By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers refused to say Monday whether he agrees with his spokeswoman’s claims that Republican legislative leaders won’t negotiate with his chief of staff because she is a woman.
Evers dodged the question Monday at a news conference where he spoke in support of a Democratic automatic voting registration bill. Evers, who also refused to answer a question about whether he would veto four anti-abortion bills, said he was only going to talk about the voting registration proposal.
On Saturday, Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said Republican legislative leaders won’t negotiate with the governor’s chief of staff Maggie Gau because she is a woman. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald called the charge “completely asinine.” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, in calling Evers’ staff “clueless,” noted that his chief of staff and other office leaders are all women.
Vos said he would only negotiate with Evers because “an elected official negotiates with an elected official.” Vos also tweeted about the blowup into the night on Saturday and again Sunday morning.
“This entire argument is silly,” Vos said in one message. “An elected Governor should be meeting with legislative leaders regularly. Every state has partisan differences but it seems only in WI does the elected Gov delegate meeting with other elected leaders to staff.”
When asked Monday if he agreed with what his spokeswoman said, Evers responded, “I’m focusing on voting right now.”
Evers was then asked if he thought Republicans – if they wanted to discuss voting rights – would talk to his chief of staff, or only him.
“What a great segue,” he said. “That’s why you are there and I am here. Anyway, great question. Yes, I believe they should be able to talk with Maggie Gau on voting rights, absolutely.”
The news conference was cut off after that question.
Fitzgerald reacted later Monday to Evers refusing to comment.
“If not even the governor’s spokesperson can be trusted to speak for the governor, how can he expect us to work with anyone from his staff?” Fitzgerald said in a statement.
Evers’ chief of staff, three deputy chiefs of staff, policy director, and others on his leadership team are women. Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s three chiefs of staff were men.
Walker and fellow Republicans who controlled the Legislature met frequently to negotiate, but even they couldn’t easily find agreement on major issues like road funding. But the relationship between the Democrat Evers and GOP lawmakers is much more strained.
The conflict began even before Evers took office, when Republicans called a lame-duck session in December to weaken his powers and make it more difficult to undo GOP policies enacted under eight years of Walker.
The dust-up over who should be negotiating with Republican lawmakers only further stresses their relationship at a time when the Legislature is reworking Evers’ budget as they prepare to pass their own version of the two-year spending plan.
Evers, who has powerful line-item veto authority, has held out the possibility of vetoing the entire budget. Vos, last week, noted that hasn’t happened since 1931 as he continued to bemoan Evers’ willingness to work with Republicans.
Evers has been sticking by his plans to expand Medicaid, increase funding for K-12 schools, and provide a long-term funding solution for roads that includes a gas tax increase.
His education funding plan is up for votes Thursday in the budget committee. Evers said he was “definitely” meet with Vos and Fitzgerald this week, and he wanted to talk about the voting rights bill. Evers proposed automatic voter registration as part of his $83 billion state budget, but it was among dozens of items Republicans removed from the bill earlier this month.