A chat with Gov. Evers on education, fair maps, cheese curds, and favorite movies

Gov. Tony Evers at his desk

Gov. Tony Evers speaks with The Associated Press in his state Capitol office in Madison, on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, about what President Joe Biden must do to win the battleground state in November. (AP Photo/Todd Richmond)

By Pat Kreitlow

January 11, 2024

Our Q&A included some unusual answers: cheese curds, Mountain Dew, Florence County, and the Barbie movie.

Gov. Tony Evers began 2024 with a press tour, sitting down for multiple interviews in person and online. There were many of the usual questions about familiar topics: the Brewers stadium deal, tax cuts, the childcare crisis, and the Republican-led Legislature’s attack on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs.

But a governor, despite the lofty responsibilities, is like the rest of us—shaped by past activities and motivated by the things we want to do at work and the things we want to do when the workday is done.

In our 10-minute interview window, we asked Evers about his achievements, his goals, and also some of his behind-the-scenes preferences. For example, Evers must certainly be the nation’s only governor whose first choices of comfort food during a busy day are cheese curds and Mountain Dew.

The former state superintendent remains a teacher at heart and was asked where he would teach for a semester and what part of the teaching job is still a part of his chief executive duties.

“I’d love to go back to Tomah and teach biology,” Evers said. “Sophomores in high school.”

“I always felt the most important part of teaching was listening. And I still believe that there’s so many good things going on in Wisconsin and that, frankly, not all of them are in the Capitol. And so the more time I spend out of the Capitol, the better governor I am, by listening.”

Evers is anticipating new legislative maps now that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that the current Assembly and Senate districts are unconstitutional. The governor believes more competitive districts will be the antidote to much of the polarization that has gripped the Capitol since the Republican takeover in 2011.

“It’s going to be a difference maker, simple as that,” Evers said about getting new maps. “We are a purple state. The Legislature doesn’t reflect that. We have to have competitive races. Our present legislature does not respond to that. So it is huge.”

The Republican-led Senate continues to sit on dozens of Evers nominations and appointments, making it nearly impossible, he said, to find a new Department of Natural Resources secretary. 

“Just think about the issue in the state Senate, where my appointees can’t survive. They get tossed out almost before I appoint them.”

The gerrymandered maps, according to Evers, leave many of his gubernatorial colleagues with a skewed version of the state.

“They somehow think that this is a stark Republican state and they’re wrong. We are a purple state. They assume that I’m governor just because I’m lucky and not because I had some good ideas and that there are Democrats in the state.”

Evers returned repeatedly to how fairer maps and a less extreme Legislature would be good for Wisconsin—especially when it comes to the ongoing fight to protect affordable quality child care that would benefit children, parents, providers, and employers.

“I do believe that our ability to succeed as a state does rely on something we haven’t solved—and that’s the whole issue of child care. And as we go forward, if we don’t provide some money to those people that do that good work, we’re going to lose people out of the workforce to stay home with kids. We need help in that area. Joe Biden, frankly, helped us in that area. I don’t anticipate Donald Trump would. And I also believe we need to have a purple-looking Legislature so that we can get something passed here.”

Asked about the state of the state less than two weeks before he gives that annual address, Evers said the state “is in good shape.”

“I still sign more bills than I veto, by far. And you think about the things that happened in this last session—there were some really good things that happened. We had more money for affordable housing than we ever had before. And so I think we’re in good shape as a state. We just need to have more competitive races.”

The record state budget surplus helped Evers and Republicans reach an agreement that provided the first significant boost in state shared revenue to local governments in 20 years.

“I can remember being in one of the cities in northern Wisconsin, where I talked to the fire chief. He said if the crew is out an issue, that’s it. If somebody needed help after that, they’re screwed. And so the bottom line is, for all the hard work that’s done at the local level, we had to step up and that was a major, major issue for me. Do we need to do more? Likely. But it was absolutely the most important thing we did.”

While Evers isn’t on the ballot in 2024, he’s already busy talking up the two Democrats facing the most attention this year in their reelection efforts—President Joe Biden and Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Evers sees their support for infrastructure investment as important to voters for years to come as jobs and projects are created for roads, bridges, water lines, broadband internet, airports, ports, and more.

“If you think about infrastructure, you think about Joe Biden,” Evers said. “Simple as that.”

Evers believes Biden and Baldwin will also be helped by turnout that will again be strong because of anger at how conservative justices on the US Supreme Court struck down women’s abortion care rights.

“We’ve got a Supreme Court that obviously doesn’t believe that women have that right. And we’re being challenged at every step of the way. I anticipate that it’ll be one of the major things that bring people to the polls.”

A Few of His Favorite Things

To find out more about what a governor enjoys when not in the public eye, we peppered him with a few questions about his favorite things.

A perfectly made Old Fashioned or a Wisconsin beer? “Beer.”

Cheese curds: Squeaky or deep-fried? “Squeaky”

Favorite comfort food after a busy day? “A Mountain Dew and some cheese curds.”

Favorite fish fry? “It’s hard to get perch anymore. But perch certainly is the best.”

A movie he’d sit down and watch again. “I just saw Barbie. I loved it. I want to see it again.”

And when asked to name an underrated Wisconsin road trip, he had an instant response.

“Yeah. Florence. I spent some time up there helping them get through some issues when I was deputy state superintendent, and I get there almost every year. Every time I go, I learn something new about that area. And I’m hoping to get up there this summer.”

The interview closed with a nod to the media kerfuffle about Evers’ choice of a private email address, using the name of legendary Milwaukee ballplayer Warren Spahn. Asked if he replaced it with another famous—if fictional—Wisconsinite, Evers shot down our guess of Arthur.Fonzarelli@wisconsin.gov.

 “That would be wrong. And I’m not telling you which one it is.”

Author

  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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