Evers calls for hope, bipartisan unity in inaugural address

MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers plans to outline a largely liberal agenda in his second inaugural address today, while calling for working together on issues that have long divided Republicans and Democrats — including protecting abortion rights, expanding Medicaid, legalizing marijuana and fighting water pollution.

Evers and other constitutional officers elected in November, along with members of the Republican-controlled Legislature, were slated to take their oaths of office today in a day filled mostly with pomp and little substance.

In his prepared remarks, Evers said that some voters cast their ballots “feeling the weight of a republic on the brink.”

“Given the opportunity to retreat into division and doubt, Wisconsinites chose a future of unity and faith,” Evers said in his prepared remarks. “Given the opportunity to further enable cynicism and hate, Wisconsinites chose kindness and they chose hope instead.”

Evers, who spent his career as a teacher and administrator in public schools before being elected state superintendent, and then governor first in 2018, said his win served as a rejection of “the bitter politics of resentment.”

He said his victory shows that voters want to make abortions legal, fully fund public schools, conserve natural resources and expand the state’s Medicaid program known as BadgerCare Plus, which Republican lawmakers have consistently blocked for years. Also, Evers said voters want to attract more workers to the state, particularly in health care; expand job training and apprenticeship programs; fight water pollution from chemicals known as PFAS; legalize marijuana; and invest in public transit and transportation alternatives.

Many of the issues Evers highlighted could find bipartisan support. But one — undoing an 1849 abortion ban law that took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — will not get the backing of Republicans. Evers has promised to veto any bill that creates exceptions under the law for rape and incest, saying he will only support a full overturning of the abortion ban.

“We must restore the freedoms that Wisconsinites had until June 23, 2022, the day before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade,” Evers said in his prepared remarks. “And I believe that together we will.”

While short on details, his speech serves as a guidepost for the issues he will prioritize during a second term. In February, Evers will release his two-year state budget plan, which will include details about the state’s projected $6.6 billion surplus.

Today, Evers doesn’t plan to mention the surplus specifically — instead he’ll highlight key priorities such as cutting taxes for the middle class and not just wealthy residents. Evers opposes a Republican plan to move toward a flat income tax rate, which would lower taxes more dramatically for those at the highest tax rate.

Evers is also calling for “generational, transformative improvements as to how we invest in our local communities and keep them safe.” He has called for increased funding to local governments, while Republican legislative leaders are discussing a plan that would give counties, cities, towns and villages a portion of the state sales tax revenue.

Evers planned to meet Wednesday with mayors from the state’s largest cities to discuss options.

In addition to Evers, others being sworn in today included Lt. Gov. Sara Rodriguez; Attorney General Josh Kaul; Secretary of State Doug La Follette; state Treasurer John Leiber; 17 members of the state Senate and all 99 members of the Assembly.