Wisconsin GOP: The War Continues


Even if you did not support or vote for Tony Evers for governor in 2018, you had to admire what he went through to win the Democratic Party nomination and then defeat incumbent Republican Scott Walker in the general election. Think about it: in the primary season, Evers had to find a way to distinguish himself from what at one point was at least 16 other declared candidates (and ultimately 10 on the ballot). The fact that he had name recognition as the elected leader of the Department of Public Instruction gave him some advantage, but on the other hand it also set him up to be the prime target of his opponents. Then in the general election he had to find a way to prevail over the Scott Walker machine of big money donors, nasty broadcast and social media ads, a lazy establishment media that’s usually not good for challengers, and other tried and tested tools of divide and conquer. Many citizens and pundits who follow these matters closely, myself included, were not at all sure that the mild-mannered Evers would emerge victorious against a man (Scott Walker) who just a few years earlier was recognized as a rising star of the national Republican Party.

Tony Evers found a way to come out on top in a crowded Democratic primary, and then defeated Scott Walker. Now he faces what might be his toughest battle: taking on the hyper-partisan Republican majority in the legislature.

But emerge victorious Evers did. Now he has to find a way to deal with the Republican legislature, a political hardball outfit led by a group of fierce partisans addicted to what in a previous column I called the “politics as war” style. The Republican are getting ready to use their majority to limit some of Evers’ powers, potentially leading the state toward a constitutional crisis before the new Governor is even sworn in. The Wisconsin State Journal has a good summary of the bills–released late Friday and expected to be voted on this coming Tuesday–that these GOP lame duck sore losers will ram through the legislature absent a strong statement of opposition by We the People. Not only do they go after Evers’ and incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul’s powers, but they will also try to limit early voting and rig the 2020 primary dates so that the conservative candidate has a better chance to win. The always astute John Nichols in this column  shows how the Republican leaders can no longer win the battle of ideas, so instead they have to engage in this really pathetic effort to cheat the will of the voters. Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin puts it more bluntly:

It takes a special type of arrogance and hubris when your political party receives fewer statewide votes in state legislative elections, and the other political party sweeps all of the statewide constitutional offices – and then you move to increase your own partisan political power and diminish that of the winning party, particularly that of the incoming Governor. And in the process of doing that, you deliberately thwart the will of the voters and further defile democracy.

Watching the Republican leaders get so rattled by Tony Evers’s victory got me to thinking of a controversy from the most recent baseball season. Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves, who went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year honors, really started to heat up in August. For some reason he hit especially well against the Miami Marlins, in August even hitting lead off home runs in both games of a doubleheader against them. The Marlins just could not get him out.

On August 15th Acuña led off the game against the Marlins’ Jose Ureña. The first pitch hit Acuña in the elbow, resulting in a bench clearing brawl and getting Ureña suspended for six games. Watching the replay, it was pretty clear that the pitch was meant to hit Acuña; another inch and the pitch probably would have broken Acuña’s elbow and put him out for the season.

What does this have to do with Tony Evers v. the Republicans? The Marlins and Ureña were apparently so rattled and threatened by Acuña’s success that they felt they could no longer play fair and square with him. Instead they chose literally to throw AT him, in the process almost ending Acuña’s season while bringing shame to themselves and to the game of baseball. If a pitcher can’t get a batter out, the answer is to become a better pitcher–not to eliminate the batter from the competition.

So what we’ve got in Wisconsin right now is a Jose Ureña legislature. They cannot handle the fact that Tony Evers, at full-strength, might defeat them in the battle of ideas and public policy options. To this point Evers, like Acuña, is guilty only of doing his job well. The Republican leaders, like Ureña, just don’t have the confidence they can win in a fair competition. They have to intimidate through a show of force, in the process destroying their own credibility.

To his credit, Evers has refused to give in to the intimidation tactics. He has correctly noted that the lame duck session is an attempt to invalidate the results of the election. He said“I think it’s the wrong message, I think it is an embarrassment for the state and I think we can stop it.” Don’t expect the Ureña legislature to do anything but continue to aim for the elbow–that’s what they’ve been taught to do over the last eight years and, absent any compelling policy ideas to move the state forward what else do they really have? 

Tony Evers overcame a mountain of obstacles to get the Democratic nomination, and he won the general election fair and square. What the Republican leaders are proposing to do in the lame duck session is the moral equivalent of a baseball team trying to injure a batter who’s having success at the plate. Baseball is only a game; unfortunately the game the Republican leadership in Madison is playing has real impacts on the integrity of democratic institutions and  peoples’ lives.

No one, including Governor-elect Evers, is expecting the Republican leadership to roll over and rubber stamp the policy ideas he was elected on. But what we all should expect is that the Republican leaders respect the will of the voters. To my knowledge, not one legislative candidate ran for office on a platform of limiting the powers of the Governor or Attorney General. How the heck can that then become the subject of a lame duck session?

For Wisconsin to move forward we need open minds and debates carried out in good faith, not eleventh hour power grabs that are the equivalent of aiming a 98 mph fastball at a batter’s elbow.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald need to hear from citizens across the state. If you are in Oshkosh, tell Senator Dan Feyen and Representative Mike Schraa that we did not send them to Madison to be foot soldiers for their party’s leadership in some hyper-partisan politics as war game.

Let’s contact our legislators and let them know that a lame duck session to continue the politics of war is not acceptable. The legislative hotline number is 1-800-362-9472. Find your legislators here. Be sure to contact Assembly Leader Vos and Senate Leader Fitzgerald: 

Sen.Fitzgerald@legis.wisconsin.gov  (608) 266-5660 

(608) 266-9171

Sen.Feyen@legis.wi.gov (608) 266-5300

Rep.Schraa@legis.wisconsin.gov (608)267-7990



About Author

Tony Palmeri

Tony Palmeri is a Professor of Communication Studies at UW Oshkosh. He teaches courses in rhetoric and public advocacy, freedom of speech, the rhetoric of rock and roll, and the communication career capstone. He maintains a blog called "Tony Palmeri's Media Rants." Tony served two terms on the Oshkosh Common Council and ran for state legislature in 1996 and 2004. You can find more information about him at www.tonypalmeri.com


  1. When I met Tony Evers in the Oshkosh Democratic Party office, maybe a month ago, I told him about this book and he told me he would read it. It finds that the Kochs have decided that democracy is the ultimate obstacle to their agenda, so it has to go. Perhaps you should check it out, too. (The author has also had several appearances on C-Span, which are available on their website):

    ‘Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America’
    by Nancy MacLean.

    “It’s not a secret legacy. Some of James M. Buchanan’s intellectual heirs have remarked on how closely his school of political economy mirrors that of John C. Calhoun’s. Alexander Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, two economics professors at the core of the operation funded and overseen by Charles Koch at George Mason University, Buchanan’s last home, have called the antebellum South Carolina senator “a precursor of modern public choice theory,” another name for the stream of thought pioneered by Buchanan. Both Buchanan and Calhoun, the coauthors observe, were concerned with the “failure of democracy to preserve liberty.” In particular, Buchanan and Calhoun both alleged a kind of class conflict between “tax producers and tax consumers.” Both depicted politics as a realm of exploitation and coercion, but the economy as a realm of free exchange. And both designed inventive ways to safeguard minority rights that went beyond the many protections already enshrined in the Constitution.2 Calhoun and Buchanan both devised constitutional mechanisms to protect an elite economic minority against “exploitation” by majorities of their fellow citizens, and advocated a minority veto power that, as the acolytes note, had “the same purpose and effect.”3 Both thinkers sought ways to restrict what voters could achieve together in a democracy to what the wealthiest among them would agree to.4”

  2. So desperate were the outgoing governor and state legislative majority to pass what amounted to a sweetheart deal for some of their biggest political backers that they did what was until then unthinkable—they sprang Jeff Wood from jail so he could vote.

    Even though he was serving a 60-day sentence and had drugs in his vehicle during two of his four drunk-driving arrests, a sympathetic judge agreed to let him out on work release for just long enough to be a forgotten man no more.

    Eight years later, though, he is forgotten again; an uncomfortable reminder that the Republican-led Legislature’s supposedly unprecedented lame-duck session “power grab” isn’t unprecedented at all.

    In 2010, after Scott Walker led a Republican wave that recaptured the governor’s mansion as well as both houses of the State Legislature, outgoing Democrat Jim Doyle pushed through union contracts that he determined would be a better deal for upwards of 39,000 state workers than anything his successor would offer.

    Through truly staggering fiscal mismanagement, Doyle had left Walker with a $3.3 billion budget shortfall that Democrats believed the new governor would try to close by forcing unionized employees to pay more for their health care contributions.

    They needed every vote they could get, but had a big problem: Jeff Wood, a Republican-turned-Independent who voted with Assembly Democrats, was stuck in jail.
    Rather than allow that to happen once they lost both the executive and legislative branches, Assembly and Senate Democrats called a lame-duck session to approve Doyle’s new union contracts.

    They needed every vote they could get, but had a big problem: Jeff Wood, a Republican-turned-Independent who voted with Assembly Democrats, was stuck in jail.

    This turned out to be less of a problem than the State Senate, as Wood’s vote turned out to be meaningless when Democratic Senators Russ Decker and Jeff Plale unexpectedly sided with Republicans and rejected the contracts.

    Unneeded and forgotten again, Jeff Wood returned to jail and served out the remainder of his sentence, only to be convicted of fifth-offense OWI less than a year later.

    Democrats today would rather he stay forgotten, because his jailbreak tends to disprove the notion that Republicans today are doing anything that outgoing Democrats wouldn’t have tried in 2010.

    Wisconsin’s media, too, is trying its level best to keep Jeff Wood a forgotten man–refusing even to write his name in countless editorials blasting the GOP’s alleged power grab.

    “The bottom line is beyond debate: Walker lost, yet the governor and his cronies are still grabbing at power,” The Capital TimesEditorial Board wrote Tuesday. “Instead of recognizing the will of the people, Walker, [Assembly Speaker Robin] Vos and [Senate Majority Leader Scott] Fitzgerald are doing everything in their waning power to thwart it. That’s antithetical to Wisconsin values, and to Wisconsin democracy.”

    Eight years ago, however, the same Editorial Board all but begged outgoing Democrats to hold a lame-duck session to “end [Democratic control of state government] on a high note that could set the tone for the coming decade.”

    The board openly urged a lame-duck governor, lame-duck Assembly, and lame-duck Senate to completely overhaul campaign finance disclosure in the state and thus end “the decay of our political process.”
    Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell

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