Governor Tony Evers took to the podium last night to deliver a speech that touched on the many issues he worked to address during a first term that was marked by repeated spats with a Republican-controlled legislature.
Despite threats to veto an entire budget and the dismissal of a cabinet appointee, Evers still took the time to highlight areas of bipartisan progress.
“In my last State of the State Address, I asked the legislature to set politics aside so we could work together on the issues facing our state,” said Evers. “I said I expected bills to be passed with broad support and in the spirit of bipartisanship. So, one of the things I’m most proud of is that more than 95 percent of the bills I signed my first year in office had bipartisan support. And, by golly, folks worked together on some important issues.”
Evers highlighted healthcare, voting rights, and human trafficking as issues where he and the legislature made progress in 2019. He promised to spend 2020 focusing on investing in communities, youth vaping issues, insulin prices, and water contamination.
Evers also made agriculture, rural investment, and the lagging dairy industry in Wisconsin central priorities, in response to a steady stream of farm bankruptcies and dairy instability in the state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that over 800 Wisconsin dairy farmers either left or were forced to quit the industry last year. When the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, visited Wisconsin last October he said that small farms may have to consolidate to survive.
“They saw when milk prices are low, you need to milk more cows to make up for it,” said Perdue. “When milk prices are high, you need to milk more cows to take advantage of it.”
Evers dismissed that perspective, then ordered the legislature to get to work on the issue through a three-pronged plan. Step one of the plan gets underway next week.
“We’ve heard people who’ve said there’s no place for small farms anymore,” said Evers. “They ought to go big or bust. Well, they’re wrong. Tonight, I am calling a special session of the legislature next week to take up legislation to invest in our farmers, agricultural industries, and our rural communities.”
Evers said that he would also expand the Farm Center, increase staffing at UW Extension, and create new programs that would get food and mental health services to farmers. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told Channel3000 that he’s willing to hear out Governor Evers’ agricultural proposals.
But the Majority Leader denounced Governor Evers’ push for a nonpartisan redistricting committee to draw fair maps. Evers said that the lack of competitive districts is one of the major reasons that some of his policies, which poll well, are not enacted.
“When more than 80 percent of our state supports medical marijuana, and 80 percent support universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, 70 percent support expanding medicaid, and elected officials can ignore those numbers without consequence, folks,” said Evers. “Something is wrong.”
Fitzgerald called the proposal “unconstitutional.”
Wisconsin is one of the most gerrymandered states in the union, with very few competitive seats for non-statewide elections. A Marquette poll from last January found that seventy-two percent of Wisconsinites want legislative districts to be drawn by a nonpartisan commission.
But Republicans have consistently opposed redistricting reform and have defended the current maps as fair. Last year, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that Republican dominance in the legislature was simply because of better candidates and better messaging.
In his response to Evers’ speech, Senate President Roger Roth, a Republican from Appleton, said that Evers was focusing too much on appealing to liberals.
“Recently governor Evers was asked to grade his first year in office,” said Roth. “He gave himself a grade of incomplete. I appreciate his honesty. Listening to Madison elites while ignoring the rest of Wisconsin isn’t a recipe for success.”
Evers’ approval rating is at 48%, according to a Morning Consult Poll from the end of last year. 36% of respondents disapprove of him. He’s popular among Democrats, unpopular among Republicans, and more independents like him than dislike him.