Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald reacted with predictable indignation when Gov. Tony Evers extended his previous order directing state residents to continue to wear face masks in public areas.
Vos said Evers’ order was “obviously illegal.” And, that’s quite possibly true. Vos, R-Rochester, added: “Wisconsin’s lawless governor continues to rule by fiat and it must end.”
Fitzgerald chimed in, saying, “Gov. Evers’ disregard for the state constitution and the role of the three branches of government is mind-boggling. The governor’s order is not valid and is not worth the paper it’s printed on.”
Both said they expected a legal challenge to the governor’s 60-day renewal of the mask mandate. Sure enough, the GOP’s surrogate, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty quickly filed a request In Polk County Circuit Court – where they have already challenged Evers’ previous mask order – and called for an immediate injunction.
What Vos and Fitzgerald didn’t say in their indignant wrath is that they already have the power to end Evers’ order. Without even going to court.
All it takes is a joint resolution from both houses of the Legislature to put an end to it, under state law passed in 1951. It requires a simple majority of each house and it cannot be vetoed by Evers.
Since Republicans hold a lock on the Senate with an 18-13 majority and the Assembly with a 63-34 edge, that begs the question: Why haven’t Vos and Fitzgerald acted?
They have the power and have shown no reluctance in the past to use it.
Even State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, with whom we’re not often in agreement, issued a statement criticizing his party’s leadership, saying Vos “has enable the continuing illegal conduct of Gov. Evers in issuing repeated declarations and a failed statewide mask mandate.”
Let’s face it, probably 99 percent of Wisconsin residents (our estimate) don’t like to wear masks.
But, we’re aware – and it’s likely that Vos and Fitzgerald are as well – that COVID-19 is surging in the state with more cases and more hospitalizations than Wisconsin has had at any time since the pandemic began.
And perhaps they’re aware, as well, that the COVID-19 death toll in Wisconsin now stands at 1,327 and current hospitalizations are at 683 as of midweek. Or that, despite the notion that we detest masks, more than two-thirds of Wisconsin residents support requiring masks to be worn in all public places.
Or, perhaps, and this may be cynical, it’s because Vos and Fitzgerald may not want to put their party members on record with a vote to strike down the mask requirement even as state deaths continue to rise. Voting against a way to fight the spread of COVID-19 would be a pretty dirty end of the tar brush to grab for a politician.
Besides, it’s much easier to bash the governor for breaking the law, instead of working with him to develop strategies to blunt the deaths and illnesses from the pandemic. That would take political leadership and not political potshots.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!