In a video posted to the Wisconsin Assembly Republicans’ YouTube page, Representatives Paul Tittl — of Manitowoc — and Shae Sortwell — of Two Rivers — are shown erecting a Christmas tree in the State Capitol Rotunda.
The act of rebellion from the two state Reps came on December 1st, after the state’s Department of Administration denied the two a permit for a display.
Each December, the DOA, which oversees and maintains state property, erects an evergreen in the capitol building that’s decorated with ornaments created by Wisconsin’s students. Governor Tony Evers opted to forgo the holiday tradition this year since the capitol has been closed to the public since March.
The ornaments donated by Wisconsin’s students are instead going to decorate trees in veteran’s homes, hospitals and nursing homes.
Under Evers, the DOA has also set up several other trees on the capitol grounds, outside the main building.
But the Democratic Governor expressed exasperation of the reps’ Christmas caper when asked by WORT yesterday.
“Isn’t that something? You go 230 days without doing any work, legislatively — which I think is their job — and then spend a short period of time putting up a tree in the rotunda in a building that no one’s in,” Evers said. “There’s a bit of irony there. You can’t come to work to pass any bills on COVID-19, but by golly we’ll put a tree up when no one’s looking. It’s just weird.”
Sortwell, meanwhile, pushes back on Evers’ negative characterization of both Republican inaction and the Christmas tree. On the first count, Sortwell points out that the legislature is currently out of its standard session and already met once, in April, in a special session to pass legislation.
He also argues that being in session during an election season puts incumbents at an advantage.
And finally, Sortwell says that the tree isn’t meant as an act of defiance — but a way of keeping a holiday tradition alive in trying times.
“The capitol Christmas tree has always been in the rotunda,” he says. “It’s been there for over one hundred years. I don’t want to see us giving up a tradition that’s been part of Wisconsin for one hundred years.”
This isn’t the first time Evers and the Republicans have engaged in a Christmas confrontation — last year, after Evers continually referred to the seasonal conifer as a “holiday tree,” lawmakers passed a formal resolution reinstating the term “Christmas tree”
It’s not the first time Wisconsin has drawn attention for its holiday decor. In 2005, then-Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, displayed a non-denominational “Festivus” Pole in the Executive Residence. The pole now permanently resides with the Wisconsin Historical Society.
According to Sortwell, as of this morning, the tree still stands in the rotunda, adorned by a sign reading, “This tree belongs to Representative Tittl and Representative Sortwell. Do not move without prior written approval from these Representatives.”
Although, that warning likely isn’t what’s keeping the DOA from removing the tree.
Thank you to everyone around Wisconsin who have been sending in their ornaments for our tree! pic.twitter.com/nUbuAu6buU
— Rep. Paul Tittl (@reptittl) December 9, 2020
(Photo: Aurelio Arantes /Unsplash)
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the reps ereced the tree on December 1st, not December 2nd