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Civility is in my core, but at the end of the day when they decided to do kind of a political assassination of Brad Pfaff, that kind of pushed me to a different place.
– Gov. Tony Evers on his reaction after the Senate on Nov. 5 rejected Brad Pfaff, Evers’ appointee to head DATCP. Evers also acknowledged that during a tour of DATCP he called Pfaff’s ouster “amoral and stupid” and told DATCP employees “we can’t let the bastards keep us from doing our good work.” But he told reporters he didn’t think members of the Senate GOP caucus were “bastards” and that the phrase was “a term of art, not a term of, necessarily, insult.”

It’s no wonder Evers hasn’t been able to accomplish anything in divided government. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the governor’s public rhetoric doesn’t match what he says when he thinks no one is listening.
– Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

You hold up a picture of a tree with ornaments on it and every single person in the country calls it the same thing, except for Governor Evers.
– Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who accused Gov. Tony Evers of playing politics by deeming the evergreen in the rotunda each year the “Capitol Holiday Tree” after former Gov. Scott Walker called it the “Capitol Christmas Tree.” The Assembly passed a resolution to officially recognize the evergreen as the “Wisconsin State Christmas Tree,” though the move doesn’t carry the weight of law.

It is a Christmas tree, and I know darn well that I’m in the minority religion as a Jewish woman, but when we try to officially name it, it’s exclusive. It’s purely asinine … that we are here taking up this resolution.
– Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison.

Can you please ask us questions about the Office of Equity and Inclusion? When the governor’s finished and he wants to address you, that’s fine but please don’t disrespect our time on such a critical issue that addresses black people in the state of Wisconsin.
– Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, who spoke after Gov. Tony Evers let out an audible sigh when reporters asked him if the Assembly resolution to recognize National Bible Week lined up with his definition of inclusivity and diversity — the subject of an executive order he just signed.

The states created the federal government, and it is our obligation to maintain it.
– Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, during a public hearing on a resolution calling a convention of the states to amend the Constitution to restrain “abuses of power by the federal government.”

Historically, it has been state law that has been used to suppress and marginalize groups of people.
– A statement from Rep. LaKeshia Myers, D-Milwaukee, that a staffer read during the hearing. She wrote a convention could be used by the states to discriminate against minority groups, such as the so-called “Jim Crow” laws passed in southern states to segregate African Americans and suppress turnout in elections.

This is a matter of real seriousness and significance. I do not know what the House will do, but if we do get articles of impeachment sent over to the Senate, I will take that oath and follow that oath.
– U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, who said politics won’t play a role in her verdict if the House brings articles of impeachment to trial in the Senate.

I am supportive of regulations that ensure the safety of consumer products, and common-sense efforts that prevent youth access to e-cigarettes. But I am strongly opposed to far-reaching, unchecked government action that stifles innovation and restricts adults’ freedom to choose safer alternatives to smoking.
– U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, in a letter to President Trump on proposed federal bans on certain vaping products.

Although initially we were very excited about the opportunity to possibly serve in Congress
and the support we received, as time progressed it became clear that there are other impactful leadership opportunities that will better utilize my real-world business experience and allow me to help advance the conservative agenda of the Republican Party.
– Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, saying he won’t enter the race to fill the 5th CD, leaving Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, still unopposed on the GOP side.

As some of you may have already seen on the news, (recently) one of our sons began chemotherapy. One for all and all for one in this family–we all shaved our heads in solidarity. He is doing well, and his prognosis is excellent.
– U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who shaved his head this week to show support for one of his sons as he begins chemotherapy.

–A collection of insider opinion–
(Nov. 9-15, 2019)


Scott Fitzgerald: Two months ago, it was a question of just how deep the GOP field for the 5th CD might be. Now, it’s a question of whether it will end up being a clear shot to the nomination for the Senate majority leader. With state Sen. Chris Kapenga announcing he won’t run for the 5th, the Juneau Republican remains the lone Republican in the field to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, with businessman Matt Neumann the only name out there that’s been publicly pondering a bid. Considering how red the southeastern Wisconsin seat is and how rare it is to be open, many expected a free-for-all for the GOP nomination for Sensenbrenner’s suburban Milwaukee seat. But insiders say a combination of factors have put Fitzgerald squarely in the driver’s seat for the nomination. Fitzgerald has had his eye on the seat for years in anticipation that Sensenbrenner would eventually retire, even making sure during the 2011 redistricting process his Juneau home was in the 5th CD, insiders say. He was also quick to jump into the race, quick to play up his ties to President Trump, quick to hit the trail and quick to gather name endorsements. Playing tough with Gov. Tony Evers’ cabinet picks no doubt has helped him secure conservatives, insiders add. Now he’s turning to fundraising with a run of five fundraisers over the first two weeks in December. Not only was he more prepared than others, insiders say, he simply wanted it more, and that’s leaving little oxygen for others to get momentum on the GOP side. In addition, most of the Republicans who have looked at a bid had a personal reason not to run. Waukesha County Exec Paul Farrow and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are both seen as focused on running for guv someday. Former U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson has his eye on a statewide run and did poorly in this neck of the woods in the GOP primary as part of his 2018 bid. Former state Sen. Leah Vukmir, who bested Nicholson in that Senate primary, is enjoying the private sector and the time it affords her family and didn’t want to be in the fishbowl of a race again. Matt Walker didn’t want to run nearly as badly as his father wanted him to get in, Republicans joke. But will Matt Neumann, son of the former Congressman and frequent candidate, jump in with personal money? In announcing his decision not to run, Kapenga cites an interest in using his leadership opportunities elsewhere and having an eye on 2022. Still, insiders also believe Fitzgerald’s hustle and his position as majority leader played a role. Kapenga, who’s also said to have personal money at his disposal, had been laying the foundation for a run and was making calls as he looked to build a possible campaign. But insiders note a cold reality for operatives, donors and others if they were faced with a choice between Kapenga and Fitzgerald. If Kapenga had lost the primary, he’d be back to the rank-and-file of the Senate GOP caucus. If Fitzgerald lost, he’d still be majority leader. Helps make it an easy choice who they’d rather back, insiders say. Kapenga will now turn his attention to a possible bid for Senate GOP leadership if Fitzgerald wins, maybe a run at guv or other opportunities, insiders say. In the near term for the 5th, the attention turns to Neumann. The son of former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann, he’s been busy with the family homebuilding business and has been saying he expects to make a decision around year’s end. But every day that goes by, it’s one less day to catch Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s initial fundraising numbers failed to impress, and some have wondered if someone besides Neumann from the private sector and with a big checkbook still has a chance to get in to set up a contrast with a longtime politician. Fitzgerald now is kicking off a run of fundraisers in December with U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, former Gov. Tommy Thompson and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Strategists say that’s a sign he’s trying to put up a big number for this quarter that erases any questions about his fundraising ability. Insiders also note it might be tough to find a lane against Fitzgerald because he isn’t doing much these days that would rankle the base. Just look at his fight with Evers, some say. Longtime Capitol observers wonder what holding Evers’ cabinet hostage gets Fitzgerald and his GOP Senate colleagues, and some bemoan the Capitol’s descent into small ball, petty politics. Dems can paint Republicans as running a do-nothing Legislature. Others, though, say the GOP base doesn’t want Republicans to give Evers an inch, and it plays well for members back home. It’s also another talking point for Fitzgerald on the campaign trail about how he’s standing tough against the Dem guv.

Hemp: A bill that would align state hemp laws with federal regulations is now on its way to the guv’s desk. At the moment, the federal government controls oversight of the state’s hemp farmers, but the bill is intended to show the feds that Wisconsin is ready to look after itself. Current U.S. regulation dictates strict monitoring of tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive ingredient more concentrated in hemp’s cousin marijuana – in order to maintain minimal levels in the hemp product and to dissuade growers from growing marijuana under the guise of hemp. The bill first passed the Senate in October and then the Assembly on Tuesday. The bill’s co-author Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, said on the Assembly floor before a unanimous 95-0 vote that he grows hemp himself “for the fiber” and he felt confident this “great bill” would make it into law. Hemp hasn’t legally grown in the state since 1957. And the entire nation outlawed the plant in 1970. But the 2014 federal farm bill paved the way for the crop’s comeback with a provision that drew distinctions between marijuana and hemp and allowed states to grow hemp “under an agricultural pilot program.” State lawmakers took advantage of the opportunity in the waning days of 2017, passing legislation green-lighting a pilot program to reintroduce the crop in the state. Popularity among farmers for the crop has only skyrocketed from roughly 1,900 acres in 2018 to over 5,000 acres spread across nearly every county in the state. But some Dem lawmakers are concerned there isn’t enough funding or staff within the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to inspect farmer’s crops in time to keep THC levels down. DATCP Bureau of Plant Industry Director Brian Kuhn recently told WisPolitics.com that in order to adhere to strict regulatory demands, the agency had to hire 10 part-time workers, reassign 15 DATCP employees, and “reallocate basically the whole lab” for hemp testing. Strong storms in spring this year left only a 6-week window for inspectors to test all farms in 70 of the state’s 72 counties for adequate THC levels. A crop with levels above the federal limit would have to be destroyed instead of being sold on the market. The bill would establish DATCP regulating procedures and require farmers to obtain a DATCP license before growing hemp. It would also change the state’s pilot hemp program to a permanent program, separate hemp from the definition of marijuana and various other changes to state hemp law.

Culture wars: Is it a Christmas tree or a holiday tree? And is it about principle or politics? Whatever the motivation, the Assembly dives back into the “war on Christmas” with a more than 30-minute debate on a resolution to dub the evergreen erected in the Capitol Rotunda each year the “Wisconsin State Christmas Tree.” That was prompted by Gov. Tony Evers’ decision to go back to calling it the “Capitol Holiday Tree,” which it had been for some two decades before GOP Gov. Scott Walker took office. Evers also went the extra step of declaring the tree will have a science theme for ornaments this year, further irritating some social conservatives. Just days after Evers made the announcement, state Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, began circulating the resolution, which doesn’t carry the weight of state law. And Republicans pull the resolution to the floor on their last session day of the year — and even though the Senate won’t be able to get to it until well after most Wisconsinites put their Christmas and holiday decorations away. Dems complain bitterly that the chamber spent more time debating the resolution than it did the gun bills that Evers asked the Legislature to take up in special session — and like the contrast of serious lawmaking to pandering resolutions. Still, some Republicans say it’s one of those 80 percent issues back home that get constituents talking. And in the end, four Dems break with their colleagues and vote for the resolution — including likely GOP targets next year Robyn Vining, of Wauwatosa, and Steve Doyle, of Onalaska — while Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, missed the vote, but had her support recorded in the Assembly journal afterward. Along with the tree resolution, the Assembly approves declaring Thanksgiving week as National Bible Week, and considering how little the Assembly and Senate are likely to meet next year before adjourning to get on the campaign trail, some suspect Assembly GOP leaders are just looking to get Dems on record for tough votes. That doesn’t fly with others who say this isn’t the kind of roll call that wins or loses an election. Either way, insiders expect Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, to look for ways to make life tough on Dem members before adjourning in his drive for a veto-proof majority. To reach that, he has to keep all 63 of his members and pick off three Dems. Vining and Doyle are the obvious targets since she flipped a GOP seat in 2018 even as Walker won the district in the guv’s contest and he is the only other Dem to hold a Republican-leaning seat. From there, however, getting that 66th seat wouldn’t be easy — not that Vos will lack the resources to give it a go, insiders say. The most obvious candidates are Rep. Beth Myers, D-Bayfield, after Donald Trump won her district in 2016 by 3 percentage points and Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, after the president won his by 11 votes. Still, Milroy was unopposed last year, and Myers won her race with 56.2 percent. But with the president on the ballot again, some note, it makes a lot of rural, blue-collar districts wild cards, just like if the bottom drops out for Trump it could open the door to Dem gains.


Sean Duffy: The former congressman lands a new gig. But by joining the lobbying world, he likely will be closing the door to another political run, insiders say. When Duffy announced his resignation from Congress to spend more time at home with his family, insiders had two immediate questions: What job would he land in the private sector that pays him as well as a House gig and includes such a generous health plan? And would he run again? As reaction rolled in over his resignation, Duffy tweeted that he wasn’t “dead” and he was “looking forward to what the future holds.” Some assumed that included another political run, particularly since Duffy had often been mentioned as a possible candidate in 2022 for either guv or the U.S. Senate. And going to work for CNN as a contributor seemed to fit with that option. It keeps Duffy in the public eye — maybe too much given his controversial comments, insiders say. But the lobbying gig is a whole different ball game, they add. BGR Group announces Duffy is going to K Street to serve as senior counsel and head of the firm’s Financial Services Practice Group after he had served on the House Financial Services Committee. Under House ethics rules, Duffy can’t lobby his former House colleagues for a year after leaving. But he is immediately eligible to lobby the Trump administration. Duffy critics point to the new job as more fodder to question whether there was more to his resignation from Congress than he let on. At the time, he announced his yet-to-be born ninth child had a heart defect that would require surgery and he needed to step away from his House responsibilities. Critics ask: How does spending your days lobbying in Washington, D.C., mean more time at home in Wausau? Defenders counter that Duffy’s No. 1 responsibility is to provide for his family, particularly with his youngest’s health challenges. These are his keen earning years, and he’s got to take care of that No. 1 responsibility without any considerations of another political run down the line, they add. Still, some see this move as closing the door to politics. There was already talk after the CNN gig about whether Duffy was moving toward a life as a conservative media personality rather than one of the GOP’s next statewide candidates. Voters aren’t too keen on lobbyists in general, and what he lobbies on could prove tricky if he ever wanted to run again, some add. Add it all up, some say, and it looks like Duffy could be taking the first steps of walking away from a political career.

Drunken driving bills: Legislation to get tougher on driving under the influence is hitting some roadblocks. As the Senate approved two bills upping the mandatory minimum sentences for homicide by OWI and a fifth or sixth arrest, one of the big questions was how Gov. Tony Evers would respond. While he’s generally been supportive of getting tougher on drunken driving, he’s also made clear he wants to overhaul a criminal justice system he sees as locking up too many people who don’t need to be behind bars. And that’s exactly the concern he raises about the proposed five-year mandatory minimum sentence for homicide by OWI. In an interview with WTMJ-TV, Evers says he’ll take a look at the bill while noting he considers criminal justice reform “something really important going forward.” At the same time, Evers says he’d like to beef up Wisconsin’s penalties for first-time offenders, with the state the only one that doesn’t list the offense as a misdemeanor. A bill to do that has had public hearings in both houses, but similar proposals have failed to clear the full Legislature in the past. Meanwhile, a second bill that cleared the Senate is blocked from coming to the floor by Dems. That, though, is likely a temporary issue for the bill, which would up the mandatory minimum sentence for a fifth or sixth offense OWI to 18 months, three times as long as it is now. Like with the OWI by homicide bill, there’s an exemption to the mandatory minimum if it’s in the best interest of the community and the public wouldn’t be harmed. After passing on a voice vote in the Senate, Assembly GOP leaders move to pull the bill to the floor on the final day the chamber will be in session this year. But Dems object to the move, because they want an opportunity to add funding for alcohol or other drug abuse treatment during the prison sentences for those convicted under the proposed change. Republicans, however, can get around the objection by scheduling the bill for the next time the Assembly is on the floor in early 2020 if they don’t want to add the amendment Dems are pushing.

Taxes: The share of Wisconsinites’ income going to cover their state and local taxes has hit a little bit of a plateau, and so has its ranking among the most taxed states. New Census numbers crunched by the Wisconsin Policy Forum show state and local taxes accounted for 10.3 percent of personal income in 2017, compared to 10.2 percent in 2016. Even as the percentage ticked up a little, the state’s ranking dropped to 19th from 16th as other states leapfrogged Wisconsin. Still, that’s also higher than No. 22 in 2015, the state’s lowest ranking over the last two decades. Wisconsin moved out of the top 10 most taxed states in 2005, hit No. 16 in 2007, bounced back up to No. 9 in 2010 and then began dropping again. Along the way, taxes went from 12.43 percent of personal income in 1998 to a low of 10.2 percent in 2016, according to stats from the Wisconsin Policy Forum. There is a two-year lag in the numbers, meaning the final tax cuts implemented under former Gov. Scott Walker and a GOP Legislature aren’t fully reflected. What’s more, Gov. Tony Evers signed a budget that included another income tax cut that will eventually filter through the rankings. At the same time, other factors — particularly the school referendums voters have been approving to exceed state-imposed levy limits — may offset some of the other cuts in state taxes.

Tony Evers: Critics say the guv is picking two fights — with the media over open records and with legislative Republicans on multiple fronts. But political vets inside and outside of the Capitol laugh off the idea of the mild-mannered Evers picking fights. And they are skeptical of a strategy to paint the guv as the aggressor — given a hostile Legislature trying to undermine him with passing lame-duck laws before he even came into office then recently bypassing precedent and voting down his pick for ag secretary while holding other cabinet picks hostage. Further, strategists speculate the back and forth between GOP leg leaders and Evers on the rejected Ag secretary pick only may end up boosting his numbers with independents and the Dem base, especially if GOP legislative actions appear partisan and petty to casual voters, who — if they notice — may just shrug it off as inside baseball. The political vets also caution Republicans to remember what goes around comes around. Someday, there will be a Republican guv again, and if lines get redrawn there could be a Dem Senate. Do they want Dem senators to thwart a future GOP guv over cabinet picks? But some conservatives think the recent episodes could be the beginning of a change in voter attitude on Evers, who has enjoyed 50-plus numbers in recent polls. They say the harsh words from Evers if played right could take the shine off guv’s image as a nice guy and open the door to voters seeing him as just another politician rather than someone above the partisan fray. Evers came into office promising transparency and an effort to bring people together. But his administration gives critics fodder on the first front after his office refuses to release a day’s worth of the guv’s emails, saying the request is too burdensome because it didn’t narrow the search to a specific topic. That claim is eye-popping to some since the guv insists he maybe sends one email a day. The request from WITI-TV was originally more expansive, seeking about four weeks’ worth of emails between Evers and Chief of Staff Maggie Gau. After that was rejected, the station narrowed the request to a single day, and the guv suggests that wouldn’t turn up much because “If I do one email a day, that’s an extraordinary day. So, we’ll work on that.” But his staff still denies the request and says former Gov. Scott Walker rejected similar requests that didn’t state a specific topic. Still, insiders are puzzled by the decision. If Evers is barely on email, why deny the request and create a story? That leads them to wonder if it’s not the guv’s emails his office is worried about being open to fishing expeditions, but those of his staff. The fight with Republicans is more complex. A week after Senate Republicans rejected his ag secretary in what is believed to be an unprecedented move, word gets out that during a meeting with DATCP staff he told them “we can’t let the bastards keep us from doing our good work.” Coming on the heels of the guv calling the GOP move “bullshit” the week before, Evers defends his bastards comment as a figure of speech that’s been used throughout history. Still, he also says the “political assassination” of Brad Pfaff was done for “political and amoral purposes.” Republicans jump on the comments to chide the guv for his language and lack of civility. For GOP leaders to be lecturing the guv about civility after how things have played out since the lame-duck session in December is hard for some to swallow. Still, insider reaction to the guv’s comment runs the gamut — from it hurts him to it helps him by showing he’s loyal to his appointees. There are those who think the whole thing was blown out of proportion and Republicans are jumping on this just to cover for their lack of action on the gun bills Evers urged them to take up and a lackluster agenda. Critics suggest it’s more evidence he’s got a staff that’s more partisan than he is trying to goad him into having more of an edge. Others, though, say this is simply the guv’s temper coming through and he’s got a right to be angry after the way Republicans treated Pfaff. Strategists agree Evers’ nice-guy image helped him squeak out a win over Walker because voters were tired of the constant partisanship of the eight years he was in office; this undercuts that perception, some say. Yes, it sends a message to the base that he’s fighting for them. But it also risks inflaming the GOP base and leaving those in the middle seeing signs Evers is just another politician. Either way, insiders say, it’s off brand. GOP legislative leaders are intent on denying Evers any significant wins as they try to limit him to a single term and are content to play goalie. If he wants to get anything significant done beyond the budget, he’s going to have to figure out a way to work with them. Or, some suggest, he can try to run against a “do nothing” Legislature — and watch gridlock for the next three years.

See a story below on Evers’ Tourism secretary, who has yet to be confirmed.


Open government: Gov. Tony Evers’ administration isn’t the only one battling media and transparency advocates. A Lafayette County Board committee briefly considered a resolution that would’ve strictly limited access to who can see results from future water quality tests — and warned those who selectively report the results “will be prosecuted.” Ultimately, the committee dropped the resolution, but not before drawing national attention and scrutiny from open government advocates. The dust up began over the release of information about tests on private wells with a round in August finding 91 percent of those sampled were contaminated with fecal matter. That followed earlier rounds that found 42 percent of those tested and then 27 percent were contaminated. But that 91 percent figure grabbed headlines, and county board officials sought to clamp down on how the information is disseminated. The new resolution states, “No board member, committee member, county official or county employee is authorized to make any public statement regarding the water study without the authorization of the Review Board.” It also threatens discipline for those who violate the resolution — never mind that likely violates the First Amendment, some say. Then the Wisconsin Transparency Project announces it’s filed suit on behalf of a Madison resident who is accusing the city school district of refusing to turn over records because the person filing the requests is doing so anonymously. The suit says the district is refusing to turn over the records and unlawfully because of the person’s unwillingness to be identified. The suit says state law doesn’t allow that as a reason to deny a request.


Tuesday: 2020 Election Year Preview with ‘The Insiders’

Join WisPolitics.com on Nov. 19 at Spectrum offices in Milwaukee for a look ahead to 2020 elections and the Democratic National Convention.

The experts are also the stars of the WisPolitics.com show, “The Insiders.” Former state legislative leaders Chuck Chvala, a former state Senate majority leader from Dane County, and Scott Jensen, a former Assembly speaker from Waukesha County, will detail what’s at stake for Republicans and Democrats in 2020. Attention is already focused on Wisconsin’s pivotal role in the presidential race plus races for state Supreme Court, Milwaukee County executive and Congress.

See the Insiders video archive: https://www.wispolitics.com/category/opinion/the-insiders/

Date: Tuesday, Nov. 19

Time: Check-in starts at 11:30 a.m., with the program going from noon to 1 p.m.

Location: Spectrum, located at 1320 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Milwaukee, WI 53212.

Cost: $19 (lunch and soft drinks included).

REGISTER: Pre-payment required. Click here to register and pay the $19 fee (put “MilwNov19” in the purpose of payment line): https://wispolitics.com/make-payments/

Sponsors of the WisPolitics.com Milwaukee event series include: UW-Milwaukee, Wisconsin Academy of Global Education and Training, ELEVEN25 at Pabst, Milwaukee Police Association, The Firm Consulting, Medical College of Wisconsin and Spectrum.

More information: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/nov-19-2020-election-preview-with-the-insiders-2



Nearly 11 months into Wisconsin’s first divided government in more than a decade, the GOP-run Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers have combined to pass the third-fewest number of bills into law since the turn of the millennium.

And if Evers chooses not to sign at least four of the 51 bills currently enrolled when they are sent to his desk, his first year in office will mark the least productive first year of a legislative session — in terms of bills signed into law — in the state history.

The Assembly sent all 28 bills enrolled to the guv within the last 24 hours, while a spokeswoman for Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton could not say if the 23 bills enrolled in the Senate would be sent to guv ahead of the Dec. 5 deadline.

Thursday marked the last day of the year the Legislature has blocked off for floor periods, and as of today, Evers has signed just 21 bills into law. That marks the fewest bills signed into law at this point in a session since 2001, when former Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum, a Republican Assembly and Dem-controlled Senate combined to codify just 18 proposals.

Still, that number was up from the 1999-2000 session, when Thompson and a divided Legislature only managed to find common ground on nine bills by the Nov. 15 mark.

Fast forward to today, the state’s divided government is again plagued by gridlock.

“It’s a knife fight every day in the Capitol,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. “This seems to be a low point of how we operate.”

In interviews with WisPolitics.com, Capitol leaders from both who are at the heart of the fight place the blame for the lack of productivity at each other’s doors.

“It seems like (Dems) have a hard time getting to yes, or at least being able to celebrate the fact that we’re coming together around common goals, even if both sides aren’t getting 100 percent of what they want,” said Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna.

Shilling countered with the inverse criticism, saying the GOP was “becoming the party of ‘no.'”

“It feels like Republicans are rudderless, because they don’t have a Republican governor in the East Wing,” she told WisPolitics.com. “The dynamics have changed and both parties need to understand their role for things to function.”

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz in an interview with WisPolitics.com accused Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of employing the “McConnell strategy of making it as ineffective a session then pinning it on the governor.” That’s a reference to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has called himself the “grim reaper” of progressive policies in the Senate.

“Even if it’s more complicated, it appears to the public as if things just aren’t getting done and what’s the difference? Oh, there’s a Democratic governor,” he said.

Vos, R-Rochester, meanwhile, told reporters on Tuesday ahead of the Assembly’s floor session that the lack of progress on legislation was due to divided government.

“It takes a lot longer to find consensus,” he said. “Most of the proposals they would like to bring up are ones that are only supported by their party.”

But Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff noted the legislative calendar had shrunk from 101 days blocked off as floor periods last session to just 82 this session, a nearly 19 percent drop. Republicans also gaveled in an out of the special session Evers called on gun violence without discussing the bills.

“It’s not like they can make the argument credibly that, ‘Oh well, you know, there’s divided government and we just had so much debate over these ideas.’ That’s not even it,” she said. “They just haven’t really done a whole lot.”

And Hintz pointed to the three legislative sessions between 2003 and 2008 that featured Dem Gov. Jim Doyle and at least one chamber of the Legislature controlled by Republicans.

Lawmakers during those sessions managed to find common ground and pass 50 bills on average by this point, with the lowest mark of 22 bills signed into law coming in 2007 when Dems controlled the East Wing and the Senate.

“What is different between divided government then and divided government now?” he asked. “I think you’ve got to point to the leadership of the Republican caucuses.”

Steineke shot back that while he wanted to avoid “pointing fingers and (the) blame game,” Republicans in his chamber are “struggling to get on the same page and find areas of agreement” with Evers.

“I think the thing that has frustrated us is that the proposals coming from the governor’s office, by and large, are proposals that he knows are dead on arrival,” the Kaukauna Republican told WisPolitics.com.

“If you’re talking about legalizing marijuana, if you’re talking, expanding welfare benefits or gun control or things like that, if that’s all you’re talking about, then it’s probably going to be difficult to get a lot of items passed.”

Steineke highlighted a number of items — bills on homelessness and water quality and proposals from the Speaker’s task forces on suicide prevention and adoption — that he said had “broad bipartisan appeal.”

“We’re continuing to do our work, working on things that we think have broad appeal and we’re just hoping that those things can come from the governor’s desk for his signature,” he said.

But Baldauff fired back that it was “cowardly and disingenuous” for Steineke to say proposals to expand Medicaid, change cannabis laws or enact gun safety legislation were non-starters, noting Marquette University Law School polling that exceeded 70 percent on each of those issues.

“The only reason they don’t stand a chance is because Republican leadership is too afraid to bring them to the floor,” she said. “If they voted on these bills, they’re popular and things people want to see.”

Baldauff also highlighted the bills stemming from the Interagency Council on Homelessness chaired last session by former Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Evers included the council’s proposals in his budget, but Republicans pulled them while leaving the funding in the Joint Finance Committee.

While the measures have cleared the Assembly as stand-alone bills, they have yet to be taken up by the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has raised concerns about their price tag.

“The Senate won’t even pass their own bills and send them to the governor to sign,” Baldauff said. “This is how divided things are, and I think it’s really unfortunate because there are areas where we can make a lot of progress.”

Fitzgerald was not available to provide comment for this story.

Both sides locked in the stand-off offered similar prescriptions when asked how to promote a more productive legislative agenda.

Steineke noted that as a conservative, “I don’t think we need necessarily to add a ton of new laws to the books.”

But he added that in order to bridge the chasm that has opened between the parties occupying the Capitol, “the governor has got to lead.”

“I think he’s got to stop communicating through his political people and stop calling names and just sit down with legislative leaders and figure it out,” he said.

Baldauff, meanwhile, said that “not everything has to be a fight.”

But she pointed to the tussle this week after Evers decided to change the name of the evergreen annually displayed in the Capitol rotunda from a “Christmas tree” as is had been called under former GOP Gov. Scott Walker to its decades-long namesake of “holiday tree.”

The Assembly then introduced and passed a resolution to call the evergreen displayed each year in the rotunda the “Wisconsin State Christmas Tree” after a heated floor debate.

“If we have this much of a fight about a tree, it’s difficult to find common ground and work together,” she said.


Tourism Secretary Sarah Meaney is promising to fix a situation in which the agency botched an election for officers on an advisory council, blaming it partly on guidance she says the department received from Scott Walker’s administration.

But Meaney rejected the charge she is politicizing the department, telling WisPolitics.com she is driven by data, not politics.

Amid questions of whether attempts to elect officers for the Governor’s Council on Tourism broke open meetings laws, conservative critics have begun to lob charges at Meaney. That includes the suggestion the agency is looking to focus promotional efforts more on Madison and Milwaukee at the expense of other areas of the state.

Meaney countered the agency is simply looking for options to attract more visitors and research shows Wisconsin lags the rest of the Midwest in attracting younger and more diverse travelers.

“This does not mean to the exclusion of the existing base. It means we can do more to attract more people to spend more dollars here,” said Meaney, who was chief marketing and development officer of Milwaukee Film before her cabinet appointment. “That is not a political agenda. That is an economic agenda. That’s how I see my job making the most sense.”

Fresh on the heels of the Senate rejecting Brad Pfaff as DATCP secretary, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, singled out Meaney as another of Gov. Tony Evers’ cabinet picks who could fail to win confirmation from the GOP-controlled chamber. He cited reports about the mishandled officer election, while other critics have accused Meaney of inappropriately trying to pressure a longtime council member to resign.

GOP state Sen. Andre Jacque, chair of the Senate’s Local Government, Small Business, Tourism and Workforce Development Committee, has been sharply critical of Meaney over the suggestion she pressured Kathy Kopp, the longtime executive director of the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce, to resign early from the Tourism Council.

In a communication to Meaney last month, Jacque wrote Meaney’s criteria for future council appointments were “primarily weighted toward ethnic and cultural diversity” and suggested the agency’s job is to promote Wisconsin, “not to promote a political agenda – checking a racially-based box should not come before qualifications.”

The De Pere Republican said in an interview this week he hasn’t been able to connect with Meaney to follow up on his concerns and largely declined to weigh in on her comments in the WisPolitics.com interview.

“I still have a number of questions I’d like to get answers to,” Jacque said, adding he’s “reserving comment” on whether Meaney should be confirmed.

Meaney chalked up the suggestion she pressured Kopp to resign to a misunderstanding, saying she was inquiring about Kopp’s plans to retire from the Platteville Area Chamber of Commerce and a “health challenge” for her husband. Meaney said her intent was to see how the two impacted her term on the council, which isn’t up until 2021.

Kopp said she was caught off guard by Meaney’s questioning in their October conversation. She told WisPolitics.com she assured Meaney her husband was fine after a minor stroke in August and that even though she was retiring from the chamber, she had planned to remain part of the council.

Kopp also said she quizzed Meaney on whether her eventual replacement would be from southwestern Wisconsin as well. Kopp said Meaney told her she couldn’t offer any assurances and geography wasn’t going to be the priority but to be “more inclusive and diverse.”

“That probably led to my decision to reaffirm to myself that southwest Wisconsin needs to be represented,” Kopp said of deciding to fill out her term.

Kopp also was one of those who was seeking an officer’s spot in the voting by council members. The first attempt last month began with council members receiving a link to vote online. They were then asked to repeat the process because some members had voted more than once. Amid concerns that the process violated the state’s open meetings laws, it was ultimately scrapped.

Meaney said the agency believed it was following past practice in how it handled the election, including voting electronically. She said the council will now elect officers at its next public meeting — which hasn’t been scheduled yet — and rejected the suggestion she is trying to stack its membership, noting state statutes include requirements for geographic representation, as well as various segments of the tourism industry.

The council’s 21 members include 14 guv appointments, the Tourism secretary, the executive secretary of the Arts Board, the director of the Historical Society, and four lawmakers, one from each party in each house. There are currently two vacancies.

She also ticked off a series of successes in both the tourism industry and the agency this year. That includes entertainment and recreation taxable sales rising at twice the rate of the previous three-year average. The agency also has seen five straight months of more than 1 million users interacting with its website, which she said was a new record.

Refuting the suggestion she’s been focused on Madison and Milwaukee, she said 80 percent of her time outside the office has been spent in places other than the state’s two largest cities.

Meaney’s appointment received a public hearing in March, and she cleared Jacque’s committee 5-0 on Sept. 11.

Meaney said her staff reached out to Senate Republicans after they caucused last month — before the issues arose with the vote and Kopp — and none expressed an interest in meeting again or expressed any concerns with her appointment.

“I’m just keeping my eye on the ball, going around, doing my job and I think the results will speak for themselves,” she said.

Listen to the interview:


Tuesday: Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates’ forum.
– 12:30 p.m.: Foley & Lardner office, 150 East Gilman St., Madison.

Wednesday: Marquette University Law School Poll release.
– 12:15 p.m.: Eckstein Hall, Marquette University.

(Check local listings for times in your area)

“UpFront” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. This week’s show, hosted by ADRIENNE PEDERSEN, features U.S. Rep. RON KIND, D-La Crosse, and Milwaukee Ald. MICHAEL MURPHY.
*See viewing times in state markets here: http://www.wisn.com/upfront/
*Also view the show online each Monday at WisPolitics.com

“Rewind,” a weekly show from WisconsinEye and WisPolitics.com, airs at 8 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. on Sundays in addition to being available online. On this week’s episode, WisPolitics.com’s JR ROSS and WisconsinEye’s STEVE WALTERS discuss the ongoing spat between Gov. TONY EVERS and GOP lawmakers, a lawsuit over voters who may have moved, and new jobs for SEAN DUFFY, REBECCA KLEEFISCH and BRAD PFAFF.
*Watch the show: https://wiseye.org/2019/11/15/rewind-your-week-in-review-for-november-9-15/

Wisconsin Public TV’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays.

“For the Record” airs at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on WISC-TV in Madison. Host NEIL HEINEN interviews MARCIA WHITTINGTON from Agrace and LINDA KETCHUM and KATHY ECKENROD from MUM’s Healing House.

“Capital City Sunday” airs at 9 a.m. Sunday on WKOW-TV in Madison, WAOW-TV in Wausau, WXOW-TV in La Crosse and WQOW-TV in Eau Claire. Host EMILEE FANNON interviews Assembly Speaker ROBIN VOS, R-Rochester, as well as KRISS MARION from the Lafayette County Land Conservation Committee and JESSIE OPOIEN of the Capital Times.

“The Insiders” is a weekly WisOpinion.com web show featuring former Democratic Senate Majority Leader CHUCK CHVALA and former Republican Assembly Speaker SCOTT JENSEN. This week, the two consider the political fallout of the GOP-controlled Legislature ignoring Gov. TONY EVERS’ special session call for gun control laws.

*Watch the video or listen to the show: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/wisopinion-com-the-insiders-debate-the-gops-dismissal-of-evers-special-session-on-gun-violence/

Send items to staff@wispolitics.com

Upcoming WisPolitics.com events include:

*A Nov. 19 WisPolitics.com luncheon at Spectrum offices in Milwaukee with the WisOpinion Insiders CHUCK CHVALA and SCOTT JENSEN on the big political year ahead. Sponsored by: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Medical College of Wisconsin, The Firm Consulting, Milwaukee Police Association, Wisconsin Academy for Global Education and Training, Eleven25 at Pabst and Spectrum. Register: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/nov-19-2020-election-preview-with-the-insiders-2/

*A Dec. 3 WisPolitics.com/Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon featuring former Governor SCOTT WALKER. Sponsored by: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Medical College of Wisconsin, The Firm Consulting, Milwaukee Police Association, Wisconsin Academy for Global Education and Training, Eleven25 at Pabst and Spectrum. See details: https://milwaukeepressclub.org/events/former-governor-scott-walker-to-speak-at-newsmaker-luncheon/

*A Dec. 5 luncheon at the Madison Club with WEDC chief MISSY HUGHES. Before being appointed by Gov. TONY EVERS, she served as chief mission officer and general counsel for Organic Valley/CROPP cooperative since 2003. Sponsored by: Husch Blackwell, American Family Insurance, Xcel Energy, Walmart, AARP Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Hospital Association. Register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wispolitics-luncheon-with-wedc-chief-missy-hughes-tickets-77143415031

Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary and CEO MISSY HUGHES spoke at a WMC Foundation Future Wisconsin Project on long-term changes happening to the state’s economy.

First Lady KATHY EVERS, Superintendent of Public Instruction CAROLYN STANFORD TAYLOR and Wisconsin Historical Society Secondary Education Coordinator JENNY KALVAITIS revealed new K-12 classroom resources on women’s suffrage in the state and the role of Wisconsin women in the movement. Today marks the centennial of Wisconsin’s ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

Gov. TONY EVERS is seeking applications for the Kenosha County Circuit Court. The guv is looking to fill a vacancy on the court by the retirement of Judge DAVID BASTIANELLI April 1, 2020. Evers’ hire would complete the term ending July 31, 2021.

U.S. Rep. MIKE GALLAGHER, R-Green Bay, received Issue One’s inaugural Teddy Award for “his bipartisan efforts to reform Congress and return government to the people.” Issue One gave the award to three other lawmakers, one Republican and one Dem from each house of Congress. At the award ceremony, Gallagher said “nothing will ever get done” unless both parties come together to enact congressional reform.

Endorsements: The following is a list of recent endorsements made for statewide races, based on emails received by WisPolitics.com:

— Supreme Court

JILL KAROFSKY: former Gov. TONY EARL; former Gov. MARTIN SCHREIBER; former Lt. Gov. BARBARA LAWTON; state Sen. JANET BEWLEY; Dane County Executive KATHLEEN FALK; and dozens of former and current local officials:

— 7th CD



For more Names in the News, see subscriber products from earlier in the week plus the press release page at WisPolitics.com: https://www.wispolitics.com/

For upcoming events, see the “Week Ahead” in this product and in your e-mail Monday morning. Click here for the online calendar: https://www.wispolitics.com/category/events/

If you have a contribution, e-mail staff@wispolitics.com

(from the state Ethics Commission)

Sixteen changes were made to the lobbying registry in the past 10 days.

Follow this link for the complete list:

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