Evers chooses partisan politics over good government
Despite the attempts by his media allies to portray him as a genteel greatgrandfather, Gov. Tony Evers has proven to be as rabidly partisan as any governor in recent memory. In the most recent example, Governor Evers has used his routine power and responsibility to set the date of a special election in a way that baffles voters, depresses turnout, and unnecessarily costs taxpayers thousands of dollars. He was willing to do all of that in order to create a possible political advantage for the Democratic Party.
The background of the issue is that popular Republican Congressman Sean Duffy has decided to resign his seat in order to help care for his most recent child, who has been diagnosed with a serious heart condition. This leaves Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District with a vacancy. It is the governor’s duty to set the date for a special election.
This routine duty is fraught with financial and political implications. Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District is geographically huge. It stretches from the Apostle Islands to Necedah and from Hudson to Florence. After being represented by Democratic Rep. David Obey for over 40 years, the district elected Republican Sean Duffy to five terms beginning in 2010. Some 56% of the voters in the 7th District voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but many shifted Republican over the past decade, with 58% of the voters going for Donald Trump in 2016. The district trends Republican, but is by no means a Republican stronghold.
The law for setting a date for a special election is defined in Wisconsin Statute 8.50. Essentially, the governor had two choices. He could have just called the special election to coincide with the normal spring election cycle in Wisconsin with a primary in February and a general election in April. He could also call a special election to be held as an isolated election anytime before January 31, with a primary held four weeks earlier, if needed.
Governor Evers not only chose to hold the special election in January instead of waiting for the spring elections, he chose to hold the election on a Monday, and he lied about why he chose that day.
The date that Evers chose for the special election is Monday, Jan. 27, with a primary on Monday, Dec. 30. Evers claimed that he wanted to ensure that the citizens of the 7th District were without representation for as little time as possible and January 27 was the soonest he could have called an election. That is untrue. By statute, the governor could have called the election as early as December 24. Christmas Eve would have been a poor time for election but holding the election a full 33 days later is not the earliest convenient date.
Then, Governor Evers chose a Monday. There is not a law that says that special elections must be held on a Tuesday, but generations of Wisconsinites have been conditioned to go to their polling places to vote on Tuesdays. There was no compelling reason to change that tradition in this case other than Governor Evers was trying to leverage some angle.
So why would Governor Evers schedule a special election on a Monday in late January? The date will depress turnout and cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars to pay for the special election. Why? The simple answer is: partisan political advantage.
First, in a Republicanleaning district, Governor Evers is hoping that by depressing turnout, it will benefit the Democratic candidate. An energized minority can beat a complacent majority if the turnout is small enough. It is a long shot, but Evers is willing to do his part.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the voters of Wisconsin will be electing a state Supreme Court Justice on the April ballot. While a nonpartisan race, recent history has seen liberals and Democrats line up behind one candidate and conservatives and Republicans support the other. Evers is hoping to minimize turnout in the Republicanleaning 7th District for the April election by not giving the voters something that may motivate them to vote on more than a dull Supreme Court race.
The most sensible thing for the governor to have done would have been to just hold the special election during the April election. It was the most costeffective choice and would have ensured the largest turnout. Choosing the April election would have been just good government. Instead, Governor Evers chose a date designed to benefit his party at the expense of the voters and taxpayers of the 7th Congressional District.
(Owen B. Robinson is a West Bend resident. He can be reached at owen@bootsandsabers. com.)