It’s up to us.
We can’t count on our elected representatives to work together for the public good in Wisconsin. They have proved themselves utterly incapable of compromising even in an emergency to come up with a sensible plan to protect the health of our most vulnerable friends, neighbors and family members.
So, first things first.
Please, as you begin to venture out, keep in mind that the person closest to you at the bar, restaurant, store or barbershop may live with a child whose immune system has been weakened by chemotherapy, a spouse with diabetes and high blood pressure, a retired parent managing any number of ailments, a sibling who, for yet unknown reasons, has a genetic vulnerability to this strange, new coronavirus.
Please, if you are a business owner who has seen years of hard work threatened, be sure to make thoughtful decisions that ensure long-term success. We need you to drive our recovery. And for customers, remember those serving you may be following orders to limit those allowed in, enforce social distancing and insist on masks. Respect them and accommodate them.
Please, remember our first responders, nurses and doctors. These safer-at-home restrictions were aimed at keeping them from being overwhelmed with patients who, sometimes within a few hours, went from having a dry cough to being desperate to breathe.
Those orders have worked to buy time for our health system.
Our hospitals have not been overwhelmed. Vast temporary emergency rooms set up at the Wisconsin Center and State Fair Park have not been necessary.
It’s impossible to quantify cases that didn’t happen, but it appears our sacrifices to contain the virus are working. Doctors have learned a lot about treating the disease, sharing information from around the globe. They’ve learned, for example, how to reduce the need for ventilators.
With the disease continuing to spread, it’s time to remain vigilant and sensible.
When our in-person election happened on April 7, after the last failure of our government, we managed to dodge a feared surge in deadly cases. Voters and elections officials went to great lengths to ensure safe distancing in lines and at the polls, to wipe down voting stations with disinfectant, to provide masks to those who didn’t have them, to wash their hands before touching their faces.
The residents of Wisconsin came through on election day. It’s time for us all to do our part again.
Make no mistake. An election that made people wait three hours to vote during a pandemic in Green Bay and Milwaukee was ridiculous, as the now-famous sign said.
And it is ridiculous that Wisconsin is the first state in the union to be opened by court order — and not a unanimous order with clear legal precedent, but one based on the whims and political ideologies of just four Supreme Court justices: Patience Roggensack, Rebecca Bradley, Annette Ziegler and Daniel Kelly.
One of those four, Kelly, was soundly defeated as an incumbent in the April 7 election and will be off the court by July. We can safely assume the decision would have been 4-3 in the opposite direction had the candidate who voters chose over Kelly taken her seat on the court.
The decision is one of momentary legal authority and zero moral authority.
All four justices who overturned the governor’s power in a health emergency had campaigned against judicial activism.
They proved to be against judicial activism until they were for it. They are against judges writing laws unless the special interests that put them up and backed them for office want them to write their own laws.
This was stated best by the one conservative justice who stayed true to his word and voted against them.
“We are a court of law. We are not here to do freewheeling constitutional theory. We are not here to step in and referee every intractable political stalemate,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in dissent. “In striking down most of (the order), this court has strayed from its charge and turned this case into something quite different than the case brought to us.
“To make matters worse, it has failed to provide almost any guidance for what the relevant laws mean, and how our state is to govern through this crisis moving forward.”
Thank you, Justice Hagedorn, for your integrity, reason and sense of duty.
State law gives the administrative branch authority to order closures for medical emergencies — as does the law in other states. The powers granted to the governor and his administration are rooted in legislation drawn up in 1887, long before the flu pandemic of 1918, the closest antecedent to what is happening now. In 1981, as HIV and AIDS swept across the country, the Legislature gave the state Department of Health Services the power to issue emergency orders. If the Republicans who run the state Legislature don’t like those laws, they should rewrite them.
But that would have required negotiating with Gov. Tony Evers who has veto power. Since before he even took office, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have proved absolutely unwilling to negotiate with the Democrat who voters elected governor. Again and again, they sue, running to the aid of a Supreme Court where a majority of justices won their seats with the help of the exact same special interests who support Vos and Fitzgerald.
After the decision was announced, Vos and Fitzgerald offered no guidance on how to keep Wisconsin safe from a virus that has killed more than 400 people statewide.
That’s because they have no plan.
“Republican legislators convinced four members of the Supreme Court to throw the state into chaos,” Evers said. “Republicans own that chaos.”
Could Evers have negotiated a reasonable solution with Vos and Fitzgerald, two career local politicians who knew they held the Supreme Court card up their sleeves?
He could have tried, in a bold and public manner, to rally the state toward a united way forward. He could have put forth a vision that showed his understanding of the pain the closed economy has caused, the massive unemployment, the legitimate fears of many who are out of work and others who spent years building a business that they worry may be lost. He could have listened not only to his own state health experts but to medical professionals and residents of counties that have seen few coronavirus infections and worked to alleviate their concerns.
Evers also waited too long to propose a delay and alternative to the April 7 in-person election. But he was right to do it when he finally acted — just as the Republican governor and health secretary in Ohio were right to delay their March 17 election. There is no reason for the public’s health to be a partisan issue.
Evers had a plan, based on talks with public health and hospital officials, for gradually reopening the state and was taking steps to do so in an orderly fashion. Five of six measures for reopening the state were already being met when the four justices trumped the administrative branch and even chose to ignore Republican lawmakers’ request for a six-day stay to negotiate a path forward.
Still, we can avoid chaos.
We can take it out of the hands of the politicians — and that includes the highly partisan Supreme Court.
It’s up to us. Again.