We’re not sure what Gov. Tony Evers and his administration hope to gain by lobbing accusations of sexism at Republican legislative leaders, but they seem determined to do so.
On May 20, Evers issued a statement implying Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau weren’t meeting with his aides because of sexism, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“Only Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald can say why they won’t work with the women who are leading my office,” Evers said in his statement. “I have asked Republicans to work with my staff the way they worked with the former governor’s staff. They know how to work with my staff and are choosing not to. So, this is clearly a departure from past practice. You connect the dots.”
In reply to the accusation, Vos noted his top aides are women, and Fitzgerald called claims of sexism “asinine” in part because the top Senate Republican working on the budget is a woman, Alberta Darling of River Hills.
It would seem the differences are much more about policy than gender.
On May 18, Fitzgerald said at the state Republican Party convention in Oshkosh that Evers had “no point person” for lawmakers.
In response that same day, Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff issued a statement saying Vos and Fitzgerald had repeatedly been told they should meet with Evers’ chief of staff, Maggie Gau, just as they had met with Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s chief of staff, Eric Schutt, before Evers defeated Walker in the Nov. 6 election.
“That directive wasn’t confusing to them when the chief of staff was a man,” Baldauff said. “Vos and Fitzgerald are clearly uncomfortable or simply unwilling to work with a leadership team made up entirely of women.”
Or — it seems entirely possible — that Vos and Fitzgerald were willing to meet with Schutt because Walker is a fellow Republican. It seems entirely possible that Vos and Fitzgerald knew that they agreed with Walker on the fundamentals, and that sending Schutt to present Walker’s specific proposals worked when the GOP controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the Legislature.
It doesn’t seem so far-fetched that, in the first budget negotiations between a Democratic governor and a Republican-majority Legislature in 13 years, Vos and Fitzgerald would want to meet with Evers directly.
In November, Wisconsin elected a divided government. It kept the Republicans in the majority in the Legislature, but also elected a Democrat as governor. Republicans control the budget-writing process, but this year they do so in the knowledge that the Wisconsin governor has substantial veto power, and that what Walker found acceptable, Evers might not.
All of this means that the Democrat-led executive branch must work with, and be willing to negotiate with, the Republican-led legislative branch.
Accusations of sexism from Evers and his administration might score political points, but they don’t do anything to move the budget negotiations forward.