility.

Evers campaigned on expanding the state's BadgerCare Plus Medicaid coverage to about 75,000 poor people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Walker did a partial expansion but limited coverage only to those at or below the poverty line.

State law requires Evers to get the Legislature's approval before Wisconsin can accept Medicaid expansion and federal money that would save the state about $180 million a year, on estimate.

Thirty-five states have taken the money, and voters in three others approved the expansion in the November election.

Associated Press