The fall 2022 election saw Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature gain additional seats in both the state Senate and Assembly, but not enough to override the veto pen of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said voters in Wisconsin sent a clear and perhaps, divided message in the election.
“The message was sent to voters to trust us in the Legislature. In the Assembly, they added three seats. In the Senate, we added one seat and were only 700 votes away from a second, getting 23 out of the 33 seats,” said LeMahieu. “But I think we also learned that Wisconsin maybe likes divided government as well by reelecting Tony Evers.”
LeMahieu said, ironically, Republicans helped Evers win by sending him two fiscally conservative budgets to sign during his first term in office.
“Unfortunately for us, it worked for him. But we’ll continue to do what we think is important for the state of Wisconsin,” he said.
Republicans and Evers saw each other as adversaries over the previous two years, so there was little communication between the governor’s office and the Legislature.
LeMahieu hopes that is changing.
“Obviously there are some who, people in the state who voted for Republican legislators and a Democrat for governor. So we need to try — work together — find some solutions while still making sure we’re being responsible in our budgeting,” he said.
The 2023-25 budget will be the first big test of whether the two branches of state government can come together.
Thankfully, writing a budget when the state has a projected $6.6 billion surplus is a lot easier than when there’s a deficit.
“We have an unprecedented surplus,” LeMahieu said, noting Republicans will start with a giant tax cut.
“When the state is collecting $6.6 billion more than they’re spending, people are being overtaxed. We need to provide permanent tax relief in that situation,” he said.
Evers has said his priorities will include more money for public education and local government.
LeMahieu said Republicans aren’t opposed to that, but he hopes to negotiate the dollar figures with the governor.
“You know, if the governor is willing to work with us and negotiate, I think we can accomplish some of the things that he wants to accomplish while still doing important tax relief, investing in education, expanding school choice,” said LeMahieu.
The next compromise between Senate Republicans and the governor is over appointments.
Over the governor’s first four years in office, Republicans have refused to hold final votes on multiple cabinet-level appointments and Evers appointees to governing bodies like the DNR board and the UW Board of Regents.
LeMahieu said Evers picks were too partisan.
“I think we’ve seen some of the appointments lately, have been, seemed from the governor seem to be more politically charged,” said LeMahieu.
The biggest controversy was over Fred Prehn, who refused to step down from his seat on the Natural Resources Board at the end of his term in 2021, after Republicans privately urged him to stay on to deny Evers nominees a majority.
The case went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where justices ruled 4-3 there was no process to remove him other than for the Senate to confirm his successor.
Does LeMahieu expect Fred Prehn to stay on the DNR board?
“You know, I haven’t talked to him, so I’m not sure,” he said.
LeMahieu said it’s up to Evers to appoint someone the Senate will accept.
“If we’re going to confirm some of these appointments, they need to be people who are qualified and serious in these positions and not just political operatives doing the will of, you know, environmental extremists,” said LeMahieu.
The legislative session starts Jan. 3, 2023.