MADISON – Republican legislative leaders are planning to ask the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to block Gov. Tony Evers’ latest order to shut down the economy until late May — deepening the partisan divide over how to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills, co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s finance committee, told FOX 6 that legislative Republicans plan to ask the state’s highest court to step in and block Evers’ order extending stay-at-home until May 26.
“We are going to the Supreme Court,” she said. “We have to get Wisconsin back to work.”
Darling announced the plan after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos signaled Friday morning he was considering legal action to either curb or block Evers’ power to act unilaterally during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re angry, we’re frustrated and we’re trying to push back in every way that we can,” Vos of Rochester said on WISN-AM (1130).
He said lawmakers would likely have a legal strategy by next week. They want to be sure any lawsuit they bring is legally sound so it doesn’t result in a court decision that upholds Evers or increases his powers, Vos said.
“One potential for us would be to say, ‘Where in the statutes does it allow the government and especially the people at WEDC or the people at DHS to pick and choose how businesses operate?’ That is not part of an order to contain a spread. You cannot say it’s legal for you to buy flowers at a Walmart but it’s not legal for you to buy flowers at a flower shop,” he said, referring to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the state Department of Health Services.
Republicans’ push for legal action also comes as a handful of Republicans in the state Senate call for firing Evers’ health services secretary and the governor’s opponents plan a rally to protest his stay-at-home order.
The Evers administration on Thursday extended the stay-at-home order until May 26 and canceled classes for the remainder of the school year, enraging Republicans.
In a statement, Evers said he had taken those steps to protect the public.
“My bottom line is keeping people safe,” his statement said. “Folks are scared and they need to know who they can trust. They should trust science. They should trust our public health experts. And they should be able to trust their elected officials to make the best possible decisions based on science and facts.”
In another sign of the growing partisan differences on the issue, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling made clear he would not have a hand in keeping businesses closed.
“I took an oath to uphold the constitutional rights of our citizens and I cannot in good faith participate in the destruction of Racine County businesses or interfere in the freedoms granted to all of us by our Constitution,” the Republican sheriff said in a statement.
Vos told WISN host Jay Weber that he understands the importance of social distancing and taking other steps to reduce the spread of the pandemic that has killed 197 in Wisconsin and nearly 148,000 worldwide. But Evers should not be making decisions about the issue alone, he said.
“Nothing in the constitution or the statutes should give one person unlimited power to shutter our economy and cause people to lose their jobs,” Vos said.
Darling said “people are desperate” and suggested the nearly 400,000 people who have filed for unemployment since March need to return to their jobs quickly.
Evers should increase testing and set clearer metrics on when the state will reopen, Vos said. He suggested that if the state had seven days in a row of declining infections, it could have a phased reopening of its economy over three weeks.
He also floated the idea of allowing people to get haircuts and letting students return to school for the first week of June so they could have “a semblance of normalcy before summer.”
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff noted Wisconsin does not yet meet guidance set by President Donald Trump on when to reopen. And even when it can begin to reopen, schools should still remain closed under Trump’s guidelines.
“Curious (if) any Republicans have said whether they disagree with the president,” she said by email.
‘It feels like the 2010 Tea Party movement on steroids’
The plan to take Evers to court comes as GOP state Rep. Shae Sortwell of Gibson urged people to attend a protest April 24 at the state Capitol. More than 2,500 people have indicated on Facebook they plan to attend.
“From an outsider looking in, it feels like the 2010 Tea Party movement on steroids,” said Mark Block, an early Tea Party organizer who went on to manage Herman Cain’s presidential run in 2012.
Madison Elmer, who lives in Walworth County, said she organized the rally after seeing the toll being taken on her friends’ and neighbors’ mental health.
“People losing their jobs and losing their businesses they had dreamed of and finally made happen and probably wouldn’t be able to open back up,” said Elmer, 33. “I was sick of not doing anything about it, so I got the idea to start my own little rally.”
That small gathering exploded into a full protest after Evers extended the order to stay home until the end of May.
Stephen Moore, a former Wall Street Journal editorial board member and visiting fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in a YouTube video that he was working with a Wisconsin group that planned to hold a drive-in event similar to the sit-ins of the civil rights era. He didn’t say if he was talking about Friday’s planned rally or another one.
“They’re going to shut down the Capitol — shh, don’t tell anybody,” Moore said in the “Freedom on Tap” video.
“We have one big donor in Wisconsin — I’m not going to mention his name — and I told him about this and he said, ‘Steve, I promise I will pay the bail and legal fees for anyone who gets arrested,’ ” Moore said.
“So this is a great time, gentlemen and ladies, for civil disobedience. We need to be the Rosa Parks here and protest against these government injustices.”
Vos said it was up to individuals on whether to attend Friday’s event.
“There is nothing that is going to convince me that somebody should have to say that their constitutional rights should be abrogated by a politician,” Vos said. “What they should do is make their voice heard.”
Vos said the state Senate should not confirm Andrea Palm as Evers’ health services secretary. She has been serving in that role for nearly a year and a half without confirmation.
Some senators on Thursday called for firing her, but Vos cautioned that would not result in changes to how the administration operates.
“That’s kind of a secondary issue because whoever Tony Evers picks, the next lackey is going to do the exact same thing,” Vos said.
He said rather than filing a lawsuit, legislators may try to pass a bill to change the state’s response to COVID-19. But he noted Evers could veto any legislation and said it was unlikely Republicans could reach an agreement with him.
“It’s like drawing an inside straight,” he said. “It’s pretty close to impossible.”
Evers this week said he is working with the governors of other Midwestern states on a regional approach to decide when to reopen the state. Vos said he should be working with Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature instead.
“It seems he’s giving more ability of the governor of Illinois and the governor of Michigan to influence his decisions than he is the constitutionally equal branches of government,” Vos said.
“Basically what he does is he sits down with his minions inside his office, reaching out to very few people. They then make a decision and they come and tell us like it’s an edict, like we’re subjects of the king.”
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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