The speaker insists the measures were primarily aimed at pushing back the growing power of the governor’s office and that he would have sought similar changes even if Walker had been re-elected.
“We made a mistake in the first two years after Governor Walker [took office]. We have ceded too much authority to the governor. We have been doing this for generations, ”Vos said. “So when I became a speaker, I focused on not giving any additional power to the executive. “
Whatever the motivation, it was certainly a difficult start for the relationship between the speaker and the governor.
This did not improve after Evers took office.
Vos says he requested one-on-one meetings with the governor, in the absence of staff. The Evers camp accused him of being sexist because the governor’s chief of staff is a woman.
Evers, meanwhile, recalls inviting lawmakers from both sides for a euchre night, a governor’s favorite card game and a Wisconsin culture staple with Friday fish fries. But only one Republican showed up because, according to the governor, Republican leaders warned their lawmakers not to attend.
Pandemic deepens divisions
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the relationship between Vos and Evers. Not only did they disagree on how to handle the public health crisis, the governor and speaker also lined up on different sides as Wisconsin became an electoral battleground and protests against Police brutality in the state has become deadly.
When the pandemic began, Evers wanted to postpone Wisconsin’s April presidential primary and state Supreme Court elections. Vos and other Republicans filed a series of lawsuits to block the governor’s actions and won, meaning the state held an in-person election (photos of Milwaukee voters lining up to vote in person circulated in the country) while the governor remains in order at home was still in effect.
Vos volunteered as an electoral officer on election day and conducted an interview with a local newspaper where he assured voters he was “incredibly safe to get out.” The video showed him wearing latex gloves, a surgical mask, glasses and a plastic gown. He later clarified that the municipal electoral agency for which he had volunteered required all poll workers to wear protective equipment, but Democrats laughed at him for pushing for an in-person election under these circumstances anyway.
Later that month, Vos and Fitzgerald filed a lawsuit to prevent the Evers administration from extending a stay-at-home order, arguing it would leave Wisconsin’s economy “in shambles.” The conservative majority of the state’s Supreme Court agreed in May, and Wisconsin became the first state where a court struck down a governor’s restrictions on coronaviruses.
The High Court reprimand left Evers with fewer options as the pandemic spread. He did not issue a mask warrant until July, after most governors had already done so. Vos and Fitzgerald backed an unsuccessful effort to overturn the mask’s mandate last fall, but ultimately the state Supreme Court also ruled out Evers from requiring masks in March.
Protests against police brutality erupted in August 2020 in Kenosha, not far from where Vos lives, after a white policeman shot dead a black man, Jacob Blake, seven times and left him paralyzed.
The governor tried to convene the Wisconsin legislature – which had been largely absent in Madison in 2020 – into a special session to deal with police misconduct. As might be expected, Vos adjourned the session as soon as it began.
The Republican president also criticized Evers for failing to call on the National Guard to disperse the protests. He blamed the governor after Illinois teenager Kyle Rittenhouse shot three protesters and killed two.
“These people didn’t have to die,” Vos said in a radio interview at the time. “But, because of Tony Evers’ actions, they died. … People literally died, because people had to take charge in trying to protect their own property.
As the November elections approached, the governor tried to blame Vos and other Republicans for not taking the Covid-19 crisis seriously. Evers wasn’t even on the ballot last year, but Vos was. The speaker took on the best-funded Democratic challenger of his career in that election, thanks to outside groups who wanted to shake up the speaker. Vos won easily. Still, he admitted he was nervous about the outcome. When he won, he called the vote a “repudiation of Tony Evers’ style of leadership.”
The pandemic is by no means over, but the governor says Vos and other Republican lawmakers have done more to harm, rather than help, the state’s recovery efforts.
“They weren’t in session for 300 days during the pandemic,” Evers said in an interview. “The work that was done in the state of Wisconsin, which I’m proud of – getting the PPE, making sure we get shots, making sure we had a good testing program – all things that happened during this pandemic, we did it alone. The legislature has nothing to do with it except to make it harder for people.
The speaker said the pandemic had underlined the power wielded by governors across the country, and he feared too many of them were not working with their legislatures as the pandemic progressed.
Vos argues that it is the legislatures that should take the initiative.
“I want the legislature never to falter because we are the most representative body in the country,” Vos said. “We are the ones holding public hearings. We are the ones where you can call someone and get a call back. You can go to a town hall anywhere in the state and talk to a lawmaker because we’re so accessible.
“There is no responsibility”
Democrats resent Wisconsin’s legislature being ‘representative’, due to what they see as gerrymandered districts that prevent Democrats in urban areas like Milwaukee and Madison from getting their votes counted in the House of state. (A panel of federal judges also redesigned two legislative districts as part of the GOP’s original plan, because they found the districts would have weakened the voting power of Hispanics.)
Hintz, the leader of the Democratic Assembly, says district maps protect Republican lawmakers from repercussions at the polls.
“The president and Republicans have stifled the legislative process because they don’t want Governor Evers to succeed,” Hintz said. “So they have fewer days scheduled, we meet fewer days, we pass fewer bills, and the governor signs fewer laws. And there is no responsibility, because there is no chance that they will lose their seat.
But Evers could erase some of the Republicans’ advantages in the upcoming legislative elections. Governor can veto any redistribution plan Republican lawmakers now argue that the new census figures are released, which would likely send the decision on which maps to use up to the courts. (Democrats have already filed a lawsuit trying to get federal judges to draw new maps.)
It’s no guarantee Democrats will win in the 2022 parliamentary election, but it’s probably better than trying to win according to the maps the Republicans drew ten years ago.
The governor and Republican lawmakers also recently clashed over the rules for the upcoming election. Evers vetoed six GOP bills that would have made it more difficult for voters to obtain and use postal ballots, impose restrictions on voting in nursing homes and intensify monitoring of local election officials.
This came after Vos announced that the Assembly would hire its own investigators, including a former state Supreme Court judge, to investigate what he called irregularities in the 2020 election. Vos said that he viewed Joe Biden as the winner of the state’s presidential contest, but he raised questions about the disparities in the way officials from Wisconsin’s 1,850 municipalities ran their elections.