New Republican senators discuss efforts to improve communication

By: - January 19, 2023 6:43 am
Senate Chamber of the Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin Senate Chamber | State Department photo by Ron Przysucha

Sens. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Appleton) and Jesse James (R-Altoona) are two of the new Republican senators this session, part of the Republicans’ 21-member majority in the upper chamber that will play a significant role in deciding what legislation makes it to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for signing over the next two years.

Cabral-Guevara and James — who both served in the Assembly prior to their recent elections — spoke with the Examiner about their new roles, including their new chairmanships, their legislative priorities and the potential for bipartisan communication and progress in the new session.

Sen. Jesse James ran unopposed in the general election to win the 23rd Senate district, which includes Clark, Chippewa and portions of Eau Claire, Marathon, Wood, Jackson and Dunn counties. First elected to office in 2018, he said he realized at a campaign event last fall that he made a bit of a misstep during his time in the Assembly, when it came to connecting with colleagues.

Rep. Jesse James. (Photo | Wisconsin Legislature)
Rep. Jesse James. (Photo | Wisconsin Legislature)

“I didn’t get to really go out and meet the senators, as I probably should have, and talk with them,” James said. “It’s very humbling when you’re at an event, and I’m sitting at a table and there was a fellow senator sitting at the table and they didn’t know who I was.”

James said he plans to be more intentional about connecting with colleagues in both houses and on both sides of the aisle in his first session in the Senate — not just because he’d like to be recognized by his colleagues — but because engaging in conversations is necessary for passing legislation. 

James said he’s looking forward to pursuing new policies as the chair of the newly-created Mental Health, Substance Abuse Prevention, Children and Families committee. He said that he’d dealt with mental health issues within his family and while working as a police officer, which is part of why the work is so important to him.

James said there are conversations happening about ideas like putting Narcan into schools to be proactive in emergency situations and regionalizing crisis intervention centers across the state.

“The Governor has mentioned mental health as a priority. There’s a lot of entities and stakeholders involved in this,” James said. “Now’s the time to seriously look at this type of programming across our state and having it easier on our counties’ budgets, on our law enforcement agencies’ budgets and paying the amount of overtime that they are for chapter 51 transports to Winnebago. It’s keeping patients closer to home so that the resources are closer and more available.”

Cabral-Guevara won the 19th Senate district — which includes Appleton and other parts of Winnebago and Outagamie counties — with 54% of the vote. She said she was concerned during election season that she  wouldn’t have a connection with the more urban parts of the district.

Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara (Official legislative portrait).

“What I found is that was not the case at all,” Cabral-Guevara said. She attributed her success to her previous work in the Assembly. “I worked on topics that might not traditionally be seen as just conservative base, and so when I went into Appleton I thought it was very interesting how folks seemed to reflect shared values, and I felt accepted there more than I anticipated.”

As the new chair of the Senate Health committee this session, Cabral-Guevara plans to continue pursuing policies that could garner bipartisan support, including a bipartisan bill that Gov. Tony Evers vetoed last session. The bill — called the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Modernization Act — would have allowed advanced practice nurses who have worked with a doctor for 3,840 clinical hours to practice independently. 

Cabral-Guevara said the bill — which she is excited to see come through committee this session — would help expand care to patients in rural areas that may lack access to physicians. 

“This session, we have much more involvement with the nurse practitioners, in particular advanced practice nurses in Wisconsin, and we are definitely going to be reaching out to Gov. Evers quite a bit more to show how important we are, particularly in rural areas where there’s a lack of providers.”

Cabral-Guevara said Evers’ reasoning for the veto last session — that it would discourage individuals from going to physicians — is ridiculous because nurse practitioners know not to practice outside the scope of their training. 

Apart from health care, Cabral-Guevara is eyeing new tax cuts in the next budget. Alongside Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard), Cabral-Guevara is proposing a budget amendment that would eliminate income taxes for people over the age of 67 for single filers making under $100,000 and joint filers making under $200,000. 

The policy proposal, Cabral-Guevara said, was spurred by knocking on doors during the campaign. She said she spoke with many seniors who were struggling financially.

“People shouldn’t be penalized for working,” Cabral-Guevara said. “And I see income taxes as a penalty. And so if our seniors who have worked a lifetime are still being, in my view, penalized for working, I think that shameful, and I hope that this will be able to put them in a better spot for all the hard work that they’re doing.” 

Cabral-Guevara said she also supports Republican leaders’ pursuit of a flat tax. Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) unveiled details last week of his plan that would gradually phase out Wisconsin’s progressive income tax, in favor of a 3.25% income tax for all residents regardless of income. 

Both senators expressed a hopeful outlook for the bipartisan work that could be done in the next two years. Cabral-Guevara said she didn’t necessarily think that was going to happen six months ago based on the previous session. 

“Just the simple fact that Gov. Evers has opened the door to meet with the leadership in the Assembly as well as the state Senate is very hopeful,” Cabral-Guevara said. “I know that there’s discussions on all of these hot topics that really hadn’t happened before. So that makes me hopeful.”

James said between the $6 billion budget surplus and recent communication among leaders things could be different this session. However, he said leadership will need to stick to what they’ve said to live up to that potential. 

“If we do not have the discussions and the communications with the governor’s office, then nothing’s gonna get done. Leadership has to have those discussions…. I think that leadership, if they’re open to having the discussions with the governor to help move Wisconsin forward, I think this might be a different session than what we’ve experienced in the past. Hopefully that comes true, and hopefully, all three of them, the speaker [Robin Vos] and Senate majority leader [LeMahieu] and the governor will be true to their words.”


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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.