Political division over mask mandate persists, despite surge in COVID-19 cases

NOW: Political division over mask mandate persists, despite surge in COVID-19 cases

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – As a St. Croix County judge considers a lawsuit against Governor Tony Evers’ emergency order that includes a statewide mask mandate, state Republicans signaled support for ending the order, but instead of acting themselves, they are leaving it to the courts.

Republicans who control the Legislature submitted a brief on Oct. 2 in support of a lawsuit by the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty on behalf of three state residents.

The GOP, however, has the power to convene at any time to attempt to vote down the mandate themselves.

“It’s not about a mask mandate it’s about the rule of law,” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R – Kaukauna) told CBS 58. “If we just come in and rescind it that doesn’t settle that fact and we really need the courts to settle whether this is illegal or not.”

Steineke and Republican leaders believe if they vote down the mandate’s order without a court ruling, Governor Evers could keep issuing new orders.

Democrats believe there is a different motive to the Republican approach.

“The Republicans in both the Senate and the Assembly suddenly find themselves with less popularity than they expected and they are not going to want to come in and take a hard vote where even more people may turn away from them when it comes time to vote,” Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley said in an interview.

A Marquette University Law School Poll released in August found 69 percent of voters surveyed support face mask requirements in public places. Bewley and other Democrats view Republicans’ reluctance to vote down the mandate themselves as an attempt to protect vulnerable GOP seats, even as some hardline conservatives have called on leadership to call the Legislature in for a vote.

The Department of Health Services has reported multiple single-day records for positive cases reported in recent weeks with northeastern Wisconsin among the most severe hotspots in the country.

Steinke said he and GOP leadership are willing to work with Governor Evers and local units of government to address the current surge, though that has not happened. Evers said in a media briefing earlier this month that he has not reached out to Republican leaders recently because he believes their position on the issues has not changed.

Meanwhile, as the state experiences its surge, Republicans across the state continue to hold events with little to no social distancing or mask wearing. On top of that, Sen. Ron Johnson (R – Wisconsin) and Rep. Scott Allen (R – Waukesha) both reported testing positive over the weekend.

“I want to make it clear that I support the CDC guidelines,” Steineke said. “I do it myself when I’m out in public, and everyone should do it especially in areas that are as hot as they are in northeastern Wisconsin. The one thing we can do as elected officials is unify under a single voice when we’re talking about following CDC guidelines.”

But Democrats like Bewley said leadership in the GOP has failed to lead by example, pointing to President Donald Trump as well as state leaders.

“There’s absolutely no reason for that, to politicize a health issue,” Bewley said. “We should try to conquer it, to control it, to contain it and do everything we can.”

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