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Evers will chart own course as governor

Divided government is returning to Wisconsin for the first time since 2008.

It will be the result of our first gubernatorial transition since 2010.

Eight years ago, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker was taking over for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who was leaving office voluntarily after two terms.

Now it’s Tony Evers who’s taking over for Walker. Walker was defeated by the state schools superintendent in an election that saw Democrats sweep all the statewide races. U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin easily won another six-year term, dispatching GOP state Sen. Leah Vukmir. Josh Kaul, a former federal prosecutor, upset Attorney General Brad Schimel. Democrats also won the offices of Treasurer and Secretary of State.

But after the 2010 elections, Walker had a Legislature run by his own party. Evers will have to contend with a Legislature controlled by Republicans and led by two veteran politicians: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. The previous Democratic governor, Doyle, enjoyed a Democrat-controlled Legislature for his final two years in office.

Evers’ collaborative style could come in handy when it comes time to compromise on big issues like road spending. But others worry that if Senate Republicans and Assembly Republicans unite, the Legislature could continually frustrate Evers.

In the meantime, Evers is putting together a new administration and transition team led by women.

He has named Maggie Gau, his campaign manager and a former legislative aide, as his chief of staff.  Originally from Wausau, Gau formerly served as chief of staff for state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and state Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, and previously worked for former state Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake. Before that, Gau was deputy state political director on President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Evers’ transition director is JoAnne Anton, a top aide to ex-U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl. The deputy transition director is Tia Torhorst, the director of Strategic Partnerships for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee who managed Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s re-election campaign in 2016.

Also in the mix are a good number of ex-Doyle agency leaders. Aaron Olver, the managing director of the University Research Park and a former Commerce secretary under Doyle, will help Evers with personnel recruitment.

Olver will lead a 20-person Personnel Advisory Council that will work with making sure administration appointments draw on talent from around the state.

Among the council members are some former top Doyle appointees:

  • Frank Busalacchi, former Department of Transportation secretary under Doyle.
  • Sean Dilweg, former Wisconsin Insurance commissioner, now senior vice president government relations for MGIC.
  • Roberta Gassman, former Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development secretary.
  • Donsia Hill, former Department of Regulation and Licensing secretary.
  • Ruben Anthony Jr., head of the Urban League of Greater Madison and a former top DOT official under Doyle.

That doesn’t mean the new administration will be Doyle 2.0. But insiders say it’s natural to turn to veterans of past administrations. Evers, a less partisan figure, will chart his own course.

The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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