Looking at our presidents of recent history, an unfortunate pattern forms. To run for office is to make promises — to win is to break them. As many times as Barack Obama reassured the nation “If you like your doctor, you keep your doctor,” jeering Republicans probably repeated it more when many Americans’ health care plans failed to conform to the Affordable Care Act’s new requirements. Two years after inauguration, Donald Trump’s big and beautiful border wall has yet to see a single brick laid, and as his prospects of getting funding from Congress dwindle, he seems to have abandoned hope of getting so much as a red cent from Mexico toward the construction.
“Politicians lie” isn’t exactly startling news, but these unkept promises were never as simple as a sleazy suit getting a cheap laugh by pulling the wool over our eyes. Obama tried to provide for pre-existing plans to be grandfathered into the ACA and Trump went so far as to order the longest government shutdown in history in a bid to secure wall funding.
Their campaign promises were aspirational statements. Their actions as elected officials were hard choices in response to the real muck and mud that comes from navigating a changing political landscape as an executive. From the White House to the Statehouse to the School Board, the trustees of the people’s power are all too often dogged at the heels by ambitious promises, as impossible to unsay as they are to keep.
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Enter Gov. Tony Evers. On the campaign trail, he pledged to defund the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a private-public partnership created by former Gov. Scott Walker to offer loans to companies for the purpose of job creation. After affirming repeatedly the WEDC has to go, Evers has now abruptly changed tune on the matter. In an interview with Wisconsin Eye, Evers said he’s “… not going to be proposing anything in the budget about WEDC.” PolitiFact rated it a “full flop.”
If Evers was giving up the fight on the WEDC, this would be extremely disheartening news. Put charitably, it could be said to be a poorly-managed disappointment — its 2017 audit showed the organization’s failure to get back its loan payments or track job creation. To be less kind, it’s the organization that fought for a $500,000 taxpayer loan to a Walker donor’s failing business after he told them the money would go toward paying off his Maserati. While the Republican leadership of the Wisconsin statehouse will likely fight tooth and nail against it, our new governor has a responsibility to do everything he can to rid Wisconsin of the Walker era’s extraordinary financial corruption.
While Evers may be taking a step back, we have no reason to expect our governor to back down. Elaborating on the governor’s view on the matter, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes made it clear Evers isn’t going to get rid of the WEDC without ensuring that some lever remains for the state to encourage economic growth, putting it as plainly as, “It’s not like we just want to get rid of the department and do nothing.”
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As it stands, the legislature is under the control of Evers’ opposition. His ability to choose the CEO of the WEDC, as well as his ability to appoint members to its board have both been undercut during the legislature’s lame-duck session, the bill part of a Republican package of laws designed to hamper Evers’ power. While the governor could use a line-item veto to prevent the budget from including funds for the WEDC, doing so would be exactly what he’s previously stated he doesn’t want to do — destruction without a constructive replacement.
The measures passed regarding the WEDC, however, are temporary — and while the Republicans have a strong majority protected by one of the most coldly efficient partisan gerrymanders seen in the U.S., they do not have a veto-proof majority. While Evers’ current probing of reform and expansion of the mission of the WEDC is a positive first step, his popular mandate and its promises behoove him to continue to work for a publicly controlled replacement, and to resist attempts by Republicans to push more power into the hands of a non-representative state legislature.
As a former member of the Board of Regents and a teacher, Evers has witnessed the callous cynicism of Republican control unfold for years. Their willingness to contort districts and institutions to match their partisan agenda has long replaced any sensible notion of adopting a platform that a majority of Wisconsin voters would support. Willingness to compromise is the mark of a mature adult, and willingness to be uncompromising with one’s core values is the mark of a strong spirit.
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Evers was a regent who refused to side with the Walker-controlled Board’s willingness to undermine students’ free speech. Evers is a governor who has refused to back down on accepting the Medicaid expansion and fighting for access to affordable healthcare for all Wisconsinites. He has always been a fighter, and we have every reason to believe that he will continue to be one in the coming months.
Ethan Carpenter ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science.