Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers on Thursday attempted to clarify how he will operate under a set of lame-duck laws stripping away some of his authority after it was reported Wednesday that he would not comply with some provisions of the Republican-backed laws.
"I have no intent of breaking the law," Evers told reporters in Madison after announcing five new additions to his Cabinet.
Evers told several reporters in interviews on Wednesday that he expects the laws will be challenged in court and that he will be named as a defendant. It was unclear whether that meant he would be a defendant by default because of his role as governor, or because he would not follow the laws and groups supporting the policies would sue him in response.
The waters were further muddied by comments he made to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In an interview with the newspaper, Evers said he couldn't be specific about which parts of the laws he wouldn't follow and he was "not sure yet" whether he would take actions related to economic development that would prompt a lawsuit.
He clarified on Thursday that he meant he expects his supporters will challenge the laws, but as governor, he will be named as a defendant.
His initial comments on Wednesday riled Republican lawmakers, who took them as a sign of defiance.
"I’ve been explaining to constituents that the special session was needed to assure that the new administration doesn’t disregard the legislature and the laws we pass. Thank you Tony Evers for Example #1," tweeted Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, a co-chair of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.
Asked Thursday whether there are any portions of the laws he does not plan to follow, Evers said no, but continued to leave the door open for a potential legal challenge from his administration.
"The legislation that passed in the lame-duck session I found to be problematic in all sorts of areas, not only for myself but for the attorney general," Evers said. "I personally have reviewed them, and we will review them with attorneys and other legal staff. We haven't decided what to do personally. It's just in my experience that when this happens, it likely will happen from outside … We anticipate that happening going forward. And if that does, it's very likely that I will be the person that is sued because I will be governor at that point in time. It has nothing to do with me not following the law."
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, was pleased with Evers' latest comments, saying on Twitter they were a "positive step in moving forward together."
Evers also said Thursday he is open to meeting with the Assembly Republican caucus following an invitation from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, to do so in the days following Evers' Jan. 7 inauguration.
"While we have distinct policy differences, we can agree that common ground must be found to move our state forward during this time of divided government," Vos wrote in a letter delivered to Evers on Thursday. "There is no reason we can't find policy areas that we can work on together to improve our great state."
In the letter, Vos suggested Jan. 8 or 9 as meeting dates, but said he could make other accommodations if needed.
"I appreciate the outreach and will be meeting with them soon," Evers said.