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.
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.
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
Rep.Vos@legis.Wisconsin.gov (608) 266-9171
Sen.Feyen@legis.wi.gov (608) 266-5300