As Democratic Gov. Tony Evers takes office in a Republican-majority state, experts and elected officials raised questions about whether or not the Wisconsin Legislature will see more compromise in the new administration.
University of Wisconsin political science professor John Witte said Evers’ compromising nature could enable cooperation amongst Republicans on the other side of the aisle to avoid gridlock in the state Legislature — which the federal government is just now recovering from.
“There’s a big incentive for both [parties] to compromise,” Witte said. “Without cooperation of Republicans on the legislative side, [Evers] can’t get much accomplished.”
On the other hand, Witte said that Republicans may benefit from compromising since the governor can utilize strong veto powers to block legislation he does not favor. The Wisconsin governor holds some of the strongest veto powers in the nation.
If both parties want to make the most out of the next two years they will have to show some compromise in the months before the statewide budget is due in June, Witte said.
While Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, would agree that Evers is interested in creating a more collaborative environment in the state Legislature, she said she cannot say the same for the current Republican leadership.
“There is a new era of compromise between individual legislators in both parties, but I also feel like the Republican leadership has never been compromising,” Taylor said. “They’ve also pretty much said they’re not going to consider the governor’s budget.”
According to the latest Marquette Law School poll, only 22 percent of voters saw Republicans as cooperative while 47 percent said Evers is trying to cooperate with Republican legislators. Still, many voters do not know enough to say how well of a job Evers is doing.
Witte noted that it is too early to tell, and that the responses to the poll are very party-dependent.
“On any of those types of questions you’re going to get that partisan split,” Witte said. “Democrats will go in favor of Evers and say he’s compromising, while Republicans will say he’s not.”
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In response to the poll, Evers released a statement saying voters are rejecting Republicans’ attempts to undermine the will of the people.
For Taylor, hyper-partisanship in the Legislature has led to Republican legislators leading in a very divisive way. As a result, both parties will have difficulty solving the state’s otherwise simple problems, she said.
“It is time for the Republican legislative leaders to really abandon this hyper-partisanship that they continue to demonstrate,” Taylor said. “I really call on the Republican leadership to abandon this failed hyper-partisanship that has really engulfed state government.”
Other Democratic leaders like Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said the state may be able to benefit from divided control. For Risser, some of the best legislation has occurred when one party did not have all the power.
Risser has served in the Wisconsin Legislature under 13 different governors. During this time, he experienced divisions in the government under both Democrat and Republican governors.
“When one party has full control of the process, it does not need to even listen to any ideas from the other side which means that a large section of the population represented by the minority party may have no input on the activities of government at all,” Risser said in an email.
Taylor, who serves on the budget committee, agreed that the government will be better when it collaborates. But she urged her Republican colleagues to give the governor’s budget close consideration.
While Taylor said she is going into the process with a positive outlook, problems will arise if the Republicans dismiss Evers’ budget and decide to come up with their own.
“I am not going into the budget process with that on my mind,” Taylor said. “I’m going into the budget process saying I will do everything that I can to be a positive force in negotiating a budget that works for the people in the state of Wisconsin.”
Witte called this current air of compromise “a twilight zone,” where legislators on both sides are offering various positions to see how the other side will react.
Holding meetings and public forums is a way to figure out where people stand in terms of the budget, according to Witte.
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“It’ll get serious once the budget is presented,” Witte said. “Positions will change. Right now they’re being nice to each other.”
The 2019-21 state budget will be introduced by Evers on Feb. 28. The final budget is due June 30.