State Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) deserves our thanks for bravely parting company with his Republican Caucus on Tuesday over Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate.
Cowles was one of only two Republican senators — the other was Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) — who voted to uphold the mandate.
While Kooyenga wanted to have it both ways, claiming the mask mandate was improper but saying he was siding with health care providers in his district, there was nothing equivocal about Cowles’s stance.
“I voted my conscience today,” Cowles said.
Cowles neatly undercut the rationale that his colleagues were using for overturning the mask mandate.
“I don’t see anything prohibiting a governor from declaring successive emergency orders under this 40-plus year-old law, which could have been clarified in 20-plus legislative sessions, including this session,” he said in his public statement. He added: “This isn’t a lockdown or a forced shutdown of certain businesses.”
He also noted, tartly, that 16 Republican governors had imposed mask mandates in their states, underscoring that “this shouldn’t be political.” They did so, he said, they “listened to the science of how masks can slow the spread.”
Cowles, too, has listened to the science. “The message I want to send to my district and our state could not be clearer,” he said. “Please, wear a mask in public, socially distance, avoid large gatherings, practice good hand hygiene and stay home and seek a test when you’re under the weather.”
He noted that he had “heard from dozens of constituents in the past few days – health care workers, families of those who were seriously ill or passed, vulnerable residents and essential workers – asking me to support the continued use of masks.”
And he hailed the positive impact that the mask mandate has had, with little downside. “The imposition of the mask mandate has helped to get Wisconsinites to understand the importance of masks without spurring much if any enforcement action.”
Despite the vote in the State Senate, he urged the people of Wisconsin to “follow the public health guidelines,” he said. “We can control COVID-19 by just caring about the health and wellbeing of our families, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and fellow community members.”
Cowles, one of the last remaining decent, moderate Republicans in the State Senate, has long chafed under the increasingly rightward lurches of his caucus but has tended to keep quiet.
I look forward to more votes of conscience, and more courageous stances, from Sen. Cowles in the future.