ZWEIFEL COLUMN: Legislative Republicans use tax dollars to keep divided government alive and well
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ZWEIFEL COLUMN: Legislative Republicans use tax dollars to keep divided government alive and well

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Have you ever wondered who died and left Robin Vos in charge of state government?

That’s the reaction I had after reading Cap Times reporter Briana Reilly’s recent report on how Assembly Speaker Vos is dispatching his taxpayer-paid staff to essentially spy on Gov. Tony Evers’ appointees and their state agencies, including monitoring their social media accounts.

That explains why Vos found it necessary after Evers’ inauguration a year ago to pad his already ample staff with yet more employees, costing taxpayers an additional $300,000 a year for their salaries and benefits.

It’s not that the speaker’s workload has ballooned, it’s that Vos believes that he’s the person in charge of making sure Evers’ people don’t do anything that challenges his ultra-conservative ideas on how the state ought to be run.

It doesn’t matter that Evers won a statewide election with the votes of 1.3 million-plus Wisconsinites while Vos won his last election in heavily Republican western Racine County with 16,775 votes. The speaker feels he’s ordained to micromanage the executive branch.

That’s not to say the legislative branch, of which Vos is a key member, doesn’t have a duty to provide checks on the governor’s office. But as Democratic Assembly leader Gordon Hintz told Reilly, Vos’ activity is “beyond oversight.”

“It’s been pretty clear that the priority for Rep. Vos and the Assembly leadership all along has been to do everything possible to try and thwart the success of Gov. Evers,” he added.

And if that means spending hundreds of thousands to double the speaker’s staff, so be it.

Vos’ shenanigans fit right in with his counterpart in the state Senate, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. As I pointed out several weeks ago, Fitzgerald acts as though it’s the Republican senators’ duty to give Evers’ cabinet appointees “tryouts” before confirming them.

The tactic is more than troubling. Fitzgerald and his GOP cronies made sure the message to cabinet secretaries is clear — don’t do anything we don’t like or you’ll be out of a job.

They did just that with Evers’ agriculture secretary, Brad Pfaff, because he had the audacity to question why GOP legislators were holding up funding to help battle the problem of farmers resorting to suicide. They continue to hold up confirmation of several other Evers’ appointees, obviously daring them to step out of line with their own questionable beliefs.

It all underscores how disingenuous they are when they accuse Evers of not reaching out to them.

But, as I’ve pointed out so many times over the years, this is the kind of state government we get when legislators pay themselves enough so they can be considered full-time.

Politicians like Vos make enough in salary, per diems and benefits to spend countless hours in Madison, hire bloated staffs whose members earn healthy paychecks, and have plenty of time for partisan mischief-making.

How much better it would be if they went home, spent some time with their constituents and actually discovered how the people feel about expanding Medicaid, nonpartisan redistricting, gun safety laws and a host of other issues that legislators like Vos and Fitzgerald completely ignore.

Instead they spend their time spying on those whose views they don’t like and dreaming up ways to keep divided government alive and well. 

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. He can be reached by email at dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.

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