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Presidential Election, COVID-19 Response & Inaction: A Look Back At 2020 Politics In Wisconsin

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks during a press conference on the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, Wisconsin was thrust into the political spotlight. Serving as a key swing state for the presidential election, playing virtual host to the Democratic National Convention and taking on the national conversation around police reform all put eyes on Wisconsin.

But UW-Milwaukee political science professor Paru Shah says much of Wisconsin politics was characterized by inaction.

“This last year, the power struggle between Evers and the Legislature has resulted in the stalemate and it has meant that very little has happened here in Wisconsin — to the detriment of all of us,” she says.  

On May 13, 2020, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court struck down Gov. Evers’ safer-at-home order, which Shah says weakened the governor’s power to act on issues like the coronavirus pandemic. This forced the Legislature and the governor to need to work together to craft a response to the pandemic, but that did not happen.

Many issues were then decided by the courts, like early voting, recounts and mask mandates.

When it came to the November election, Shah says expanding the ways people can vote signaled a real step forward for elections in Wisconsin and across the country.

“It’s fantastic that we have so much more people who can vote early, can vote absentee because we know that those are the kinds of things that can really have a huge impact on voter turnout,” she says. “I don’t think it’s for one particular party or one particular candidate, but it does impact those who’ve been traditionally marginalized by voting on a single day in November.”

Moving forward into 2021, Gov. Evers and the Republicans in the Legislature will have to create their budgets and find some common ground to get the state funded. This will come while COVID-19 still presents a constant threat, and in a year where new districts will need to be drawn following the 2020 census, which Shah says has the power to shift the partisanship of many districts in Wisconsin.

Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.