Gov. Evers to have a scientific holiday tree

The idea for the theme came from a 5th grader

Wisconsin Capitol tree in 2014 (Wikimedia Commons)

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced the imminent arrival of the tree that will grace the Capitol throughout December and in his release he referred to it as the “holiday tree.”

It’s a return to the use of the ecumenical term holiday tree that started in 1985, only to be axed by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 when he declared the evergreen would be called a Christmas tree.

Walker’s choice was denounced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which called the change insensitive to non-religious and non-Christian people.

In addition to the subtle name change, Evers announced this year’s theme, which will be reflected in the ornaments made by children from all over the state. The former teacher’s theme: “Celebrate Science.”

“I first began my career as a science teacher in Baraboo, so I know how important science is to the future of our state,” Evers said. “From computer science to dairy science, to clean water and natural resources, to sustainability and renewable energies, this year we want students to make holiday ornaments that celebrate what science means to them, their families, and their communities.”

Asked how the office picked the theme, spokesperson Melissa Baldauff said the idea came from a fifth grader: “We thought it was a good one that fit with both the Year of Clean Drinking Water and also the governor’s background as a science teacher.”

The theme, too, reflects a change from Walker’s tenure. During his eight years, the State Board of Commissioners of Public Land banned its employees from discussing climate change or discussing how changes could affect the land it oversees. That has been overturned now that Democrats control all the agencies represented on the board, including the chair, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski.

The state Department of Natural Resources had a similar ban on the words “climate change,” which under its new leader, Secretary-designee Preston Cole, was not only lifted but become a central part of its mission.

Evers — a former science teacher — has rankled Republicans on this topic before, announcing often that “science is back” on his watch.

Climate change made headlines in Wisconsin recently when Evers created a “Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change” on Oct. 17 with an executive order. It followed an earlier executive order creating an Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy.

“For too long we’ve been ignoring science, and frankly, we can’t afford to do it any longer. It’s time for us to deliver on the promise to our kids that we’re leaving them a better life and world than the one we inherited,” Evers said, announcing the task force. “I am confident that this task force will find meaningful, sustainable solutions to the climate crisis to carry our state into the future.” 

This led to a dispute with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who said on a Wisconsin Eye program that Evers was playing politics and created the task force without any goal in mind.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Gov. Evers did this for political reasons,” Vos said on the show. “There’s no real task for the task force. Like, what’s your ultimate goal? I would say I don’t know if climate change is real. I think it probably is. I have no idea why it is occurring nor do most people on the planet.”

After Evers’ announcement, Republicans — including former Gov. Scott Walker took to Twitter with a storm of criticism. The spat even made CBS national news in this report:

Walker also tweeted a picture of a holiday tree, writing “this is a Christmas tree used by people celebrating Christmas. This is not a holiday tree.”

Evers, a Democrat, called the tree a holiday tree on Friday. He announced the tree’s theme will be “Celebrate Science” and asked schoolchildren to submit science-related ornaments to adorn the tree.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff didn’t immediately respond to an email asking why the governor has gone back to calling the tree a holiday tree.

Republican Scott Fitzgerald, the state Senate majority leader and a 2020 congressional candidate, tweeted that Evers’ move was “‘PC’ garbage. It’s a Christmas Tree (sic).”

Tweeted Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: “We all know it’s a Christmas tree no matter what @GovEvers calls it …”

More information on Evers’ intent and where and when children and schools should send “Celebrate Science” themed ornaments by Fri., Nov. 22, 2019 is in Evers letter to educators.

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.