In signing his first state budget on Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has proved himself to be a smart and savvy political pragmatist, a refreshing change from eight years of ideological warfare in the halls of the state Capitol.
He surprised Republicans, disappointed the progressive wing of his own party, and will be cheered by the small sliver of swing voters who decide statewide elections in this state and who elected him in 2018. Democratic party leaders should take note as they seek to recapture the state Senate in November 2020.
Gone was the drama, the hubris and the bombast that characterized life in the state Capitol since 2010, with both Democrats and Republicans to blame. Yes, there was political bickering between the parties and between the two legislative chambers as the budget process unfolded, but it all felt so normal, and comparatively uneventful.
The governor put forth a bold, politically popular vision for Wisconsin in his budget submitted last February. That’s what leaders do. But he also must have known, with Republicans in the driver’s seat in both the Assembly and Senate, that at the end of the day he would get much less.
The last minute horse-trading in final budget negotiations among Republicans, and the close vote on the budget in the state Senate revealed that the budget passed by the Legislature was about as good as the governor was going to get from the other party.
Evers did move the needle on some issues, like an increase in state spending on K-12 education, for example.
His veto pen excised punitive, ideologically motivated policy decisions such as former Gov. Scott Walker’s push to require able-bodied adults with school-aged children to meet work requirements to receive food stamps and for adults without kids to go through drug screening to qualify.
Evers also red-penciled pork barrel provisions like direct-to-consumer sales of Tesla, which was added at the last minute to secure one vote in the Republican-dominated Senate.
Some in the media, of course, were itching for a fight, as were the extremes in both parties, injecting a false sense of political theater into the budget debate, which is not in the DNA of our current governor. Evers revealed that as he signed the budget on Wednesday: “Vetoing this budget in its entirety would have been more of the same divisiveness and petty, political theatrics that the people of Wisconsin have had to put up with for far too long.”
Gov. Evers read the political constraints he lives with correctly and demonstrated both politically mature leadership and a desire to return to historic Wisconsin political norms by signing the state budget. Pragmatism won the day. Wisconsinites should be cheering.
Rev. Scott Anderson is pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Madison.
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