State’s head of education runs for governor
Evers cites executive experience, ability to find common ground
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
State Superintendent Tony Evers was in Rhinelander Wednesday, the last stop of a northern Wisconsin tour following his announcement in August that he is running for governor in 2018.
“Even after winning (the election in April), I didn’t think for one second about running for governor,” Evers said. “But several weeks later someone said to me, ‘if you continue to be an advocate for public education, you can make even more changes as governor.’ I thought about it for awhile and here I am.”
Education, investing in people, the three-term state superintendent said, is of “critical importance” for a “vibrant democracy and a strong economy.” School finance reform, in fact, is one of the reasons Evers said he wants to be governor. The bottom line, he stated, is equity, the basis for Evers’ “Fair Funding for our Future” Plan.
“If a kid needs an extra lift, they should get an extra lift,” Evers explained. “And sometimes that means more resources.”
According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website, Evers’ plan would guarantee minimum state funding, incorporate a poverty factor, make changes that would strengthen rural schools with declining enrollment, give revenue limit authority back to the school districts, and redirect state aid, sending it directly to school boards. All while holding the line on property taxes.
Though he said it’s not sustainable, one thing Evers said that gives him hope for the future is that school districts across the state have passed referenda in “huge” numbers.
“In the past three general elections, over a million people have voted to increase the taxes on themselves,” Evers explained. “The reason they are going to referendum is because the state hasn’t kept up. Same thing is happening to our state university system.”
Other priorities, Evers said, include broadband, combating the opioid epidemic and improving roads and road funding.
“We have to be open to gas tax increases and user fee increases,” said Evers. “I know people don’t like taxes but by (gosh), I think they hate crappy roads worse.”
He also said he wants to make the Department of Natural Resources an independent agency again, appointed by a board that would include a balance of hunters, environmentalists and the like. The shoreland zoning issue, Evers said, should be figured out locally.
“Erosion of local control has been significant,” he said. “The state shouldn’t be making those decisions, telling municipalities, ‘do this because we know better,’ because I don’t think they do know better.”
The multibillion dollar agreement to subsidize the Taiwanese company Foxconn is a “bad deal,” Evers said, because the legislature would be “every year writing $200 million checks to them to cover the salaries of their employees.”
“What happens to money for healthcare, what happens to money for roads, what happens to money for schools, tech colleges,” Evers said. “It will absolutely hamstring our budget process for years.”
Having won three statewide races, by “a relatively large margin,” is one thing the state’s head educator said makes him the best gubernatorial candidate.
“Part of it is that voters value education and another is they know me,” Evers said. “I’ve lived outside the bubble of Milwaukee and Madison.”
He also touts his executive experience, being in charge of school buildings and school districts, and is running a “large agency that’s in charge of 860,000 kids, our public libraries and 60,000 or more teachers.”
Saying that common ground is in his DNA, Evers said he believes that as contentious as the political climate can seem, people seek a common goal.
“We have for so long in this state been fighting with each other,” said Evers. “It started with divide and conquer early in (Gov. Walker’s) term. I don’t think people in Wisconsin want to be at each other’s throats and arguing; they want to work together for the common good. I know they’re frustrated, I know they are angry but I know they want good roads, support good natural resources, and that’s what I’m about.”
Evers is currently one of six declared candidates for the Democratic nomination. The Wisconsin partisan primary takes place Aug. 14, 2018.