This is an important time in Wisconsin politics — citizens are filling out absentee ballots and will be heading to the polls to cast their votes in a November election that will decide who will serve in the Wisconsin State Assembly, Wisconsin State Senate, United States Congress, as the next president of the United States and more.
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See below for a sample of the newsletter, published Sept. 22, 2020.
— For WisPolitics.com members only. Please do not forward —
— Gov. Tony Evers has extended his mask mandate while declaring a new public health emergency due to a COVID-19 case spike.
Both orders are effective immediately and last 60 days.
In announcing the order, the guv noted eight Wisconsin cities were among the top 20 in the U.S. for the rise in COVID-19 cases. Of those eight, six are home to a UW System campus.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in cases across our state, especially on campus. We need folks to start taking this seriously, and young people especially — please stay home as much as you are able, skip heading to the bars, and wear a mask whenever you go out,” Evers said.
The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit in Polk County this summer seeking to overturn the last public health emergency that Evers declared. The suit, however, didn’t include a request for an injunction preventing enforcement of the mask mandate that Evers issued in addition to the health emergency.
The group said it was reviewing the current order.
“Governor Evers and his team believe the presence of COVID-19 supersedes the rule of law and our state constitution,” said Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president and general counsel. “They are wrong. Letting this gross abuse of power stand is not an option.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said his caucus had the votes to come in and overturn Evers’ original mask mandate. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has been silent on calls for the Legislature to reconvene for a vote. Their offices didn’t immediately respond this morning to requests for comment.
See the release here.
— A federal judge has granted a series of changes Dems sought to the November election, including a six-day delay in the deadline for absentee ballots to be returned so long as they’re postmarked by Election Day.
Typically, absentee ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. But Judge William Conley noted in his ruling the onslaught of absentee ballots expected this fall due to concerns about voting in person amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said “any objective view of the record before this court” suggests there will be an unprecedented number of absentee ballots cast, overwhelming the state Elections Commission “and local officials despite their best efforts to prepare.”
Wisconsin voters so far have requested nearly 1.1 million absentee ballots, compared to the more than 140,000 returned via mail for the November 2016 election. Conley also noted the more than 79,000 absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s April election that would’ve been disqualified if he hadn’t issued a similar order extending the deadline.
That April order included a prohibition on clerks reporting the results prior to the delayed deadline for absentee ballots to be returned. He included no such prohibition in today’s order.
Conley stayed his order for seven days to give the state and national Republican parties along with GOP lawmakers an opportunity to seek an emergency appeal.
State GOP Chair Andrew Hitt said, “We’re reviewing the order and working with the other parties in the case to determine our next steps.”
Representatives with the offices of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, either didn’t return calls or were still reviewing the ruling.
See additional provisions in the order at WisPolitics.com.
— Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray says he’s unsure if he’ll be asked to make a charging recommendation after being tapped to review DOJ’s investigation into the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
Dem AG Josh Kaul announced last night he was bringing in Wray to lead “the next phase of this case” at the request of Kenosha County DA Michael Graveley. Kaul said Wray, who is Black, would be responsible for reviewing the details of a soon-to-be-completed Division of Criminal Investigation report on Blake’s shooting before turning over the findings and his analysis to Graveley’s office.
But Wray could not say whether he would include a recommendation on pursuing criminal charges, noting he spoke with Graveley just ahead of accepting the role.
“I would like to have more of a discussion in terms of what the DA’s looking for in terms of the final analysis of my report, so I think it’s a bit early for me to be able to say what would be included,” Wray said.
Asked if he intended to pursue independent interviews or other forms of investigation, Wray said at this point his duties would be limited to reviewing the work compiled by investigative agencies.
He also said it was premature to speculate on a timeline or costs of his review because the DCI investigative file was not yet complete. But he pledged to “move with deliberate speed” to deliver his conclusions to Graveley’s office.
“I can appreciate, having been a police chief for 10 years, how the community really wants and they’re waiting to find out that information, so I do intend to move as quickly as possible,” he said.
Kaul declined to comment when asked to provide further details on the DCI probe, citing concern with “protecting the integrity of the investigation.”
“To the extent that there are facts that are in dispute in this case, it’s not our role to be resolving those disputes,” Kaul said. “It’s our role to identify the different versions of the different statements that were provided and to provide that information to the district attorney for his review.”
Still, Kaul said the “vast majority” of the investigation has been completed before pledging to turn its findings over to Wray soon. In announcing DCI was investigating the incident, DOJ on Aug. 24 indicated it generally aims to provide a report of its investigation of an officer-involved shooting to the relevant prosecutor within 30 days.
See a DOJ release here.
— In today’s top news: COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached their highest point since early April, and seven Kenosha public schools have moved to an all-virtual format for this week due to 276 teacher absences on Monday.
Read these stories and more at Around Wisconsin.
— At WisOpinion.com: Columnists offer takes on President Trump’s plan to nominate a successor following the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Dem Sen. Jeff Smith accuses Republican legislators of having a “do-nothing strategy” while blaming Gov. Tony Evers for the consequences.
See our daily roundup of Wisconsin-focused commentary at WisOpinion.com.