By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — State superintendent Tony Evers on Tuesday spoke out against a resolution pending at the University of Wisconsin that could lead to students being expelled for protesting at campus events and speeches.
Evers, a Democrat running for governor, also voiced his support for raising the gas tax to pay for roads as part of a bipartisan solution, drawing a direct contrast with Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has vowed to veto any such increase. Walker did agree to higher fees for electric and hybrid vehicles, and Evers said he too would consider increasing fees to pay for transportation projects.
Evers outlined his case for becoming governor at an event hosted by Wispolitics.com. He is one of seven Democrats to have declared they will challenge Walker in next year’s election.
Evers, who was re-elected to a third term as state superintendent in April, is also a member of the UW System Board of Regents. The board on Friday is scheduled to vote on a resolution that would allow university officials to expel students who repeatedly interfere or obstruct campus presentations or speakers.
Evers said he “can’t imagine” supporting the resolution, calling it “a little bit about a solution seeking a problem.” It’s not the regents’ job to determine what types of speech are allowed. He said that responsibility should instead be left to officials and chancellors at individual campuses.
“I am fearful we will become speech police in reverse and we will essentially be on the altar of freedom of speech we’re going to be sacrificing freedom of speech,” he said. “What the hell does obstruction mean? I don’t know what that means.”
Republicans angered over opposition to conservative speakers at colleges across the country are pushing a legal change similar to the proposed UW policy, arguing that penalties are needed to protect freedom of speech on campuses.
Evers meanwhile said that, as governor, he would veto a pending bill that would do away with a state moratorium on the mining of sulfide ores such as copper, zinc and gold. The bill is backed by Republicans, who control the Legislature, but Walker voted to impose the moratorium when he was in the Legislature 20 years ago and has not said whether he would sign the measure should it pass.
Republican supporters say the measure would help create jobs in economically depressed areas of northern Wisconsin.
When asked how he would pay for his initiatives, Evers said he would look for savings within the state’s chief jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, by regionalizing economic development efforts. He also said there could be savings through regionalizing K-12 services.
Evers, who has been state superintendent since 2009, said he was not happy with the latest K-12 state test scores that showed improvements in some areas but large differences between white and non-white students.
“Clearly we continue to have an achievement gap in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said.
Alec Zimmerman, a Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman who attended the event, said Evers represents “the same failed policies of yesterday that hurt Wisconsin’s families and businesses.”