Gov. Evers reflects on 2020, looks ahead to challenges in 2021

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – From the pandemic to calls for racial justice to the presidential election, Wisconsin has been at the center of the most impactful stories of 2020. Throughout the turbulent year, Governor Tony Evers has had to lead the state and while he is proud of Wisconsinites’ perseverance through adversity, he recognizes there are challenges to overcome in the year ahead.

The pandemic

“It’s been a very difficult year,” Gov. Evers told CBS 58 in a one-on-one interview. “We’ve had way too many deaths in this state as it relates to COVID-19.”

Evers said while the health and economic fallouts of the pandemic have put a strain on the state, he is proud of the response from his administration and the residents of the state.

“I’m really pleased with the resilience I’ve seen all across the state,” Evers said.

As for the government’s response to the pandemic, Evers said he believes the administration has done well in its response to the pandemic, despite legal efforts to limit the governor’s ability to put in place mitigation efforts from Republicans and the state Supreme Court which has conservative majority.

The main focus now is on vaccine distributions, but Evers is confident in achieving success with that objective.

“I’m confident that we will get through this virus, there’s going to be bumpy roads along the way with vaccinations but we’ll get there and so I’m looking forward to this year.”

The pandemic has also brought on severe economic effects including a major backlog of unemployment benefits that has led to criticisms of the Evers administration and the firing of the Department of Workforce Development secretary in September.

DWD Transition Director Amy Pechacek said in a recent legislative committee hearing the department aims to eliminate a backlog of unemployment claims that have not been resolved for more than 21 days by the start of the new year.

“I believe that they will beat that or meet that January 1 deadline,” Evers said of DWD’s goal.

Evers told CBS 58 that a new secretary-designee is set to be announced in the next, “week or two.” In addition to new leadership, Evers plans on budgeting for updates to the state’s unemployment system.

The governor will be announcing his new budget in February. Lost revenue because of the pandemic means the administration faces a difficult task to fund the state’s agencies from a smaller pool of tax dollars.

“To make things clear here, we also need federal money,” Evers said.

The latest federal covid relief bill does not include financial aid for state and local governments. Evers hopes Congress revisits the issue in the new year to help localities.

“We can’t leave them in the lurch and there’ll be some expectations for us to continue to provide some support for our local partners,” Evers told CBS 58.

Calls for racial justice

2020 was also marked by protests for racial justice sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor nationally. In Wisconsin, the shooting of Jacob Blake brought the national spotlight of the issue of policing to Kenosha.

Governor Evers called the Legislature into Special Session to take up a package of bills aimed at addressing concerns of racial justice and policing. The GOP-controlled Legislature did not take up the bills for a vote.

“That I feel extremely bad about because we should’ve taken advantage of that situation and done the right thing,” Evers said.

The election

Wisconsin was also at the center of the contentious presidential election. Following unfounded claims of widespread irregularities and fraud, state Republicans have signaled they will introduce efforts to reform the voting and election process. That is something Evers is skeptical about.

“if we’re going to make it more difficult to vote, I will not accept it,” Evers said. “That’s the bottom line. We should be making it easier to vote. We shouldn’t be suppressing the vote.”

Evers said he is in support of a proposal to allow clerks to count absentee ballots ahead of election day. The idea has bipartisan support.

District maps

There is also the looming battle over the state’s district maps. The state redraws district maps every ten years. Democrats allege Republicans have gerrymandered the state into a position where the GOP is able to remain in power because of the maps they drew in 2011. Governor Evers expects the issue to go to court, but is hopeful the People’s Maps Commission he established will be able to put in place competitive maps.

“It’d be great if we can resolve that before it gets to court although I have very little confidence that that will happen,” Evers said. “I believe that the maps that our People’s [Maps] Commission will develop will be competitive and we’ll be able to use that map in no matter what court we end up in.”

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