Governor Tony Evers outlined an ambitious agenda in his second inaugural address on January 3, calling for overturning an 1849 state law banning abortions, expanding Medicaid coverage and legalizing marijuana.
While he called for working together on the priorities he outlined, many of the issues have long divided Democrats and Republicans. The GOP returns this session with even larger majorities in the state Legislature.
“To take the oath as governor — an oath only 45 people have taken before me — is an extraordinary privilege. And not just because a so-called ‘boring’ former science teacher managed to end up here, but because each time this oath is taken is a profound display of democracy. One much like the fundamental right to cast a ballot; like the right to have fair and secure elections, free from interference by politicians; like the fidelity to each other to willfully return borrowed power when it’s no longer ours to bear; and much like the responsibility to serve with the grace and humility of recognizing not one of us alone can accomplish all we aim to achieve on our own.” – Governor Tony Evers
Governor Evers and other constitutional officers elected in November took their oaths of office on January 3 during a day thick on pomp and thin on substance.
Speaking in the state Capitol Rotunda, the Governor said his reelection win two months ago served as a rejection of “the bitter politics of resentment.”
“Given the opportunity to abandon the virtues that define us, Wisconsinites chose to embrace a better history. Given the opportunity to retreat into division and doubt, Wisconsinites chose a future of unity and faith. Given the opportunity to further enable cynicism and hate, Wisconsinites chose kindness and they chose hope instead. People voted because they believe, as I do, that we should fully fund our public schools, keep class sizes small, invest in kids’ mental health, and retain and build upon our talented education workforce. Because they know that when we do what’s best for our kids, we do what’s best for our state.” – Governor Tony Evers
Governor Evers has renewed his push for legal abortions by undoing a 174-year-old state ban that took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The Republican-controlled Legislature last year twice rejected attempts by Governor Evers to undo the law. Governor Evers has promised to veto any bill that creates exceptions under the law for rape and incest, saying he will only support a full overturning of the abortion ban.
“We must restore the freedoms that Wisconsinites have had until June 23, 2022, the day before the U.S. Supreme Court overrode Roe v. Wade,” Governor Evers said. “And I believe that together we will.”
He also called for fully funding public schools, legalizing marijuana and expanding the state’s Medicaid program known as BadgerCare Plus. Republicans have opposed efforts to fund public schools as much as Governor Evers wants, voted repeatedly not to accept federal money to expand Medicaid and killed efforts to legalize marijuana, even for medical purposes.
Governor Evers and Democrats point to public opinion polls showing support for abortion rights, expanding Medicaid and legalizing marijuana as they try to work around, or with, Republican opponents in the Legislature.
Governor Evers also pushed for issues more likely to find bipartisan support, including attracting more workers to the state, particularly in health care; expanding job training and apprenticeship programs; fighting water pollution from chemicals known as PFAS; and investing in public transit and transportation alternatives.
The speech was a warm-up of sorts for Governor Evers, who will deliver his State of the State address in three weeks. And in February, Governor Evers will release his two-year state budget plan, which will include details about the state’s projected $6.6 billion surplus.
Governor Evers did not mention the surplus on January 3, instead highlighting key priorities such as cutting taxes for the middle class and not just wealthy residents. Governor Evers opposes a Republican plan to move toward a flat income tax rate, which would lower taxes more dramatically for those at the highest tax rate.
Governor Evers also called for for “generational, transformative improvements as to how we invest in our local communities and keep them safe.” He has called for increased funding to local governments, while Republican legislative leaders are discussing a plan that would give counties, cities, towns and villages a portion of the state sales tax revenue.
Governor Evers planned to meet on January 4 with mayors from the state’s largest cities to discuss options.
In addition to Governor Evers, others sworn in on January 3 included Lt. Governor Sara Rodriguez; Attorney General Josh Kaul; Secretary of State Doug La Follette; and state Treasurer John Leiber. Later in the day, 17 members of the state Senate and all 99 members of the Assembly were to be sworn in. There are seven new state senators and 24 new members of the Assembly being sworn in.
Four former governors attended the ceremony: Republicans Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum and Democrats Jim Doyle, and Martin Schreiber. Outgoing Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes and state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, both of whom ran for U.S. Senate rather than reelection, were also present.