Governor Tony Evers Must Veto Republican State Budget For ‘Folks Back Home’

There are times when even the most genial of elected officials need to show that behind the smile is resolve, determination, and political spine. That moment is approaching for Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers as the Republican-controlled legislature inches its way to completing the biennial budget.

Once that document reaches the Governor’s desk, there is but one way to deal with it. No line-item veto’s this time, or pining about what was hoped for when it was first introduced earlier this year, what the citizenry needs, but what they now must accept. Given what has transpired this budget cycle such reactions are not acceptable. Given how the majority party in the statehouse handled the array of issues presented to them in the budget Evers has only one path to take.

He must veto the entire measure and send it back to the legislators with a stern note attached. Plan to spend the summer in Madison doing the people’s business.

The policy reasons for such a move by Evers have made headlines for weeks. When presented with the need for the expansion of Medicaid, and tapping into federal funds the Republicans rolled their eyes and tossed the matter away. The health care and long-term medical services for Wisconsinites, however, must not be treated in so cavalier a fashion. Let us not forget that state taxpayers absolutely deserve to have their fair share of federal tax dollars returned so as to use them in accordance with the services our citizens require. $1.6 billion in federal funding should not be discarded for partisan reasons.

When asked to ensure that federal dollars to the tune of $2.3 billion for public schools could be accessed the Republicans used a shell game to provide more state aid but in the form of lower tax levies without providing the additional spending for our cash-strapped schools. The Governor requested $1.6 billion for education funding, but the Republicans saw fit to provide roughly 1/10th of the package. As such, there are 421 reasons (school districts) with a massive statewide constituency, that underscores as to why the behavior of the budget-writers was so harmful with this one issue, thus necessitating a veto.  

The absolute requirement for broadband expansion, and the funding for it, has no middle squishy ground upon which to stand. Evers made it clear that the digital divide in this state must be closed. Thus, he requested $200 million for this project, but the GOP Joint Finance Committee was only able to find $125 million. Even what Evers proposed is but a small amount of what will be required to address full broadband connectivity, so to not have it accepted by the committee is too tough a pill to swallow. There are an estimated 400,000 residents who do not have broadband, and the majority reside in rural red counties. The Governor can demonstrate he works for all citizens by showcasing this issue as another reason to veto the budget.

The lack of any regard by Republicans for the needs of redistricting reform has created an electoral stranglehold in the legislative branch. But that does not preclude the needs of the citizenry. It is very important that the people be properly reflected in this budget. While Assembly Republicans elected Robin Vos to the chair of Speaker, that does not make him the governor or the final arbiter on policy.

Only Tony Evers was elected by a statewide vote, and now is the time to show his political mettle and steadfastness with the people of this state. He more than did his share of compromising in the 2019 budget process and was rewarded with even more partisan showmanship from Republicans in this years’ process. If anything over the past weeks the JFC has proven Will Rogers to be correct. “There are men running governments who shouldn’t be allowed to play with matches.”

Therefore, Governor Tony Evers must veto this budget and demand, on behalf of the people, that the summertime is spent by legislative Republicans meeting the needs of the ‘folks back home’.

And so it goes.

Wisconsin’s Pride Month Needs Focus On Transgender Rights

Last week a press release from Democratic Governor Tony Evers stated that the LGBT Pride flag will again fly over the State Capitol. This decision matters for many citizens in our state. Let us make no mistake about the visual importance of the flag bending with the breeze over this wonderful and symbolic building.

At moments like this, I think of gay teenagers in this state who live in rural areas.  I know they need support and assurance that living authentically is truly an option as they prepare for adulthood. The flag and the message it imparts is meant as much to recognize past achievements, as providing continued assurance and hope for the future.

But this year, in light of the national conversation about transgender rights, along with legislation being debated under our Capitol dome about girls’ and women’s sports, makes the flag being hoisted high even more important.

The reason is due to discriminatory legislation aimed at creating sports participation bans for transgender people. We apparently have not had enough culture wars in the state. Outside of the political arena, I have not noticed a groundswell of examples in female sports that required a partisan resolution. Once again, however, a solution is in search of a problem and it is taking up far too much bandwidth with some legislators.

Therefore, if anyone wonders why the pride flag needs to fly over the statehouse should simply follow the news about bills that would allow students to join teams only that correspond to their biological sex as assigned by a doctor at birth. In time, that type of discourse will be as ancient as defining being gay as a mental illness. Until that time we must stay vigilant and fight on.

From a national perspective, this month should also focus our attention on states that are attempting to prohibit gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. We all should be most concerned that partisan legislators are working feverishly in some states to get in between a doctor, who is guided by science and ethics, and a teenager who is in search of medical advice and therapy.

We know that forgoing gender-affirming medical procedures can have tragic consequences with mental health problems which can also lead to drug use and increased rates of suicide. We absolutely must do better for the young people who look to us for guidance and a helping hand.

I can not speak about transgender rights from more than a humane perspective. But as a gay man, I know full well the way it felt when politicians were writing and signing laws to deny my rights over the decades. They had no idea how I felt, or the stresses it placed on my life. As such, I can understand how others now facing discriminatory actions must feel.

It is why I press the case that we must not do harm to those who are dealing with being uncomfortable in their bodies. When it comes to these children I feel a deeper sense of responsibility to speak up and stand alongside those who need our support.

For too long gay Americans were the ones who were vilified by Republicans and used as nothing more than partisan tactics and a means to raise money in letters to the base. Now it is transgender people, including children who are so treated to this abuse.

THAT is the reason the Pride flag needs to fly above the Wisconsin State Capitol.

And so it goes.

GOP Partisanship Over COVID Must End At Wisconsin Statehouse

One paragraph, comprising one sentence, jumped from the newspaper Saturday. The news story reported by Mitchell Schmidt for the Wisconsin State Journal said everything we know to be true about the current state of affairs when it comes to passing a COVID relief bill in our statehouse.

(Senate Majority Leader Devin) LeMahieu said the amendments were necessary for the package to get support from both GOP-led chambers.

With a mere 17 words, we can see the central problem as to why we are entering another year with no far-reaching COVID-relief legislation. Reaching across the aisle and opting for a bipartisan plan to address a medical crisis, one unlike anything we have seen in over a century, seems to have never been contemplated. A strong centrist type bill grounded to science could pass both chambers if the Republicans did not feel a need to placate every far-right conservative member.

The greater good be damned!

The latest storylines in this too-long saga as the state legislature, dormant for most of 2020 as the virus raged and ravaged our state, is now in a confrontational stance with Governor Tony Evers. On Friday a veto was used to stop the bill from being enacted. What is most dispiriting about this entire episode is that only a couple weeks ago a senate version of the bill had the approval of Evers. But with ever-more conservative amendments added over a back-and-forth with the assembly, the final version passed by the senate was not one any governor could countenance.

Front and center is thy most outlandish power play I have ever witnessed from any legislature in this state during my lifetime. I say that unequivocally as the issue at hand, the very health and well-being of the citizenry, is at stake. The constitutional discourse Republicans wish to have over the use of masks, and the means by which such orders can be put in place, and by whom, so to ensure the widest use of them at a time of pandemic is so over the line of absurdity that we are in need of creating a new word to best define it.

If Evers is so out of bounds and abused his authority so great then, by all means, the GOP-led legislature should pass their own measure with such health orders mandated. (Tick, tock, tick…) The reason the GOP has played so callously with the greater needs of the state during the pandemic, is their desire to be viewed as adhering to small-government and opting that individuals best know how to stay safe from a virus that has killed over 6,000 of our state residents.

The problem with the GOP approach is that they leave science and medically-driven data out of the equation. That can be justly stated given the bill which was vetoed would have prohibited employers from mandating vaccines for employees and limited local public health officials the ability to limit gatherings at churches. The most shockingly bad inclusion in the bill, from my perspective, was the business liability protections.

As one who has adhered to the health orders and advice over the past year, I yearn to return to stores and shop. I want to eat at restaurants. But if there are loopholes in the way a business can go about its prevention measures and thereby not face legal consequences, it greatly reduces the sense of safety required before entering a brick and mortar establishment. And spending money.

This all cycles back to the bottom line that before there is any economic revival, so to restore employment and the bottom line to a business, we first must win the battle over this virus. But if the majority party only thinks of the issue in partisan terms, and who can make a political score then the entire state will continue to suffer. There must be an abrupt end to the idea of working for only the needs of the GOP-led chambers.

Wisconsin Residents Urged to “Shelter In Place” As Pandemic Rages

Having grown up in Wisconsin where strong and severe summer storms were not to be scoffed at made the recent words from Governor Tony Evers even more pronounced. He called for state residents to voluntarily “shelter in place” as the number of coronavirus infections climbs to troubling heights. His words struck a tone and feeling that took me back to the days when the dark bluish-greenish clouds were bearing down on the Hancock home of my youth.

Just as folks in my rural upbringing did not stop to ponder if there was a need to take precautions against the advancing wind clouds neither should people now question the severity of COVID or the reasoning about being careful. This week the state reached a new peak of 5,262 cases, record death tolls reported, and hospitalizations now stressing our medical facilities.

This blog was been continuously on the side of science and medically-backed data in the struggle to make it through this pandemic. Like so many in Madison and Dane County who pressed for a more thoughtful way forward, other than the announced plans at UW-Madison, it comes as no pleasure to now learn the Badgers’ game this weekend against the Nebraska Cornhuskers has been canceled. It is reported 12 members of our football program tested positive for coronavirus in the past five days.

As of this morning, six football players and their head coach Paul Chryst have tested positive. All team-related activities are cancelled for this team for the next seven days. Common sense calls for the football program to be shelved for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile our state today reported 3,815 new COVID-19 cases and 45 more deaths. Clearly, more of our citizens need to take this virus far more seriously and adhere to the warnings.

State epidemiologist Dr. Ryan Westergaard stated the gravity of the matter by calling the virus’ trajectory in Wisconsin “a nightmare scenario, frankly, that this could get quite a bit worse in the next several weeks or months before it gets better.”

My perspective on a raft of issues has been shaped by decades of listening to information and basing my actions upon the advice of professionals. I have no way to explain the reluctance of people to accept facts. I can not fathom why anyone would not heed the words of someone steeped in knowledge. Do act so recklessly is absurd.

I know when the clouds shout that danger is near one does not take a tractor out to the ‘back forty’. When a governor says to stay home, that is where I will be found.

I trust my readers are equally as prudent.

Wisconsin Tavern League: Profits Over Public Health

The facts about the pandemic in Wisconsin are staggering. On Tuesday Wisconsin passed two records that no one wanted to cross during this pandemic. Our state had already passed a grim milestone of having 150,000 COVID cases. But then in one day, we had a record 3,279 new cases added to the count and a most horrible record number of deaths at 34. It is a truly sobering time in the state.

Which is why it stuns the sensibilities to learn this morning a Sawyer County judge blocked Governor Tony Evers’ latest order to curb the spread of coronavirus by limiting public gatherings and the number of customers bars and restaurants may serve at one time. 

While bars and restaurants can lament the sluggish cash flow to their businesses let it be made clear the reason for not only the spike in cases, but also the economic calamity, is due to the lack of a federal and comprehensive response from the Trump White House. One has to ask where the Wisconsin Tavern League was when so many were pressing for an encompassing plan to combat the virus.

The order put in place by Evers capped customers to 25% of the establishment’s capacity limit. That sent the Wisconsin Tavern League into a lather and to court to stop the order. The county judge did that today on a temporary basis while the state will make their case on Monday in a hearing as to why the order makes not only sense but was framed to meet the Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year.

We know how the virus is spread and also what happened in Wisconsin when the bars were allowed to recklessly reopen this spring. The data and contract tracing tells the story of how these establishments played a large role in the ability of the virus to spread.

It is truly concerning when the tavern league can undo public health orders so their members can make money by conducting themselves in ways that continue the spread of a deadly pandemic. I trust the courts will correct the Sawyer County judge next week.

Law And Logic Prevail With Wisconsin Mask Mandate

Today was one of those examples when our checks and balances came into play concerning the role of government during a public health emergency. The ability of those who disagree had their opportunity to weigh in and the legal process produced a ruling. In a larger sense, everyone came out as a winner as the process played out in a democratic fashion.

What this blogger hoped for and thought would be the outcome, based on state law, occurred when St. Croix County Judge Michael Waterman rejected arguments from Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty concerning the mask mandate put in place by Governor Tony Evers. The group was encouraged by the Republicans in the legislature who have failed to address the pandemic in their official capacity.

Conservatives have tried to argue that Evers exceeded his authority in issuing the mask mandate. But the judge made it clear that it was the Republicans in the statehouse who have tried to dodge any responsibility for the health needs of the citizenry who are front and center in this matter.

Waterman made it clear it is the Legislature who has the power to terminate Evers’ order. But they have not acted in any fashion on the matter, so no one should be looking for the courts to do the work of those who are elected to the legislative branch. But the GOP knows that the mask mandate is popular in the state. And they also know how ironic it is for them to seek a court answer…given they carp about ‘activist judges’.

The judge made it clear when he wrote, “The 60-day limit provides an important check against run-away executive power, but it does not prevent the governor from issuing a new executive order when the emergency conditions continue to exist,”

There is no doubt about the vital need to get the virus under control given the growing COVID caseloads in Wisconsin, the overwhelming number of patients in hospitals, and the continuing detrimental economic impact. Any governor would be derelict in the duties of the office to not take proactive measures to limit the pandemic.

From a purely partisan perspective with three weeks until the elections it needs to be noted from this blogger’s desk that things look tough for the Republicans. They have endorsed the actions of the 17-year-old White vigilante from out-of-state with an AR-15 who shot and killed on a city street while at the same time they are working to undermine a mask mandate to stem a relentless pandemic. They are playing a very bad hand heading into the election. Conservatives have proven not to have morals, law, or science on their side.

And so it goes.

Standing With Gov. Evers On Statewide Mask Mandate

Today the correct decision was made by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers when he ordered an extension of his mask mandate while declaring a new public health emergency due to the stiff upticks regarding COVID-19 cases. The orders are in place for 60 days.

While there are certain to be the usual cries for “Free-Dumb” from the slow-learners in the state who thought the virus was a “hoax’ and just something the media wanted to scare people about, the majority of state residents understand the gravity of the virus and the need to have public health measures put in place. The data point to the main source of the problems at this time, and where the cases are coming from in such alarming numbers.

As students headed back to school and more social gatherings increased in number–such as the ridiculous Portage County Fair over Labor Day weekend–the caseload among those 18-24 across the state reported 23,990 cases by September 13th.

To put that in context with the week before that was 2,842 more cases. The state also reported that the demographic has a case rate five times higher than any other age group with 43.9 cases per 1,000 people.

But let us put the data in line with some pure common sense.

I have heard my fill from conservatives who profess their faith in Christ at the drop of a hat and prattle endlessly about their principles and a need not be restrained by the state. They will pray and shout about being pro-life and give you the idea they actually care about life. They wear seatbelts, abide by the rules of the road, get driver’s licenses, and will not smoke in public places. But ask them to help limit a deadly pandemic and be prepared to hear that is more than they can muster! A mask for them is a bridge too far.

There is no logic for that crowd, but to the majority of reasoned folks in this state, the logical public health order from Evers is very sensible. If we desire to have a business open, in-person learning, faith in our ability to go out, and just participate at the margins of society and not feel threatened by a virus then it is incumbent upon each of us to wear a mask.

Wearing a mask has been demonstrated to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 by 80%. As we enter the hail-storm of a fall and winter with the virus and also the flu the least we can do is be mindful of facts, professional advice—and yes, professionals matter—but also be kind to each other. By wearing a mask we say that we are part of a shared community experience.

By refusing to wear a mask another statement is made. It is a narrow-minded and uneducated statement that rivals that of the one worn on their red-hats.

And so it goes.

Governor Evers Needs To Again Fly Gay Pride Flag At State Buildings

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Last year a most remarkable and uplifting decision was made by Governor Tony Evers. He took the step during June to fly the gay pride flag at state buildings.  We should make no mistake about the meaning of that decision, or the visual nature of the flag itself.   I am trusting that it will be done again this Gay Pride Month.

At moments like this, I think of gay teenagers in this state who live in rural areas.  I know they need support and assurance that living authentically is truly an option as they prepare for adulthood.  And we can take one small step in that direction by reaching out to them by flying this flag at state buildings.

I was, decades ago, one of those teenagers in rural Wisconsin who would have welcomed an inclusive message of better days to come.  Too many gay teens are not sure the lives they want to live are attainable.  We should, as a state, do things to alert them that living authentically is a path they can take. 

Evers was correct last year to say the flag is an “important visual symbol of support” for the gay community.  He grasped the fact much work over the decades took place to overcome discrimination.  We know it has been a rocky road, and that work continues in our state and nation.

Today we take much for granted with the legal progress regarding gay marriage and anti-discrimination issues.  But travel a few country roads in the far reaches of Wisconsin and there is still a fair amount of anti-gay rhetoric.  There is still a long way to go before many kids who are gay can just ask out who they wish for a school dance or a weekend date.  There is plenty of frustration, stress, and in some cases even legitimate fear of violence for wishing to live as openly as every other person their age in the community.

That is why the decision to fly the gay pride flag over the Capital matters.  It is a clear sign that times are changing and laws have been fashioned to break down barriers and ensure equality.    Gay teenagers who live a long way from Madison need to know there is a way forward, and that government will have their back.

I ask that Governor Evers again raise the gay pride flag over the statehouse and around Wisconsin.

And thanks!