Evers takes his fight to the streets

Vos & Fitzgerald aren’t against Evers’ gun safety bills … they fear them

Gov. Tony Evers announces his call for a special legislative session on gun safety measures at City Hall in Milwaukee on Oct. 21, 2019 (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lt. Governor.)
Gov. Tony Evers announces his call for a special legislative session on gun safety measures at City Hall in Milwaukee on Oct. 21, 2019 (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lt. Governor.)

It sure appears that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are not so much against the two gun safety bills that Gov. Tony Evers’ ordered a special session to consider. 

It’s that they are terrified of those bills.

On Monday, Evers issued an executive order to force the legislature to convene on Nov. 7 for a special session to vote on two gun-safety bills: universal background checks and Extreme Risk Protection Orders, AKA “red flag” legislation, which allows a judge to temporarily remove guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Fitzgerald has now pledged publicly that the Senate will not vote on either measure. Not that they would vote no because they believe these are bad bills. He just won’t let any elected legislators, Republican or Democratic, vote. Period.

Gov. Tony Evers announces his call for a special legislative session on gun safety measures in Wausau on Oct. 21, 2019 (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lt. Governor.)
Gov. Tony Evers announces his call for a special legislative session on gun safety measures in Wausau.

After signing the executive order in Milwaukee surrounded by supporters, Evers set out to other parts of the state to promote the bills and explain how he believes they will help prevent gun violence.

“Now, I want to be clear: I support the 2nd Amendment, and that’s why I support these bills,” stated Evers Thursday in this week’s Democratic Radio Address.

“The 2nd Amendment isn’t going away —  these are commonsense proposals that we know can save lives and that we know 80% of Wisconsinites support. It’s that simple.

“I’ve said all along that the will of the people is the law of the land.

“It’s time for members of the legislature to start listening to the people of our state and get to work on addressing gun violence in Wisconsin.”

Signs of fear

If Fitzgerald, Vos and other Republicans do not approve of universal background checks and red flag laws, that’s fine. They can — and should — vote no.

However, they display their fear of these issues in the responses they give every time Evers or Democrats or reporters or the public bring them up. GOP leaders immediately twist the conversation to assert that Evers actually wants to seize people’s guns against their will. They act as if it’s a slippery slope from a background check for a gun purchase to Evers personally showing up on your doorstep and prying your rifle right out of your hands. 

Official portraits of Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald
Speaker Robin Vos & Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald

That is not what will happen and they should admit that up front. 

But then they would lose. They know that elected Republicans who vote against background checks and red-flag laws might hurt their chances of re-election, even in the districts they have gerrymandered to avoid that outcome.

And one of their big donors — the National Rifle Association — would be incredibly unhappy if the bills were voted on, especially if the bills passed. So the options are: anger the extreme right base and the NRA or anger the vast majority of the public that wants these bills to pass.

So they refuse to bring their people to the floor. It’s not just a vote — Democrats would have a chance to speak about the bills on Wisconsin Eye with a full press corps present. 

Legislators have been dodging gun safety for years. It’s happened in past sessions too, on these and similar bills. They bury them in committees and never bring them forward for even a public hearing.

Gov. Tony Evers announces his call for a special legislative session on gun safety measures in Eau Claire on Oct. 21, 2019 (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Lt. Governor.)
Gov. Tony Evers announces his call for a special legislative session on gun safety measures in Eau Claire.

Apparently their fear extends to even hearing public testimony on the bills.

It may even be one reason why Vos pushed through a recent rule change to stop the minority party from pulling bills straight to the floor. Whichever party is in the minority has always used the votes on those ‘pulling motions’ to debate bills the speaker refuses to bring to the floor. Later they suggest that a vote against pulling a bill is a vote against the substance of that bill. To voters, that doesn’t sound quite as bad as a vote, up or down, on a measure.

Fitzgerald and Vos do not control the pollsters, however, so the Marquette Poll and other public opinion surveys have shown repeatedly—and did so again on Wednesday this week—that 80% of registered Wisconsin voters support universal background checks when purchasing a gun. And the number is even slightly higher on ERPOs. 

In fact, a majority of gun owners, Republicans, independents and Democrats support the two bills.

So Republican leaders should come clean with the public and admit they are afraid of having to vote. Fitzgerald and Vos could lose some of their members when what they really want in the next election cycle is a veto-proof majority.

It’s cowardly to use maneuvering to protect elected leaders from their constituents and to avoid upsetting the NRA. 

Tough guy Evers

Evers, normally an affable man who opts for reason and compromise, to the point where even some members of his own party are frustrated, is not taking this one sitting down. 

He spent months warning the Republican legislative leaders that if they didn’t do something about gun violence, he’d make them. They just rebuffed and ignored him.

So the state tour with the executive order signing and the radio address have made it clear: Evers is cutting out Fitzgerald and Vos and going around them to the public. It’s something Democrats have not been able to do very effectively for eight years when they lacked the bully pulpit of the governor’s office. Evers is putting it back on the people of Wisconsin who want gun safety to act.

“But folks, this is where I need your help,” Evers went on his address, which you can listen to here.

“Members of the legislature shouldn’t be able to ignore 80% of the people of our state, and the rest of us should have the chance to hold them accountable if they do,” said Evers in the radio address.

“Universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders are things we should all be able to agree on.

“So, that’s why I’m asking you to please contact your legislators between now and November 7th and ask them to do their job, give these bills a vote, and let their vote speak for itself.”

One more thing Fitzgerald and Vos are afraid of? Giving Evers a win. They must prevent that, even if the consequences are that the people of Wisconsin lose. And the people of the state are less safe.

Fitzgerald and Vos should trust that their members, and all of the people of Wisconsin, are not so fragile as to need their protection from an up or down vote, or from democracy.

Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.