With last week’s swearing in of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the election of Democrats to top state offices, Wisconsin enters a new era of possibilities.
With Republicans still controlling both branches of the Legislature, Evers will be limited in his power to set a new agenda for the state. Likewise, Republicans will no longer have free rein — as they have in the past eight years — to pursue their political aims since they will have to contend with possible vetoes by the governor.
Against that backdrop Wisconsin could be on the road to partisan gridlock which would ill-serve the voters of the state and put its motto of “Forward” into neutral. The other option, of course, is compromise: finding common ground, addressing the state’s needs and working together to resolve problems, settle issues and putting partisan pursuits and political gamesmanship on the back burner.
We have only to look to Washington, D.C., where President Donald Trump and the new Democratic majority in the House have run aground over funding for a border wall and catapulted the country into a needless partial government shutdown to see where the gridlock road goes.
We don’t care for brinkmanship when it takes the country (or the state) over the brink for partisan purposes that hurt the economy, upend the lives of ordinary government workers and imperil needed programs that service the poor, close national parks and threaten tax services to everyday taxpayers.
Our hope, and recommendation — to Evers, state GOP leaders in the Senate and Assembly, and newly-elected state Democratic officeholders — is that they work hard to focus on finding common ground answers to the state’s problems and embrace the opportunity for shared and respectful government.
At the top of the to-do list for our elected officials, we would suggest finding some low-hanging fruit where they can find agreement. That might come, for instance, in dealing with the state’s long-term transportation needs. Former Gov. Scott Walker refused, time and again, to consider increases in gas taxes or the use of toll roads to fund transportation; he used borrowing to keep the transportation budget afloat, even though there was support for increasing user fees among legislative leaders.
This would be a good place to start a new conversation, and to set the tone for shared governance.
A second item on that list might be resolving the staffing problems and overuse of overtime to run the state Department of Corrections. News reports last week showed the cost of running state prisons and correctional facilities reached $50 million in overtime last year, and that 15 percent of the correctional officers and sergeant positions were vacant last year, triggering the overtime. That level of understaffing and high overtime is a problem that needs to be addressed before it blows up.
The state has serious issues that need to be dealt with, and that will take cooperation and compromise by both Democrats and Republicans. Get the job done, by working together.