Put another way: How will life change in Wisconsin next year if Evers isn’t playing the role of goalie to Republicans’ legislative slapshots?
With more than 40 bills vetoed last week by Gov. Tony Evers—bringing his total to 98, the most ever for a Wisconsin governor—the transition has been made from a time of legislating to a time of campaigning for the upcoming midterms.
Taken together, they provide a playbook of how Republicans could impact daily life in Wisconsin next year if Evers is defeated in November and his veto pen can no longer be wielded like a hockey goalie’s oversized stick.
Before outlining what got passed but didn’t get past the governor, it’s appropriate to note that it didn’t always used to be this way. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats worked together more harmoniously to reach compromises on bills that addressed the challenges and opportunities facing the state. But when Evers defeated incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in 2018, Republican lawmakers responded to the usual post-election calls for unity by stripping away some powers of the governor’s office even before Evers could be sworn into office.
They were just getting started.
To this day, more than three years later, Republican senators have refused to confirm many of Evers’ nominees for various posts. The governor’s requests for special legislative sessions to address important problems have almost always been dismissed. And Republicans are allowing a nearly $4 billion surplus to sit unused, choosing not to work with the governor on ways to help taxpayers, schools, entrepreneurs, farmers, infrastructure, and a state economy struggling with a pre-pandemic labor shortage.
Instead, the Legislature has chosen to write, debate, and send to Evers nearly 100 bills destined for legislative purgatory as a way of signaling its intentions for 2023—because that’s when GOP lawmakers meet next to write a new batch of bills. They’ve put themselves on a paid break for the rest of 2022 rather than finding common ground with Evers on any of the vetoed bills.
Here’s how life would be different in Wisconsin without some of those 98 vetoes.
- Your coworkers would be less likely to be immunized against COVID-19 because a state law would have required your employer to accept that a worker’s claim of natural immunity is equal to getting vaccinated, even though that’s not true. Fewer vaccinated coworkers would make it easier for workplaces to become the superspreaders they were earlier in the pandemic, when hundreds of non-healthcare workplaces each month were being investigated.
- Your local schools would face a higher risk of becoming a hub of community transmission under a state law that would have banned school districts from requiring face masks on students. Mask safeguards have been greatly diminished as vaccinations have reduced the incidence and seriousness of cases—something recognized by new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says masks need not be required unless local infection rates start to climb into dangerous territory again. But the law would have removed the flexibility to bring safeguards back in those situations.
- You would have less confidence that someone near you in public has been properly trained for the loaded gun they’re carrying. When concealed carry laws were first proposed in Wisconsin, there were assurances of proper training and background checks. The new law would recognize gun permits from states that don’t require either. Guns would no longer be banned in vehicles on school grounds or in churches on the grounds of a private school.
- The labor market has come back to life, but you’d be less likely to have a safety net during a future job loss because the state would give your former boss more reasons to claim you shouldn’t get unemployment benefits—and if you did get them, they’d be more likely to get cut off if you refuse to take almost whatever job is offered.
- Life in this hypothetical Wisconsin would include fewer courses on ethnic studies or diversity because the law would allow students at the University of Wisconsin to substitute a course on the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights as an adequate replacement. There would also be fewer public employees learning how to identify and break the cycle of systemic racism because a new law would have prohibited that kind of training from being required by state agencies.
- More police would be able to storm into homes without any warning under a law protecting “no-knock” search warrants, a method that often turns deadly for innocent people inside. One New York Times investigation identified at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers killed in such raids from 2010-2016.
- While the Legislature refused to spend a surplus of taxpayer dollars, it would have had a say in spending federal coronavirus relief funds—or likely blocked Evers from spending the money, which was specifically allocated to governors in order to avoid such legislative obstruction. In one area alone, Evers’ plans to award $50 million in small business grants has already helped more than 3,400 businesses and non-profit organizations across all 72 counties.
- Life would be much different across Wisconsin on every Election Day. Nursing home residents would be less likely to receive assistance obtaining, filling out, and returning absentee ballots because staff would fear being charged with a crime for helping the elderly and disabled to vote.
- Local election clerks, similarly chilled by language threatening punishment for assisting voters, would likely face a shortage of volunteer poll workers and more outdated equipment because private pro-democracy groups could not provide help to make up for Republican budget cuts and local levy limits.
- The election results themselves would have less public confidence, and not merely from whichever side lost a race. The Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) would be weakened considerably by a Legislature that could overrule or delay WEC guidance. And more voters would show up to cast a ballot only to discover they had been removed from the voter rolls because checks and balances to prevent mistaken deletions would have been removed.
This hypothetical Wisconsin does not exist in 2022 because of Evers’ vetoes. Could it be the Wisconsin of 2023? No, it would be even more different with a new governor because the lack of any threatened veto would mean better odds for other bills that didn’t quite reach Evers’ desk—and better odds of success for ideas that hadn’t even become bills.
If that sounds far-fetched, remember that Scott Walker never campaigned in 2010 on a platform of removing public sector workers’ rights, but he proposed Act 10 shortly after becoming governor. And in 2014, he said union-busting “right to work” legislation was a “distraction” and not a priority—but he signed a bill into law shortly after winning reelection.
The newly vetoed bills make up only some of the themes we’ll see during the 2022 campaign. Others—including more election restrictions, limits on reproductive rights, and bans on teaching parts of American history—have as much a chance of becoming law in 2023 as anything that Evers’ veto pen kept from the statute books in 2022.