Evers, Michels portray one another as the wrong choice during gubernatorial debate
MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- During the first and only debate, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his Republican challenger Tim Michels characterized each other as the wrong choice to lead Wisconsin for the next four years.
The outcome of the race will decide whether Republicans regain control of the state government with a Michels victory, or four more years of divided government under Evers who has prided himself on blocking Republican's agenda.
Both candidates accused one another for being extremist on the issue of abortion.
Evers criticized his opponent for supporting Wisconsin's 1849 criminal abortion ban.
"He's radical because it's not consistent with Wisconsin values," said Evers. "We've had 50 years of Roe v. Wade and it's worked. We should go back to that."
Michels said his views are being mischaracterized and called out Evers for opposing legislation to add expectations for rape and incest to the state's abortion ban.
Michels reiterated he would sign that bill if elected, meanwhile Evers has said he wouldn't because it leaves the underlying law in place.
When asked if Michels would make it illegal for residents to seek abortions in other states, he said, "I'm not going to be this radical guy with checks at the border."
Evers has twice called special sessions requesting the GOP-controlled Legislature to repeal the abortion ban and create a pathway for voters to decide. Both proposals were rejected by Republicans within seconds.
Recently, Michels reversed his stance on abortion and vowed to sign a bill with exceptions. Earlier this year, Michels called the state's 1849 criminal abortion ban "an exact mirror of his position," which only allows abortions if the mother's life is in danger.
With crime surging in Milwaukee, Evers proposed increasing shared revenue to give municipalities more resources for police and violent prevention efforts. It's an idea Michels has previously said he's open to.
"It's my top priority… and this helps people do the hard work whether it's around crime or social services… they need to have the resources," Evers said.
Michels stressed crime is rampant and vowed to fix it, but he didn't offer specific details.
"Milwaukee is not the problem, Milwaukee has a problem and I'm going to fix it," said Michels. "Will get crime down."
On the topic of guns, Michels also said he has "a solution for that" but declined to share what the solution is.
Evers reiterated his support for red flag laws and universal background checks to combat gun violence, two proposals Michels opposes.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST:
If elected, Michels said he would "completely divest" himself from his family's multi-million construction company Michels Corp. The company has received more than $1.1 billion from construction bids since 2014, according to state records.
Under state law, governors must sign off on road construction contracts worth more than $1,000 and bars public officials from benefiting from them financially.
"I'm going to completely divest from Michels Corp. and there will be no conflict of interest," Michels said.
But how he will do that is still unknown. Evers called his opponent's pledge "fishy."
"I don't know how that's going to work," Evers said. "Do we need to change the process so that it isn't a problem? I've read it is a problem and I'm not an expert in this but I think it's going to look kind of fishy."
Amid inflation and rising gas prices, Evers touted his $600 million tax relief plan to ease inflation.
Michels said he wants "massive tax reform" when asked how he would mitigate rising costs.
When asked if the candidates would accept the results of the November election. Evers replied "yes" while Michels didn't say.
Instead Michels said, "of course I will certify the next election." It was the first time Michels committed to certifying future elections.
Michels, who's endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has supported Trump's false claims about widespread voter fraud. Michels has also previously said he wouldn't rule out decertifying the 2020 election even though the move is legally impossible.
"Voting rights are on this ballot," Evers said. "It's radical to say - I'm not sure if this works out - or - fraud happened - when it didn't happen."
Michels criticized Evers' parole commission for releasing inmates convicted of violent crimes as part of his strategy to keep the race focused on crime. Evers has no authority over paroles, Wisconsin's four-member parole commission does.
Twice Michels referred to the Evers administration as the "Barnes-Evers administration." Mandela Barnes is the Lt. Governor and is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson.
Evers defended his response to violent protests in Kenosha in 2020. Michels has consistently been accusing Evers for not responding quicker to control the unrest that erupted after a Kenosha police officer, who was white, shot a black man, Jacob Blake.