Governor Tony Evers with Portage Mayor Mitchel Craig

Governor Tony Evers, with Portage Mayor Mitchel Craig, left, greets individual attendees at an event at the Columbia County Democrats office in Portage on July 1, gathering support for his election and giving a boost to local candidates running for the state legislature in November.

Governor Tony Evers spoke with Columbia County Democrats on July 1, gathering support for his re-election campaign and bringing the promises and policies of his first term to the ground level of local businesses.

“We worked hard in the last three and a half years to do the right thing and I also believe that we’ve brought different values and ideas to the governor’s office than my predecessor and that’s why I ran, and that’s why we won,” Evers told the packed campaign office in Portage across from the Columbia County Courthouse on DeWitt Street.

Among the several dozen attendees were staffers and volunteers wearing “Holy mackerel!” t-shirts, recently elected Portage Mayor Mitchel Craig, and several elected officials of the Lodi area.

Evers, arriving at the office late in the afternoon after stops at Craig’s Popcorn Corner and Tiny Homestead at the Mercantile in Portage, went down a checklist of campaign goals achieved during his term as governor.

First on the list, Evers said, “We fixed the damn roads.” He highlighted 1,700 miles of roads and between 1,300 and 1,400 bridges repaired, though he admitted that there were sections of Portage road where, “we’ve got a ways to go.”

Evers went on to point to expansion of broadband access throughout the state totaling over 300,000 homes, investment in public schools, and an estimated $5 billion in tax cuts for middle-class Wisconsinites, to which he also credited Rep. David Considine (D-Baraboo), who was also in the room.

Evers took several minutes to focus on small business development, saying that although it is important to recognize manufacturers and the state’s larger companies, roughly 52% of people in Wisconsin work for a small business.

“So it is our hope to not only increase the ability of all our companies to expand, but we have to make sure that downtowns thrive,” said Evers. “That is the bottom line, whether it is downtown Milwaukee or downtown Portage, or downtown Medford.”

As an example, Evers talked about the Main Street Bounceback project, providing $10,000 grants to encourage the placement of small startups in formerly empty storefronts. In the city of Medford, Evers told attendees, he had visited a pet-themed store Pouring Cats & Dogs, one of more than a dozen new stores opening in Medford.

The Republican candidate for the governor’s race will be decided in the August primary, in which Evers warned that he would not expect any of the four candidates to reverse their current course to announce a more moderate platform in the general election.

“We have four people who are running on the Republican ticket who probably are leapfrogging each other to the right,” said Evers, “and you saw that with the discussion of what is happening with Reproductive rights in the state of Wisconsin and how they might deal with that as compared to how I would deal with that.”

In 2018, Evers was elected by a margin of 1.1%, which he said went to show the degree to which Wisconsin is a “purple state,” though he shared his hope to double that margin of victory in this year’s November election.

National issues in the states

After greeting attendees, Evers spoke to reporters, first answering a question from NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben about the challenge of balancing the issues of responding to the overturning the Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade (legally legitimizing Wisconsin’s 1849 law banning abortion), along with the issue of nationwide inflation, which Republican campaigns are widely pegging as a result of Democratic policy in the White House and Congress.

Evers expressed hope for federal assistance on inflation, particularly in terms of the gas tax, but said that both issues were important and could be addressed at the same time.

“And it’s not that I’m minimizing inflation...but at the end of the day, when you tell, in the state of Wisconsin, lots and lots, about 3 million women, that they’re now second-class citizens, that they’re going to have to go through the state to get reproductive health issues taken care of, that’s a human problem, that’s a health care problem,” said Evers.

Over the subsequent weekend, gun violence again came to the forefront following a shooting at a parade outside Chicago that left seven dead. But even before recent shootings, in the past several years, law enforcement, including the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, and members of local departments, have shared concerns over the increase in the number of incidents officers respond to which involve firearms, down to otherwise mundane traffic stops that carry additional stress with the presence of a weapon, legal or otherwise.

When asked what could be addressed from the Governor’s Office, Evers pointed to resources provided to law enforcement departments for violence prevention. At the same time, Evers explained that the state’s response has been limited by the state legislature’s unwillingness to discuss the issue.

“That said, I know that people in Wisconsin–because I’ve lived here my entire life–I’ve seen polls consistently favoring that we pass some sort of ‘red flag’ laws and having universal background checks--70-80% of the people support that, and that includes gun owners,” said Evers. “I tried to get the legislature to pass that several times and they didn’t want to do it.”

The Wisconsin State Senate has gaveled in and immediately gaveled out of several special sessions called by Evers, including a session in fall 2019 intended to address the state’s gun laws.

Portage Daily Register reporter Jonathan Richie described a situation in Portage in which the overriding economic issue is more open positions than employees, segueing to ask Evers about potential solutions to provide more affordable housing.

Evers explained that the state has provided resources throughout the length of the COVID-19 pandemic to increase availability of affordable housing, which would be continued, and that he would be happy to discuss the subject at greater length with Mayor Craig.

“Obviously the state can’t pay for every affordable housing project in the state of Wisconsin, but we have found that there are ways for us to work together and municipalities make that happen,” said Evers. “So we have to be clever, we have to be thoughtful, but at the end of the day affordable housing and transportation, education, all those issues–health care–all those issues are connected, and that’s a real important part of that.”