MADISON – Gov. Tony Evers is using money raised during a recall effort against him for a six-figure ad buy before the November election criticizing President Donald Trump and Republican legislative leaders for what the governor calls inaction against the pandemic.
“Lawsuits and gridlock. Republicans are playing politics with our pandemic response,” the ad opens, flashing photos of a press conference Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald held in April.
Fitzgerald pushed back against the ad, saying Evers was politicizing the pandemic.
“The Governor’s ad shamelessly exploits the COVID crisis to push a partisan political message. Using his own political campaign account to politicize the pandemic and baselessly attack Republicans is about as cynical as it gets,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.
The ad airs the same week Evers opened a field hospital to provide relief for Wisconsin hospitals that are grappling with soaring infections, especially in the northeast part of the state.
Evers in recent days has hammered Republican legislative leaders for taking him to court to eliminate his coronavirus policies and for refusing to provide him with a plan they would agree to use to combat the spread of the virus.
The legislative leaders argue Evers is overstepping his authority by issuing orders to wear masks and limit gathering sizes and not seeking legislative approval.
GOP lawmakers have sued or taken legal action against Evers a number of times since the pandemic hit Wisconsin in February. The legal challenges successfully kept an election in place in April and eliminated the governor’s stay-at-home order in May.
The GOP leaders also filed a brief in support of a so-far unsuccessful lawsuit to end the statewide mask mandate. On Tuesday, a Sawyer County judge put on hold Evers’ order to limit capacity in bars and restaurants as part of a lawsuit brought by the Tavern League of Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Republicans have not put forward a plan of their own or provided the governor with a set of parameters they would accept.
“Republicans and their allies have failed to take this virus seriously from the beginning — they’ve consistently put politics before the health and safety of the people of our state,” Mitch Wallace, executive director of Evers’ campaign, said in a statement. “We’re not just working to save the veto this November, we’re coming for Republican seats in the Legislature.”
Fitzgerald said Evers is attempting to lay full blame of the worsening situation in Wisconsin on lawmakers when he has not spent all of the federal CARES Act relief funding or provided unemployment benefits to thousands who have been waiting weeks or months because of pandemic-related job losses.
He said lawmakers will convene once a new federal relief bill is passed.
“Now, unfortunately, we are waiting again, this time watching Speaker Pelosi and majority-party Democrats in Congress play political games with a second relief bill,” he said. “Just like Governor Evers is politicizing the pandemic here in Wisconsin, inaction from D.C. Democrats is clearly a political calculation intended to prevent President Trump from delivering a win for swing states on the eve of the presidential election.”
Evers sent a letter to Fitzgerald and Vos asking for a meeting about what plan Republicans have to respond to the pandemic but neither has responded as of Friday, according to Evers’ spokeswoman.
The ad runs until Oct. 27 on television in the Green Bay, La Crosse, Eau Claire, and Milwaukee media markets, and will include digital and mail components.
It touts Evers’ distribution of personal protective equipment, the state’s testing capacity and contact tracing efforts, and aid to farmers and small business owners using federal relief funding.
Misty Polewczynski of Burlington launched the recall effort against Evers in September in response to arson and looting in Kenosha after video went viral of police officer Rusten Sheskey shooting Jacob Blake in the back.
Polewczynski said Evers should have done more to stop the unrest and she launched recall efforts a few days later against Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
She has until Oct. 27 to gather nearly 670,000 signatures.
The recall attempt drew an immediate backlash from some Republicans who warn it is likely to fail because of a lack of organization and poor timing, and allows Evers to raise an unlimited amount of money.
The signatures are due just before the Nov. 3 presidential election and some fear it will create a distraction for Republicans in a state Trump narrowly won in 2016.