MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers was set to return to the Wisconsin Assembly chamber on Tuesday night to deliver his fourth State of the State speech as his reelection looms in November and the Republican-controlled Legislature nears the end of its session for the year.
Evers, a Democrat, gave his speech virtually last year just before the COVID-19 vaccine was readily available to the public. He'll make this year's address where it has traditionally been made: before lawmakers, members of the state Supreme Court, other elected officials and invited guests.
It comes about a month later than normal and as the Legislature prepares to end its biennial session in three weeks, making it even less likely than usual that Republicans would act on anything Evers calls on them to do.
Evers and the Republican legislators have found little common ground over the past three years. Evers rarely meets with GOP leaders and Republicans are advancing a conservative agenda that they know Evers will veto but that will give them fodder to use on the campaign trail.
In areas where the governor and lawmakers have come together, such as the two state budgets Evers signed into law, they have squabbled over who can take credit. For example, Evers has been touting the $2 billion income tax cut he signed as part of the last budget, even though that was written by Republicans who rejected his calls to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
More than anything, though, the prime-time speech will give Evers a platform to highlight his record and make the case for why he should be reelected in November.
Evers has called on the Legislature to tap into the state's projected $3.8 billion surplus to send every taxpayer a $150 check — a similar move to what Republican Gov. Scott Walker did as he faced reelection in 2018. Republicans supported the idea then, but they don't now. Evers opposed it then but likes it now, arguing that the circumstances are different as the state emerges from the pandemic.
Evers is also campaigning on his record of increasing funding for broadband internet services in rural parts of the state, injecting more money into public schools and paying to fix crumbling roads.
But he's also positioning himself as the last line of defense from Republicans on everything from abortion to running elections.
Evers' Republican opponents are calling for the Wisconsin Elections Commission to be dismantled and for its election duties to be shifted elsewhere. The Legislature is expected to pass a package of Republican election bills that would make it more difficult to vote absentee and make a host of other changes before it adjourns in mid-March.
Republicans were also advancing a wide array of other bills that were nearly certain to meet with an Evers veto, including a Texas-style abortion ban, expanding gun rights and tightening eligibility for Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment programs.
He's also certain to veto a package of Republican bills designed to protect people who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
When Evers gave the speech virtually last year — a first in Wisconsin history — just over 5,000 people had died in the state from COVID-19. As of Tuesday, the state death toll was more than double that, at over 11,600. But as the omicron wave began to rapidly drop, Evers decided to return to an in-person speech before a Legislature that opposed his efforts to slow the spread of the virus, including his statewide mask mandate.
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