New Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is calling for Democrats and Republicans to work together. He made the comment during his inauguration Monday. Thousands of people packed into the State Capitol to witness the start of a new era.
The Capitol rotunda was decked out in Wisconsin and American flags for the ceremony, as people turned out to get a glimpse of the new governor. Bands and choirs from across the state performed for about an hour leading up to the Inauguration. Chief state Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack administered the oath of office. A band played On Wisconsin as Evers stepped to the lectern.
The Democrat did not directly refer to Republican — and now former governor — Scott Walker in his speech, except to thank him for his service. But Evers said the election in November proved people wanted change. He called on supporters to “turn the page on the tired politics of the past.”
“We’ve become paralyzed by polarity and we’ve become content with division. We’ve become indifferent to resentment and governing by retribution. We’ve gotten away from who we are and the values that make Wisconsin great, not Republican or Democratic values, but our Wisconsin values,” Evers said.
Evers also laid out key items he wants to accomplish — repeating themes he addressed on the campaign trail. He says they're the issues that matter most to the people of Wisconsin, such as education.
“We talked about what’s best for our kids is best for our state. And, that means we need to fully fund our schools at every level, so that every kid in the state has access to a quality education no matter what the zip code, from all day pre-K to our university and technical college systems,” he said.
Evers also says affordable health care is a priority, including coverage for people who have pre-existing conditions. The Democrat says Wisconsin faces significant challenges, and he implores lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to work together to find solutions.
The festivities drew a diverse crowd, including members of the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera. A crowd stood outside in the rain, holding a rally before the new governor was sworn-in. Alondra Quechol of Madison says she’s encouraged by Evers’ support for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. She plans to hold his feet to the fire.
“We’re helping remind him how important that is for us. People took off work, they came from long distances such as Milwaukee and Waukesha and other places. It’s more than just a reminder. It’s what we stand here for. It’s something we demand,” Quechol said.
Retired attorney Molly Plunkett was in the Capitol building. She was also there for the Act 10 protests in 2011, when Walker and GOP lawmakers stripped public unions of most bargaining rights. Plunkett says she hopes Act 10 will be reversed under Evers.
“I would love to see restitution of rights for unions in Wisconsin. I think they are critical to the wellbeing of employment in this state and to workers,” Plunkett said.
But, Plunkett admits Evers may have a hard time getting his agenda through the GOP-controlled Legislature. Last month, those Republicans passed bills to limit Evers' power. And GOP legislative leaders say they intend to ignore Evers' biennial budget proposal this winter and instead work from their own document. On Monday, state Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) says he’s inclined to go along with that plan.
“The responsibility of the budget is with the Legislature, so it’s our responsibility to actually create that budget and put it out. Historically, the executive branch comes in and says here’s what I think it needs to be, but at the end of the day, the Legislature sets the priorities and the spending limits,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters that he doesn’t agree with Evers on the need to increase the minimum wage. Still, he called for bipartisanship in a speech following the swearing-in of new legislators.
“Let’s be united by our shared vision to make Wisconsin a better place to live, work and raise a family," Fitzgerald said.