In 2018, Democrats won every statewide office on the ballot. It was the “first time since 1982 that one party – the Democrats – won elections to all those offices” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Wisconsin voters made a clear change in direction. However, most of our Republican friends turned out to be sore losers. The lame-duck legislature threw away civic norms and significantly curbed the powers of then Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. Unprecedented.
Some Republicans opposed the power grabs. GOP state Senator Robert Cowles said: “I feel that our own party crossed the line.” And, former Wisconsin GOP Governor Scott McCallum exclaimed: “It appears completely political … sour grapes.” Outgoing Ohio GOP Governor John Kasich also expressed outrage: “I’m frankly shocked at what is going on here. … You lost, okay? … Accept it, move on, try to win tomorrow.”
Our political system in Wisconsin is broken. Enough! Democrats and Republicans must govern and accept the different roles of the legislature and governor. There has to be debate, compromise, negotiation and working with opponents. No trying to exacerbate rural-urban divisions. But the mess continues.
The GOP-led state Senate wrongly rejected Governor Evers’ agriculture secretary, despite bipartisan approval of well-qualified nominee Brad Pfaff in committee months earlier. Compounding this nonsense, Governor Evers inappropriately went to the state Senate to watch the firing. An understandably angry Evers mistakenly lost his cool, calling the GOP maneuver “political BS”. Former GOP state Senator Dale Schultz commented: “We’re better than this … we’re in a place that’s kind of unacceptable. … It’s this winner-take-all mentality that has led us to this point in history. … That’s not just a message to Senate Republicans. That’s a message to everyone.”
It’s time for Governor Evers to initiate a charm offensive. He has a first-rate personality, aw-shucks smarts and the most power in state government. So he should make the first move – invite Republican legislators often to the governor’s mansion. It could break the ice and help some of Evers’ legislative proposals pass in the GOP-led legislature. It also would be wise for Evers to ask a Republican to serve in his cabinet or as a top adviser, e.g., Schultz or a current GOP legislator. Moreover, solicit input from senior advisers who can be completely honest.
Once a dialogue has begun, Evers needs to reason with Wisconsin Republicans. Does Trump really represent the great party of Lincoln, (Teddy) Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan? Are Trump’s policies helping or hurting state farmers and factory workers? Evers should go around Wisconsin and raise these questions, and ask state Republicans to be independent. Time to stand up for Wisconsin.
Schultz sees economic problems down the road. Wisconsin has lost more than 1,800 dairy farms under Trump. And, state factory jobs are down by about 6,800 over the past year. Schultz said: Democrats and Republicans “can work (together) to alleviate a lot of pain … you have to find a way to listen to each other and compromise and work together… .” Good advice.
— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.