Evers to Columbia County crowd: Restore progressive roots
All the pizza was gone by the time gubernatorial hopeful Tony Evers arrived Friday evening at Columbia County Democratic headquarters in downtown Portage, where a crowd in excess of 100 people awaited him and his running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Mandela Barnes.
But there was some popcorn left. And Evers — who said he once taught science in Baraboo — started his presentation by sharing fond memories of eating “the best popcorn in the world” in Portage.
In a way, the messages of Evers and Barnes could be characterized as another form of nostalgia — for a state that, according to both, is losing touch with its progressive history.
There are, according to Evers, about 860,000 Wisconsin households with at least one working adult who struggle to afford the necessities of life.
“This is not the Wisconsin way, and you know it is not the Wisconsin way,” Evers said. “We must bring back high wages, and that includes collective bargaining.”
Evers said he did not know, until after his presentation, that Gov. Scott Walker was, at the same time, speaking to people at an event at Portage’s National Guard Armory in Portage.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” Evers said.
Both Evers and Barnes had plenty to say about Walker during their presentations.
For example, Barnes said, his grandfather moved to Milwaukee after serving in the military during World War II, and lived out his years with a job that helped him afford a middle-class life.
“That same sort of opportunity doesn’t apply to my generation anymore,” said Barnes, 31, a community organizer from Milwaukee who served two terms in the state Assembly.
The key word for the campaign is opportunity, Barnes said.
“I want a Wisconsin that is open for all, not just open for business,” he said.
Evers, 66, who has been the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction since 2009, said Walker has undone much of what made Wisconsin great, by refusing to fund needed repairs for local roads, silencing the voice of science in the Department of Natural Resources and portraying public school teachers and university faculty as the enemies of taxpayers.
Evers said he’s heard, on the campaign trail, that he has to “give Scott Walker hell.” However, he told the Columbia County audience that Walker-bashing won’t win him the governor’s seat.
Rather, the focus has to be on issues, he said.
For example, he said his first proposed biennial budget would call for two-thirds state funding for public schools, increased funding for special education and full funding for any school district that wants an all-day kindergarten program for 4-year-olds.
Evers also called for making science the focus of DNR policy-making and for repairing roads.
“As you know, we in Wisconsin have plenty of potholes,” he said. “And we’ve renamed them …”
“Scott-holes,” replied the audience in chorus.
In a conversation after his presentations, Evers also said:
Legislative mandates for Wisconsin’s counties and cities should not be approved without a funding source.Although he did not say whether he favors continuing or removing state-imposed levy limits on counties and cities, Evers said he favors increasing local control in areas such as high-capacity wells.Recent flooding in Columbia and Sauk counties can be attributed partly to Walker-era relaxation of environmental regulations, which has allowed wetlands to be filled in, instead of leaving them in place so they can help control flooding.In response to a report of four drug overdose deaths this week in Columbia County, Evers said the opioid epidemic must be addressed in a variety of ways — including having the state, along with counties, join in a class-action suit against major pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids, to recover some government costs associated with addressing addiction. Counties should not have to bear the burden of addressing the opioid crisis, he said.
Democratic Assembly District 42 candidate Ann Groves-Lloyd of Lodi and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, also spoke at the event.