What can Gov. Tony Evers get done? That’s a question on many people’s minds. I hope Evers accomplishes much more than I predict here. I support him. But this column is a practical assessment, reflecting the limitations Evers will face with Republicans in control of the Legislature.
To figure out what Evers can accomplish, we must first examine what Evers can do with his power as governor that the Legislature cannot undo.
One of Evers’ biggest opportunities will be to stop gerrymandering in 2021, following the 2020 Census. We will have fairer maps for 2022, but the 2020 legislative elections will be conducted with the current legislative maps. There are many unanswered questions as to who will draw the maps if the Legislature and governor cannot agree on one map, which is a strong likelihood.
Drawing new maps will likely depend on a court, but which ones—the State Supreme Court or a federal judge? More likely, a three judge panel will consider the maps, but then the question becomes which federal judge panel? Can you spell lawyers and lawsuits? I would trust a three judge federal panel, but a perfect solution would be for both parties to agree to adopting an “Iowa” solution and take the map drawing out of the hands of the Legislature and give it to a nonpartisan person or body.
Evers will be able to use his veto power (so long as the Legislature lacks a two-thirds majority to override his veto) to stop any more of the Scott Walker agenda. Evers will also be able to restore reliance on science within the Department of Natural Resources. He will be able govern nearer the political center as did Walker’s 12 predecessors. Hopefully, Walker’s extreme partisan style of governing will prove an aberration.
While a Republican-controlled Legislature will limit Evers, he and Republicans can work together on several initiatives, including increased funding for our roads and other infrastructure. There’s also the possibility of prison reforms, and Evers could find help on both infrastructure and prison reform from former Gov. Tommy Thompson who has spoken publicly in favor of both. Both parties could agree, too, on increased aid for public schools.
However, it’s unlikely Evers will accomplish any significant reversal of the core Republican changes made in the past eight years, such as most of Act 10, gun laws, John Doe changes, abolishment of the Government Accountability Board (unless a legislative scandal exposes this horrible action) and right-to-work laws. Evers will also have a hard time reversing the damage to the UW System because of spending cuts. He’ll have a tough time, too, paying for middle-class tax cuts by reducing Walker’s tax cuts for upper-income residents, agriculture and manufacturing.
It’s not clear yet whether Evers will be able to accept the federal Medicaid dollars that Walker has turned down since 2014. This has cost Wisconsin $1 billion so far. It’s possible the Legislature would agree to accepting the federal funds to balance the state budget and/or in exchange for Evers not vetoing an item the Legislature wants. Other expansions of health care coverage, including for pre-existing conditions and Planned Parenthood, are also a possibility.
Of course, there’s always a wild card to consider. If the past is a prologue, there are some big issues and challenges for every new governor that are not known or being discussed at the start of his term (or “her” in many other states). These wild cards inevitably alter expectations for what can or can’t be accomplished. Stay tuned.