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Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers discusses his policies and his hopes for another term

Governor Evers rally
Scott Olson
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Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers speaks at a rally on October 29, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Evers is facing a close midterm race for reelection.

With Wisconsin's 2022 midterm elections fast approaching, candidates are making their cases for why they should lead the state into the future. Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is running for reelection and joins Lake Effect to talk about his policy proposals and what he hopes to do with another term in office.

Lake Effect also reached out to Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels; however, he did not respond to multiple interview requests.

>> A non-interview with Tim Michels: Where he stands on the issues and the questions that remain

The below conversation with Evers has been edited for clarity.

LAKE EFFECT'S JOY POWERS: Part of campaigning is talking about all of the great things that you want to do for Wisconsin. But what are your reasonable expectations of what you can get done given the kind of combative relationship between you and the Legislature?

GOV. TONY EVERS: Well, I think there's some basic issues around our public schools, around health care, around infrastructure, for sure. I mean, there's some basic differences and disagreements. I don't think there's a Republican or Democrat that doesn't want every person in Wisconsin, every household to have high speed broadband; and so, I think without a doubt that's something there's good agreement on. And I think our public schools too, I mean people all across the State of Wisconsin represent public school districts, and my opponent notwithstanding, these folks in their Legislature, Republicans and Democrats, actually want to help our kids rather than defund public education. So, I think that's another area, those two areas, in particular and I think we're going to be talking about, something that I'm going to be talking about too during the campaign, around shared revenue, which is money that goes to municipalities. I think that's easily a bipartisan issue too. And then, you know, there's a whole bunch of other things that we disagree on, but certainly some of the big ones we do, my guess is it'll come down to how much money and who gets credit for it sort of, you know, silly things. But at the end of the day, I think we can get things accomplished. Now it's important that people know that if the Republicans get a supermajority then their ability to, you know, override my vetoes that's going to be a problem for a lot of people. But that said, let's look at it the positive way that we're going to be at least making some good efforts around education, our infrastructure and other issues that are important to people and for its shared revenue.

POWERS: You mentioned the potential for a veto-proof majority. If that happens, do you have a strategy moving forward?

EVERS: Well, we're going to struggle if that's the case because they will pass all sorts of laws and so that I will find egregious. I found them egregious last time too, and so I vetoed them. That'll be a problem. We'll have to work with individuals on the Republican side and see if we can prevent that from happening. But yes, it'll change the dynamics and it'll change, frankly, the way Wisconsin looks. I think there's some benefit to having, I mean, you know, them not getting it. I think having some balance there and being that balance point, I think that's important and so we're hopeful that we won't be in that situation. But if we do, we'll deal with the best we can and that'll be trying to convince individual Republican legislators that they need to help us out and not allow bad bills to become law.

POWERS: One of the issues on the minds of a lot of Wisconsinites is abortion rights. Right now, many doctors in Wisconsin are fearful of giving their patients the care they need because of the state's criminal abortion law. It was written before our modern understanding of fetal development and it lacks a lot of clarity. How do you intend to protect reproductive health care in Wisconsin, given the Legislature's opposition to even really discussing the current law?

EVERS: Yeah, it's a great question, Joy, because it's a huge issue for our state. So many women are in the position now, it's an 1849 law that became law before women had the right to vote for goodness sakes, and so I do believe that the lawsuit Attorney General [Josh] Kaul and I instigated, and it's now in court, it's going to wind its way through court, but I think it has a good chance of actually winning, and then we can celebrate the fact that doctors won't be thrown in prison and that women actually make that decision and not Tim Michels or the Republican Party making that decision for her. And, we won't have to worry about the fact that even people with ... no exceptions for rape or incest is the law of the land in Wisconsin. I think most people don't believe that, and that's one of the things that we've been talking about on this campaign, and I think the people Wisconsin understand how radical the position is that my opponent has taken.

POWERS: Turning to education. This is, of course, an area of great importance to many Wisconsinites. A recent assessment found Wisconsin’s eighth grade math and reading fell to levels we haven't seen since the 1990s. You’ve had a fairly hands-off approach to the Department of Public Instruction. What will you do to ensure schools are aggressively tackling this issue?

EVERS: Yeah it is an issue and the pandemic did no favors for our kids, that's for sure. Our, their ability to succeed the highest levels possible just didn't happen in most cases. So, that said, money does talk on this issue. And yes, we're working hard. I mean obviously the Department of Public Instruction is an independent agency — the state's superintendent. I used to hold that position as an independent operator and I believe that works well. Well, but at the end of the day, it is that we have to make sure the resources are there to do the best thing we can for our kids. And that's why I anticipate using a fair amount of our surplus in the state to help buffer our schools and build them up, especially in the area of mental health — and mental health and also issues that impact kids with special needs. ... My opponent has the idea that somehow we need to defund our public schools. That's about as rational as defunding the police, which are both irrational positions. His radical position is that we need to defund our schools by a lot and that is not going to help kids. Believe me, what's best for our kids is best for our state. And we also have to, Joy, we also have to understand that sometime the difficulties some kids have in the classroom stem from things outside of the classroom: especially poverty is an issue and other issues that impact kids that come from homes that maybe struggle with nutrition, struggle with child poverty. And so we need to connect the dots too. It's not all the third grade teacher in this school that is not doing the job. As a society, we need to say, you know, “Where are the opportunities that we can have to close those gaps?” And just today, I made an announcement about some child care money that is going to go out and and lift up that industry and help parents find the best child care providers possible. All these things are connected at the end of the day. And so we're going to continue working on that during the pandemic. I actually put some money into the systems to make sure that they are able to respond to the pandemic. But, clearly, the pandemic has done no favor for our kids. We'll get back to where we should be, but it will take more than a month. And I feel confident that with expanding opportunities for summer school and other things during the school year, we can get those kids back up to where they should be. We're still eighth in the nation, which is not a bad place to be, but we need it we need to focus on where we need to improve.

POWERS: As you say, money talks. Milwaukee right now is facing a major financial crisis, not just the city of Milwaukee but also Milwaukee County. This financial crisis is really looming on top of us. Milwaukee is one of the only major cities in the U.S. that isn't given special control over its finances putting it in a tenuous situation. You mentioned the shared revenue that comes from the state, how can you, as the governor, give the city what it needs to survive?

EVERS: Yeah, and that's something I think is going to be a bipartisan issue. People on, I think people on both sides are starting to get it. ... I put money, in small amounts of money, but 2% each year of the biennium and the two budgets that I proposed to the Legislature for increasing shared revenue and zeroed out, so they got no increase. But think about this, Joy, over the last decade, I think I'm safe to say the highest increase that they've ever gotten, they being the city and the county and across the state also, the highest it's ever been is 0.03% — not 30%, not 3% — 0.03%. So clearly, they've been underfunded for a long time and clearly, the expectations for local municipalities and counties have increased dramatically in time, especially in around areas of public health and public safety. So, the goal is to provide those resources. Again, we have an increase in the amount of money that we have in our surplus here in the State of Wisconsin. We need to share that and so I will be proposing a large increase in that in the next budget.

POWERS: With money still in mind, inflation is of course a global problem, but there are some local solutions that could ease the pain faced by people in our communities. What is your plan to tackle inflation here in Wisconsin?

EVERS: Yeah, I have a plan and it's pretty simple. We need to reduce our income taxes for middle class taxpayers and hardworking families by 10%. I also believe that we can get rid of the minimum markup law that has been on the books forever. It's an arcane law that actually would be a savings of up to $0.30 a gallon of gasoline. In addition to that I would propose some significant increases in different tax credits, such as child care tax credits. We talked about child care a little bit ago. That's really important part of making sure that kids are safe and learning as much as they can even before they get to our public school system. So, those things that this common sense, you know, I've been talking about this now for months, hoping that the Legislature would find time. They left office in in March and haven't been back. I was hoping that they might consider coming back for this. Mitigation of inflation, we can help on — obviously, inflation itself is a global issue and we have very little to fix there or that we can as a state take care of. But, can we help people with paying their bills? Heck yes, and that is my plan.

POWERS: When it comes to voting, we're seeing some mistrust among people who are both Democrats and Republicans. What can you do to make voting more accessible and more secure going forward, so all voters feel confident in the accuracy of our elections?

EVERS: Yeah, great question and we can start by stop lying about it. We have lots of people out there, and I will say Justice [Michael] Gableman is one of them, making false claims and you make false claims enough and suddenly, some people are going to believe it. Our last election was fair, safe and secure. There's courts all across our state, across our nation that came to that same conclusion, you know. There was not widespread fraud. So, the bottom line is I understand where people are frustrated because they've been lied to. And so, we need to make sure that they understand how safe and secure this election is. My opponent has even said that he's open to decertifying the last election. You think about that, that's somebody that's running for governor of the state of Wisconsin and one of his comments is, “I'm open to decertifying the last election and give it to Donald Trump," instead of who actually won the election — our president. And so, people need to get off that wagon and get on with, you know, when we talk about these things going on in our state that really aren't happening, or across our nation that really aren't happening, you know they take it to the level of the state. Believe me when, when you talk talking about things like this, the vast majority of the work is done by local people who are friends or neighbors of us and who are Democrats and Republicans. We need to understand that they're doing a great job. All the courts that have been challenged on this issue have said the same thing. So, we’ll get through this. This election is, obviously, a very important one when you have one candidate, that being me, is supporting those local folks and the job they're doing, and whatever we can do to make sure they can continue doing it, or somebody that calls into question it, you know, even when he's running for election, it doesn't make sense to me. We have a good system. It's safe, secure and fair.

POWERS: Public safety has become a flashpoint in this election, but despite a lot of the conversation around it, we're not seeing a lot of plans from either party about how they intend to solve the many public safety issues that we're dealing with. Whether that's gun violence, whether that's reckless driving that we've seen a lot here in Milwaukee, what is your plan to curb this uptick in in violence?

EVERS: Yeah, and of course that's a national issue also, but yes, there is an uptick, there is no question about it. And during the pandemic, I put over $100 million into this issue, giving money to local municipalities so that they want to start a violence prevention program or if they wanted to hire more cops. In Milwaukee we provided money to have night courts so that people can get through the system, either being, you know, incarcerated or set free depending on the on the decision of the of the courts. And so there's all sorts of things that you mentioned. Traffic issues, we provided several million dollars to cities to, you know, put in speed bumps so that we can actually get this erratic driving under control. We need to continue to do that going forward, but it goes back to one of your initial questions was around Milwaukee, but it's a statewide issue. We haven't been able to provide municipalities and counties the money they need in order to do the job that they're they're responsible for and they want to do, then that's a problem. We have to provide those resources. We have the ability to do so now. We have a surplus in our state’s budget. So, that's what we should be doing. Money is not all the answers, obviously, issues around poverty and other things that are connected to crime, we need to continue working on that. But as far as providing those resources that municipalities need, we should be doing that also.

POWERS: Finally, in a period where the state is divided on so many issues and people are so entrenched in their views, how do you govern a group of people whose beliefs are so different?

EVERS: We’re a purple state. And I anticipate that this race will be real close and people will be arguing about who won or who lost. I get all that. I will win, I feel confident in that. But at the end of the day, I'm someone who is, looks at things pretty rationally. I don't overreact, and I can tell you flat out that there are areas that we do agree on. Obviously, you know, the people of Wisconsin agree that abortion should be determined by a woman with her doctor and others that advise her. That's a majority of the people Wisconsin that believe Roe v. Wade worked OK. It's the Legislature that has decided that they know more than the women in the state and the men in the state that are polled on this on a regular basis. So, I think that, you know, once we get through this campaign, my low-key demeanor won't change and we will solve some of these problems, especially where I know they are solvable because both Republicans and Democrats are concerned about it. Whether it's our public schools, whether it's our municipalities, you know, these are things that all of us care about and we will have some bipartisan solutions there.

POWERS: All right, well Gov. Evers, thank you so much for joining us here on Lake effect.

EVERS: Good. Thanks, Joy.

Wisconsin's midterm elections are Tuesday, November 8, 2022. If you have a question about voting or the races, submit it below or check out WUWM's voter guide.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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