Our interview with Gov. Tony Evers, who defeated Scott Walker by 1.1% in 2018 and will face a tenacious Republican effort to deny him a second term.
Gov. Tony Evers is frustrated— just like many Wisconsin voters. But it’s Evers who’s on the ballot this November, and voters may not know or appreciate his frustration with Republicans who control the Legislature. In a little more than two weeks Evers will find out which Republican will be on the ballot opposing him—a Republican trying to channel voter frustration into denying Evers a second term.
In a wide-ranging one-on-one conversation with UpNorthNews, Evers discussed his re-election campaign plans, Republican obstruction, and the impact of that obstruction (and his accomplishments) on the people of Wisconsin.
On what Evers would do on Day One of his second term…
“I would hope to be able to put the people of Wisconsin in a position to continue having some of the best public schools in the country. That would likely mean talking about a budget that keeps class sizes low, deals with issues of mental health, and continues our good work in special education funding,” he said.
“Schools have taken it on the chin in the last couple years because of the pandemic and other reasons. The people of Wisconsin need to understand how important public schools are and how important it is to invest in them.”
DID YOU KNOW? Nearly 86% of Wisconsin students attend public school, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, while another 12% are enrolled in a private school and 2% are homeschooled.
On what he would call his proudest accomplishment…
“Over the past three years, we’ve really been able to make a difference financially in our schools,” Evers explained.
“We’ve been able to convince Republicans to increase funding for special education, making sure that mental health was a priority. Those are some wins that we did have and I think our schools are better off because we did that.”
FACT CHECK: The current 2021-2023 budget increased school funding by $128 million, less than 10% of what Evers first proposed.
On what’s standing in the way between Wisconsin schools and the top-ranked schools in the country…
“If we want to be #1, we need to be number one in the entire state and not just in a handful of school districts. That means focusing on places like Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha, which have historically faced underachievement based on skin color and inaccessible health care.”
FACT CHECK: Wisconsin public schools jumped from 18 (under former Gov. Scott Walker) to 8 (under Evers) in US News & World Report’s national rankings. The report scores schools based on students’ college readiness, state assessment performance, and graduation rate.
On what issues he’s willing to find compromise…
“We could try a whole bunch of things, but it hasn’t worked yet,” Evers said, of working with Republicans to get things done on behalf of Wisconsinites. “We’ve offered special sessions.”
“I’m open. Our door is open. We continue to reach out and hear nothing.”
“That said, we’re not going to give up,” Evers added. “It’s important to find compromise. We’ve done it in the past in certain areas. Schools are a great example. We added more funding to the last budget and look what that did.”
DID YOU KNOW? Wisconsin has one of the least-active full-time legislatures in the country, according to a 2020 WisPolitics analysis which found lawmakers went more than 300 days without passing a single bill.
On what’s causing Wisconsin’s lack of legislative action…
“Every time we’ve attempted to have a special session, they don’t show up,” Evers said, calling out Republicans.
“When they don’t come in to take it up, they’re saying they’re not willing to do it at all. Whether it’s been on gun safety, marijuana legalization, you name it.”
FACT CHECK: Republicans in charge of the Assembly have allowed just seven of 263 bills authored by Democrats to receive a hearing this session. High-profile legislation that went nowhere includes: a package to raise teachers’ pay to tackle Wisconsin’s worsening teacher shortage, a bill to create a hate crime reporting portal in response to the increase in racially-targeted attacks, and a package aimed at fighting climate change.
On where he’s not willing to negotiate…
“Given what’s happened in the Supreme Court of the United States, we need to keep what we’ve got,” the governor said, referring to a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, which was the law of the land until the Court last month ruled against five decades of precedent in Roe v. Wade.
“Nothing less, nothing less, nothing less.”
“We had a system in place for 50 years where women of Wisconsin knew what their rights were, and that’s where we have to be,” he added. “Nothing less than that.”
DID YOU KNOW? Evers promised to grant clemency to any doctors charged under the state’s archaeic 1849 law banning most abortions. That law, enacted more than a century before Roe v. Wade, has technically retaken effect following June’s Supreme Court decision.
On what he’d say to frustrated voters…
“I’m frustrated too. I’m frustrated with them,” Evers said, speaking of Wisconsin voters. “And I know there are Republicans that are frustrated also.”
“I know I will continue to do everything in my power to continue to reach out and not draw lines in the sand. I think it’s possible.”
On Republican obstruction…
“Think about this: I can’t even get my appointees to boards approved. My appointees to boards,” Evers explained. “There hasn’t been a peaceful transition of power in that world.”
“It has nothing to do with my appointees. It has all to do with Republicans not wanting to participate in democracy. This is a new thing. The ability of the Republicans to handcuff me was evident right from the beginning.”
FACT CHECK: Barring any special session (called by the governor) or extraordinary session (when lawmakers call themselves into session), the Wisconsin Legislature may be done legislating until Jan. 3, 2023, when Evers is either sworn in for a second term or a new governor is inaugurated.
On what will happen if he doesn’t win re-election…
“The most dramatic and draconian effort to make Wisconsin women a second-class citizen. That’s assured. It’s also assured voting rights will be in a far-less place than it is right now. Fewer people will vote. People will be suppressed. Those are just a few things we can count on,” the governor said, adding, “I don’t think about it because I anticipate winning”
“But there would be, from my vantage point, there would be a positive transition of power, completely unlike what I faced,” as Republican lawmakers likely reverse the attack on gubernatorial powers they launched after Evers defeated former Gov. Scott Walker in 2018.
DID YOU KNOW? The Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Assembly has still not approved nine of Evers’ Board of Regents nominations, which is usually a straight-forward, standard process.
On what he hopes the first line of his Wikipedia page will say once his time in office is complete…
“I hope people view me as fair to all sides, and someone who cares about the things people care about like schools, roads, and having good healthcare,” Evers said.
“I believe I represent the majority of people in Wisconsin in those items. And I’d like to think that my Wikipedia would talk about my great family that I have.”