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Saturday, December 02, 2023

Gov. Tony Evers becomes Wisconsin’s 46th governor and calls for bipartisanship in the wake of lame-duck efforts to limit the power of his new office.

Evers takes first step toward bridging partisan divide during inauguration

Gov. Tony Evers took his oath of office to become the 46th governor of Wisconsin, surrounded by hundreds of Wisconsinites and lawmakers who gathered at the state Capitol Monday.

Latinx strings and gospel hymns joined traditional sounds of the 132nd Army Band of the Wisconsin National Guard to fill the rotunda in the minutes before five new state officials were welcomed in.  

Evers, along with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Attorney General Josh Kaul, Secretary of State Douglas La Follette and State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, were sworn into positions previously held by members of the Republican Party. 

Following eight years of GOP control that led to a $250 million cut to education funding and deductions to collective bargaining rights, the induction of these Democratic officials demonstrates a momentous shift at the state Capitol. 

Evers’ historically narrow victory over former Gov. Scott Walker last November was followed by a series of lame-duck legislation that hoped to limit Evers’ power as 2018 came to a close.

“We have become paralyzed by polarity and we have become content with division. We have become indifferent to resentment and governing by retribution,” Evers said. “We have gotten away from who we are the values that make Wisconsin great — not Republican or Democratic values — but our Wisconsin values.”

Kindness and respect are a few of the key principles Evers believes have been missing from the state legislature in the past few months. Acknowledging this deficit, he ignited a return to the most important part of Wisconsin: the people. 

Despite the GOP’s efforts, Evers promised this pushback would not compromise the backbone of his campaign platform, including the necessity for widespread health care, as well a more “sustainable solution” to fix and reshape transportation services. 

“I spent the past year traveling across our state talking about the issues that matter most to the people of Wisconsin,” he said. “We talked about what’s best for our kids is best for our state.” 

Kaul, who won his race against incumbent Brad Schimmel by extremely tight margins, openly rebuked last month’s lame-duck sessions during his acceptance speech. 

“That action, unprecedented in Wisconsin, and designed to hinder our ability to do the jobs our voters elected us to do, will have an impact,” Kaul said. “But I want to make clear that, irrespective of the actions of the lame duck legislature, the priorities of the Wisconsin Department of Justice are changing.” 

Those changing priorities include legislation that would prevent further rape kit backlogs, address the intensifying opioid epidemic and create universal background checks.

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As elected state treasurer — an office that was up for elimination last spring — Godlewski also acknowledged the recent attacks on state powers and democratic processes. 

“It’s hard to believe we almost lost this office, but we made our voices heard,” Godlewski told the crowd.

As the first African American to hold the position in Wisconsin and youngest lieutenant governor in the country, Barnes will represent voices that have long been absent from state offices. He took a moment to honor Vel Phillips, the first woman and African American to hold a Wisconsin State Cabinet position and a fierce advocate for fair housing. 

Barnes, a Milwaukee native who grew up in the state’s poorest zip code — an area that also experiences the highest incarceration rate in the nation — said he seeks to further Phillips’ advocacy for statewide access to rights like clean drinking water and public education. 

“I intend to focus the office of lieutenant governor on the core principles of equity and sustainability because we have a responsibility to make sure that opportunities exist in every community across every corner of our state,” Barnes said. “A person’s zip code should never determine their destiny.”

Together, Barnes and Evers mobilized a new generation of Democratic voters while also returning to long-standing progressive ideals like racial equity, accessible health care and strong investment in public education. 

“It’s about setting aside political interests and personal ambitions to work together on solving problems. It’s about putting people first,” he said in the final moments of his first speech as the governor of Wisconsin.  

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