On Monday, Democratic members of the State Assembly and Senate held press conferences across Wisconsin near their hometowns to announce the Democratic legislative agenda in advance of the first fall meeting of the legislative session in the Senate on Tuesday.
The priorities echo familiar themes and legislation Republicans have shot down before, refusing to allow the bills a public hearing, let alone a committee or floor vote. But legislative Democrats articulated them from an enhanced position of strength despite being deeply in the minority in the legislative branch of state government.
All of the bills have the backing of Gov. Tony Evers, said Assembly Assistant Minority Leader Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), who led the Capitol-based event.
And Democrats also have partners in Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (himself a former legislator), Attorney General Josh Kaul, Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Secretary of State Doug La Follette and many aspects of it were articulated in the campaigns of these Democrats who won statewide.
As the legislators at the State Capitol press conference spoke, they noted another source of support for pieces of their agenda — public approval. For example, universal background checks for gun purchases were favored by more than 80% of respondents in the latest Marquette poll.
“I know that 80% of Wisconsinites want to see cannabis legalized,” said Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison). “I know that in Wisconsin, we want pragmatic solutions, not partisan solutions.”
“They want to avoid scrutiny, really, for their refusal to act on some really important issues starting with Medicaid expansion, which 70% of the state of Wisconsin supports,” said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison).
The gerrymandered majority
Among the five Madison-area legislators who spoke at the news conference at the Capitol, a few criticisms came up often.
One was how infrequently the legislature is meeting this session. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald announced the Senate will meet only two days for the rest of the year. The Assembly Democrats slammed Speaker Robin Vos for taking a number of trips with more to come this fall. “So it’s really time to get to work, let’s get to work, let’s get things done,” said Taylor. “But rather than do that, as taxpayers foot the bill, Speaker Vos was more interested in being in Italy and hanging out, while Wisconsinites are working two jobs trying to make ends meet and trying to put food on the table.”
Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison) added: “And there’s a lot to do…and we don’t have a lot of time left to accomplish it. Wisconsinites are facing serious hardships every single day, especially when it comes to access to health care, equal education, clean drinking water, reasonable gun safety measures, voting rights and many others. It is also important to remember that these hardships are exacerbated in communities of color.”
In addition to slamming Republican inaction, the Dems labeled Republicans, “the gerrymandered majority” for redistricting maps that gave the GOP control over a large majority of the districts while getting fewer votes, statewide than Democrats. “We are pushing forward with the priorities Wisconsinites have that the gerrymandered majority of the legislature has failed to act on,” said Hesselbein.
Added Miller: “The people of our state cannot wait any longer. With the inaction of the gerrymandered majority, families worry they might not see their problems addressed in this legislative session.”
The Democratic bill package
The ‘Forward Together’ agenda was familiar, highlighting eight areas Democrats have been pushing for years while Republicans controlled all branches of government. More details can be found here, but these include:
- Affordable health care (lower prescription drug costs, Medicaid expansion, women’s healthcare access, opioid treatment)
- Quality schools (4K, special education funding boosts, student loan debt crisis)
- Clean water (replace lead pipes, address contaminated wells, prevent PFAS contamination)
- Financial security (increased minimum wage, equal pay, affordable childcare)
- Hometown success (broadband access, Dark Store tax loophole, support for entrepreneurs and family farms, opposing tariffs)
- Justice reform (medical and recreational marijuana laws, getting juveniles out of adult prison, equity)
- Safe communities (gun background checks, suicide prevention)
- Democracy for all (nonpartisan redistricting, election security, address racial disparities)
“These are plans that will prioritize lifting up the voices of the people of our state, while strengthening our democracy and returning Wisconsin to the ideals of hard work, equality and unity that the state was founded on,” said Sargent. “It’s past time for the bodies of Wisconsin’s legislature to put politics aside, to put partisanship aside [and] to work collectively, on behalf of our friends and neighbors.”