Tony Evers Becomes Wisconsin's 46th Governor on January 7, 2019 (Courtesy: dma.wi.gov)
Tony Evers Becomes Wisconsin's 46th Governor on January 7, 2019 (Courtesy: dma.wi.gov)

New governor, attorney general, treasurer take actions on climate crisis, women’s health, drug treatment, LGBTQ recognition

Politics doesn’t collect a lot of love from the average person, and there’s ample reason for that: scandals, impeachment, division, gridlock, tweets and trash talk, just for starters. But look a little deeper and even a disagreeable ol’ cuss of a year like 2019 can offer some moments of progress, hope and happiness for a lot of people who would otherwise think politics has no impact on their daily lives.

Before reviewing those positive developments, it must be acknowledged that there remains a long to-do list for Wisconsin leaders who want to see more people covered by Medicaid, more minimum wage workers get a raise, more corporate tax breaks to be dialed back, more residents to get high-speed internet service, fewer workers facing barriers to collective bargaining, stronger rules on factory farms, and reform of Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts. 

Governor Tony Evers occasionally makes the case that certain topics are neither a Republican nor a Democratic issue, but with bipartisan agreements few and far between, the new governor, new attorney general and new state treasurer have found other ways to make an impact on issues ranging from crime and courts to climate change, women’s health, and celebrating diversity.

Gov. Evers made his mark primarily through issuing 63 Executive Orders. While many are ceremonial in nature, others are designed to achieve goals that the governor finds elusive in the legislative branch. Evers used one such order in June to bring home National Guard troops that former Gov. Scott Walker had dispatched to the border with Mexico at the request of President Trump in June 2018.

The climate crisis gained renewed attention with the change of governors. In October, Evers created a task force that will examine ways to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. A report is due in August 2020.

And the elections of Governor Evers, new Attorney General Josh Kaul and new State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski also eliminated a ban on any climate change advocacy by the members and employees of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands on which Kaul and Godlewski sit. Previous treasurer Matt Adamczyk initially sought an outright ban on board members and staff even discussing related issues such as climate change impacts on the 77,000 acres of state-owned timberland. 

Attorney General Kaul announced in November that a five-year backlog of untested rape kits had been eliminated. Of the 4,471 kits tested, 1,029 cases of DNA not belonging to the victim had been entered into a national database. And at least 12 criminal cases were filed because of the testing.

The odds improved in 2019 that people facing both drug addiction and non-violent criminal charges will have access to treatment as the state and counties expand diversion and substance abuse options rather than a prison-only approach. Kaul’s office reports 53 counties and three tribes have established some form of treatment and diversion programs.

The new governor served as a check on the legislature, using his veto power on portions of the new state budget and other bills. In the area of women’s reproductive health rights, Evers vetoed four bills including one that would have cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, a significant provider of affordable care to 60,000 people in Wisconsin last year. Another bill would have required physicians to furnish potentially faulty information about chemically induced abortions.

The governor also made history in June with a first-of-its kind executive order that called for the LGBTQ pride flag to be flown over that state capitol during Pride Month.

“Publicly displaying the Rainbow Pride Flag sends a clear and unequivocal message that Wisconsin is a welcoming and inclusive place where everyone can live without fear of persecution, judgment, or discrimination,” Evers’ order said.