Gov. Tony Evers and his administration passed a milestone at the start of the year — the halfway point in his four-year term as governor. Two words come to mind in assessing his term thus far — ineffectual and uninspiring.
Of course, part of ineffectualness is due to divided state government. The Democratic governor is up against a Republican-controlled Legislature. And Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and former state Senate Majority Leader (now congressman) Scott Fitzgerald took a page out of the Mitch McConnell playbook that worked to block the governor’s agenda at every turn, including the gaveling in and out within minutes special legislative sessions called by the governor.
Evers has up until just recently been unable to forge compromise with Republicans. Just last week he was able to craft a COVID-relief bill with the Senate, only to see Vos and company in the Assembly delay the plan.
The governor shares part of the blame for not being able to forge trust with the majority party in the Legislature. Last June, it was revealed that someone in the Evers administration secretly taped a May meeting of the governor and GOP legislative leaders. That is certainly not a way to build teamwork and to expect to be greeted with open arms the next time a meeting is needed or requested. The taping of the meeting likely complicated negotiations on responding to the pandemic.
While Evers surely knew going into his governorship the formidable obstacles he would face with the Legislature, he certainly could not have foreseen the coming COVID-19 pandemic. That brought forth the political minefield of the mask emergency orders, embraced by many in the state but also loathed by others, and which are playing out at this very moment as the Assembly considers voting down an extension of the order.
The Achilles heel for Evers during the pandemic, though, was the unemployment aid debacle. Due to unanticipated demands on staffing and, according to the governor’s team, outdated equipment and software, some Wisconsinites waited months for assistance checks. The Evers administration stumbled about as they tried to right that process, which eventually led to the dismissal of Workforce Development chief Caleb Frostman.
During a time of crisis, Americans and people worldwide look to their leaders for reassurance and Evers throughout the pandemic crisis has not been sufficiently able to follow the historic lead of FDR, Abraham Lincoln or Britain’s King George VI in their moments of national crisis. Evers has not been able to assuage worried and sometimes desperate Wisconsinites. It is abundantly clear that Evers, the mild-mannered former school administrator, has not been able to convey the aura of confidence that Ronald Reagan or even Tommy Thompson could during their terms as president and governor respectively.
In a Jan. 24 report that is part of a project with Politifact tracking promises Evers made during his 2018 campaign, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported no to little progress on efforts to reduce the state’s prison population, addressing efforts to build prosperity for rural residents and seeking veterans’ input on efforts to bolster the solvency of the state Veterans Trust Fund.
If Evers is to make a better grade for the second half of his term as governor, he will need to continue to work to find ways to forge compromise with the Legislature, which will require shelving some of his goals and ideals. He also needs to work at projecting confidence. Those are pillars of effective leadership.