Elected in 2018, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) challenged and narrowly defeated two-term Republican incumbent Scott Walker. During Evers’ first term as governor, he has been instrumental in vetoing voter suppression laws passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
Now, Evers is running for re-election against construction executive Tim Michels. Endorsed by former President Donald Trump, Michels has refused to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s 2020 win in Wisconsin and has called for the disbandment of the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), an increasing trend among Wisconsin Republicans.
In Democracy Docket’s latest candidate Q&A for the 2022 cycle, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers outlines the steps he can take as governor to protect the right to vote, breaks down why Wisconsin Republicans want to do away with the WEC and reveals his go-to campaign snack.
Responses have been edited for style and clarity.
Facing a Republican-controlled Legislature, you have blocked dozens of voter suppression bills from becoming laws. Why do you think Republican state lawmakers are so hellbent on enacting these bills?
There’s no doubt these bills are partisan politics at its worst — and this is nothing more than an attempt to change the rules to impact the outcome of our elections. You have Republican lawmakers who are abusing their power to help themselves win future elections by making it harder to vote. These bills are designed to disproportionately impact communities of color, senior citizens and those living with disabilities. Politicians should focus on making voting more accessible, not taking away voting opportunities. We know how close Wisconsin elections are and if these bills were signed into law they could have easily prevented or discouraged enough people from voting to change the outcome of future elections.
Aside from vetoing bills, what other steps can you take as governor to protect the right to vote?
The right of every eligible voter to participate in our elections isn’t partisan, it’s a fundamental right that we have to protect. I am committed to making sure every eligible voter is able to participate in the democratic process and that Wisconsin elections are fair, secure and accurate. By vetoing these horrific bills, I am protecting Wisconsin voters and taking a stand against GOP-led voter suppression.
I support making sure eligible voters can access the ballot box and exercise their right to vote. In my latest budget proposal, I included provisions that would’ve created automatic voter registration through the Department of Transportation; expanded early voting; allowed clerks to begin counting absentee ballots the day before Election Day and required a voter bill of rights to be posted at each polling location.
In July, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a decision banning drop boxes throughout the state, adding a win to Republicans’ ongoing war on drop boxes nationwide. What effect do you expect this ruling to have on Wisconsin voters this November?
We’re going to organize and run a campaign that will win — despite every Republican attempt to make it harder to vote. A basic but defining feature of our state and our country is the notion that politicians should not be able to abuse their power to prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots or cheat by changing the rules just because they didn’t like the outcome of the last election. At the very heart of our democracy is the fundamental right for every eligible voter to be able to cast their ballot — a right that’s far too important to be left to the whims of any politician or political party. We should be working every day to protect that fundamental right by making it as easy as possible for every eligible voter to vote in Wisconsin.
This decision is another in a long line of Wisconsin Republicans’ successes to make it harder for Wisconsinites to exercise their right to vote, to undermine our free, fair and secure elections and to threaten our democracy.
Since the WEC issued common-sense guidelines related to pandemic-era voting in 2020, the commission has become a target of the GOP. With your opponent going so far as to call for its disbandment, why do you think Wisconsin Republicans have taken issue with the state’s top election agency?
Republicans created this system, and it works — our last election was fair and secure, as was proven by a recount, our law enforcement agencies and the courts. Republicans want to waste time and money on sweeping, politically-motivated changes to this system. Tim Michels has dangerous plans to undermine our democracy — he wants to sign laws undermining the freedom to vote, has embraced radical conspiracy theories about our elections and wouldn’t even rule out overturning election results if he doesn’t like the outcome. I plan to continue doing the right thing and fighting to ensure every eligible voter is able to participate in safe, fair and secure elections.
Speaking of your opponent, Tim Michels has refused to acknowledge Biden’s 2020 win in Wisconsin and continues to perpetuate Trump’s “Big Lie.” Why do you think this rhetoric is so resonant with Wisconsin Republicans?
Tim Michels has supported the “Big Lie” and even said he would consider overturning the results of the 2020 election. Every time a Republican candidate like Tim Michels embraces radical and untrue conspiracy theories about our elections, it undermines the very foundation of our democracy and erodes trust in our election system. Our leaders should be fighting to strengthen our democracy, not dismantle it. The last election was safe, fair and secure, and I will continue to fight to protect our democracy.
This year, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped into Wisconsin’s redistricting process after the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted new legislative maps that you submitted, ultimately striking down the maps and ordering the state Supreme Court to review the districts. Since the Wisconsin Supreme Court then replaced the maps with new ones, what does this decision mean for the next decade of Wisconsin representation in the state Legislature?
A decade ago, Republican lawmakers and lobbyists locked themselves behind closed doors in a private law office and redesigned Wisconsin’s electoral maps without any public input. They did so intending to rig the system in their favor to gain majorities in the state Legislature. Years later, Wisconsin is still paying the price for this anti-democratic power grab. Republican legislators have used their gerrymandered majorities to block and obstruct — and at times not even show up to complete their jobs as legislators.
Wisconsinites should get to choose their elected officials, not the other way around. Until our state gets the fair maps it deserves, Republicans will continue to use their power to enact their radical agenda on our state and obstruct progress on everything from voting rights to abortion access to public education.
In 2018, you won by less than 30,000 votes in your run for governor and two years later, Biden won the state by a similarly slim margin in his run for president. Especially following Biden’s win, Republicans in the state cast doubt on the validity of the election results. While the election was ultimately certified, how can you, as governor, safeguard against future election subversion in Wisconsin?
As governor, one of my most important jobs is to certify election results. My opponent, Tim Michels, supports radical ideas around elections and won’t commit to certifying the results of democratic elections. I will continue to provide accurate information about voting rights and our elections, and will carry out my duty as governor to uphold the democratic process. I trust that state and local election officials will once again deliver accurate results in the 2022 election.
Favorite campaign fuel?
Always an ice cream cone.
Go-to walk up song?
Takin’ Care Of Business by Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Most underrated fact about Wisconsin?
Wisconsin may get a lot of attention for its cheese and beer, but it’s also home to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum — the world’s largest collection of bobbleheads in one place. As a bobblehead collector myself, I highly recommend a visit.