Evers calls for unity behind his agenda during second inauguration

By: - January 3, 2023 5:54 pm

Gov. Tony Evers delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in for his second term on Tuesday. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Gov. Tony Evers, striking a hopeful tone, emphasized the need for unity during his second inaugural address, while outlining his list of priorities that included addressing economic concerns, increasing funding for public schools, confronting climate change and repealing Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban. 

Evers was sworn in on Tuesday alongside other statewide officials, including first-term Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez, second-term Attorney General Josh Kaul, first-term Treasurer John Lieber and Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who enters his 12th term in the role. Members of the Republican-led Legislature held their inaugural ceremonies later in the day.  

“This past November, Wisconsin rejected a trajectory bent toward permanently undermining the tenets and institutions that are fundamental to who we are as a people,” Evers said from the podium in the Capitol rotunda. “Wisconsin rejected a rhetoric born out of apathy and animosity toward our neighbors. And Wisconsin rejected a return to the bitter politics of resentment.” 

Evers said Wisconsinites instead chose “a future of unity and faith” and “kindness” and “hope.” He said their votes meant they support an agenda that fully funds public schools, guarantees reproductive freedom, expands Badgercare and builds jobs and infrastructure while conserving the environment.

The governor will likely face challenges in reaching many of his second-term policy goals. Wisconsin enters familiar split-government territory this term as Republicans — who opposed many of his policies last term — maintain control of the Senate and Assembly with larger majorities.

Evers reiterated his commitment to restoring abortion access in Wisconsin by repealing its 1849 abortion ban: “We must restore the freedoms that Wisconsinites had until June 23, 2022, the day before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. And I believe that together we will.” 

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Evers twice called the Legislature to meet to address the ban, but Republicans gaveled in and out of the sessions without discussion. Gridlock on the abortion ban could continue this session. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has said that he would support a bill that makes exceptions for rape and incest. Most Democrats, however, are waiting to see what happens with a court case filed that Kaul has filed to erase the pre-Civil War ban. 

Evers said during his address Tuesday that Wisconsinites should be able to make their own health care decisions and that repealing the abortion ban is necessary if Wisconsin wants to compete against other states for businesses and workers. 

“We ought to start by making sure that when workers and businesses look at relocating to Wisconsin, part of that calculus doesn’t include themselves, their loved ones, or their workers being stripped of their reproductive freedom just for moving here,” Evers said. 

Evers — the former state superintendent and a former public school teacher — emphasized the need for investment into public schools and local governments

“No one person alone can retain or recruit all of the educators we need to keep our class sizes small. Or get each of our kids the support they need to get caught up after the pandemic. Or to fully fund our schools so they have the resources to improve outcomes and prepare our kids for the future,” Evers said. “But together we will.”

Evers touched briefly on tax relief — one of Republicans’ biggest policy priorities — saying breaks should be targeted at the middle class “to give working families a little breathing room in their family budget, not to give big breaks to millionaires and billionaires who don’t need the extra help to afford rising costs.” 

Republican leaders have emphasized that they intend to pursue transformative tax cuts this session. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in December he wants to reduce taxes significantly more than the $3.4 billion that was passed in the last budget, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) is considering a flat-tax system, which would likely benefit wealthier people the most. 

The Democratic governor also called for an expansion of BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s term for Medicaid, and a serious conversation about changing laws around marijuana: “Yes, we must lower the cost of medication and cap the cost of insulin. Yes, we must have a meaningful conversation about treating marijuana much like we do alcohol.”

Rodriguez, who takes over for Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes after his unsuccessful candidacy for the U.S. Senate, also emphasized the need for Wisconsin to unite during her speech. 

“There isn’t a one size fits all solution to our challenges. It’s going to take all of us, working together, bringing our ideas to the table and connecting the dots to build the sort of future we want for our state,” Rodriguez said. “All of those things that unite us will continue to be our focus for these next four years, finding common ground, working across the aisle, and always trying to do the right thing for Wisconsin and the people of our state.”  

Vos, LeMahieu, Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) and Assembly Minority Leaders Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) attended Tuesday’s ceremony. 

“With Governor Evers’ re-election, I am hopeful all legislators can work together in pursuit of the commonsense policies the people across our state voted for when they elected him to a 2nd term with an even larger margin than 2018: strong public schools, strengthening our democracy, continuing to invest in our transportation infrastructure, and supporting our local units of government, “ Agard said in a statement. “ These are not Democratic values or Republican values – they are Wisconsin values.” 

Others in attendance included Barnes, outgoing Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and four former governors — Democrats Jim Doyle and Martin Schreiber and Republicans Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum. Scott Walker, who lost reelection to Evers in 2018, was not present.

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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.

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