Wisconsin continues to break nearly daily records of COVID-19 cases and deaths. The state has few restrictions to slow the spread of the virus in place. Gov. Tony Evers recently extended a statewide mask mandate but has faced backlash from the Republican-controlled Legislature about his executive orders.
There are few signs that the icy relationship between Evers’ office and Republican lawmakers will thaw anytime soon. The state Legislature has asked for a seat at the table to decide how to contain the virus, but legislation remains stalled.
Charlie Sykes is a political commentator who hosted a conservative talk show in Milwaukee for more than two decades. He is the founder and editor of The Bulwark, a moderate conservative news website. What has struck Sykes is the fact that Republicans in Wisconsin have continued to take a hands-off approach to the coronavirus even when they have been given that seat at the table.
“Had [Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald] wanted to get something done, they easily could have gotten something done but it would require them to sit in the same room with the governor and obviously they’ve allowed their toxic relationship with the governor to get in the way of legislating,” Sykes says.
He attributes some of the inaction to the time Republicans spent early in the pandemic downplaying the severity of the crisis. This led to some conservatives to see aggressive action on COVID-19 as going against the party and creating a partisan issue. Sykes believes that in an election year, Republicans did not want to upset the base and have continued their plan of fighting Evers’ proposals and not passing any large COVID-19 relief bill.
“This is what happens when you have a political party that goes all in on denial,” he says.
For Sykes, COVID-19 is an issue that could have overwhelming bipartisan support. But now that the election is over and Republicans still control the Legislature, he sees them turning their focus to winning back the governorship in 2022 instead of thinking about public health.
As the Wisconsin Supreme Court is hearing a challenge that would strike down Gov. Evers’ mask mandate, Sykes says this is the time for Republicans to step in and offer legislation instead of being bystanders to the entire process.
“It is striking to me that the only debate that we are having now is whether or not we’re going to throw out the mitigation efforts that we’re doing now as we’re going into this third wave and there’s no real debate about what to do to actually stop the spread of this,” he says.