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Evers and Vos

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, during Gov. Evers' State of the State address Jan. 22, 2019 at the Capitol in Madison. STEVE APPS, STATE JOURNAL

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has positioned himself as the leader of the opposition to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. And Vos certainly embraced the role with his response last week to the governor’s first State of the State address.

Evers went out of his way to strike bipartisan themes in his speech, promising that “we will engage civilly. We will have discourse and dialogue, but it will not devolve into disrespect. And we will govern with a humble appreciation that the will of the people — our people — is the law of the land.”

Vos set a very different tone, portraying the newly elected Democratic governor as a threat to all the “accomplishments” of Scott Walker’s tenure.

Seemingly oblivious to the fact that the voters had just rejected Walker and every Republican candidate for statewide office, Vos announced: “Wisconsin is on a roll and Republicans will not allow it to slip backwards.”

Vos did his best to make Evers sound ominous. But he knew he didn’t have the facts on his side, so he turned to a Republican icon for help. “As President Ronald Reagan once said, ‘As government expands, liberty contracts.’ He also said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.’ Republicans in the Legislature won’t forget Ronald Reagan’s sentiments,” promised the speaker. “We won’t let government grow out of control and we won’t let socialism take root in our state.”

Whoa! Hold it! Socialism?

Evers isn’t a socialist. So where was Vos headed with that last line? Well, of course, he was just repeating the talking points that conservative consultants claim will scare unsuspecting voters.

The only problem with the talking points is that they don’t really apply to Wisconsin.

Socialism has already taken root in our state.

A century ago, Wisconsinites elected members of the Socialist Party as their representatives to the U.S. Congress and to the state Assembly and the state Senate. So many Socialists won so many elections that the Socialist Party displaced the Democrats as the main opposition party in the Legislature for much of the 1910s and 1920s. Progressive Republicans in the Assembly chamber that Vos now leads worked with Socialists to enact groundbreaking legislation that earned Wisconsin recognition as the nation’s “laboratory of democracy.” In Milwaukee and other cities and counties, voters elected Socialist mayors, city council members, school board members, judges and sheriffs.

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From 1910 to 1960, Socialists Emil Seidel, Dan Hoan and Frank Zeidler ran the state’s largest city for 38 of 50 years. Socialism took root in Milwaukee because Socialist mayors developed reputations as honest and efficient managers — so much so that Hoan was featured on the cover of Time magazine, which declared that, under the Socialist’s leadership, “Milwaukee became one of the best-run cities in the U.S.”

If Robin Vos takes a look around the next time he visits Milwaukee, he’ll get a sense of just how deeply socialism has taken root in Wisconsin. That lakefront span that extends the city’s downtown skyline is the Dan Hoan Memorial Bridge.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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