'Over our dead bodies:' Republicans call Gov. Evers' budget proposal 'wacky,' 'crazy'

OSHKOSH, Wis. — Wisconsin's Republican legislative leaders said at Saturday's state party convention that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers delivered a "wacky" and "crazy" state budget proposal and promised to serve as a block to his agenda.

"It will be over our dead bodies," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said of approving Evers' Medicaid expansion plan.

The convention that brought together about 650 conservative activists served as part pep rally ahead of the 2020 presidential election, examination of why every Republican running for statewide office lost in 2018, and strategy session on what changes need to be made to do better next year.

Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald described a strained relationship with Evers, who is now in his fifth month as governor. Republicans earlier this month killed many of Evers' major proposals, including Medicaid expansion. Vos said Evers was catering to liberals with a "wacky" and "crazy" state budget that would never win approval of Republicans who control the Legislature.

While Vos reiterated his steadfast opposition to Medicaid expansion, Fitzgerald said it needed to be "continually evaluated" because terms of accepting the federal money is a "moving target." Evers built his budget around accepting the Medicaid money, which would then make $1.6 billion in federal funding available for other health care priorities.

Republicans killed the proposal this month, but some GOP lawmakers have said they remain open to compromise.

"There's a real disconnect on all different levels with this governor," Fitzgerald said. Republicans could work with former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, but there is no relationship with Evers, he said. Fitzgerald said he and Vos have met with Evers twice for five minutes since January.

Evers' spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in response that the governor "has communicated repeatedly to GOP leadership that they should work with his chief of staff, just like they did under the previous governor." Evers' chief of staff is Maggie Gau, who ran his campaign and previously worked for Democrats in the Legislature.

"That directive wasn't confusing to them when the chief of staff was a man," Baldauff said. Walker's chiefs of staff were all men.

"Vos and Fitzgerald are clearly uncomfortable or simply unwilling to work with a leadership team made up entirely of women," Baldauff said.

She also defended Evers' budget as being responsive to what people want. Polls have shown broad support for Medicaid expansion and other Evers' ideas the GOP has rejected, including legalizing medical marijuana.

Also at the convention, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn said Republicans who backed his successful run earlier this year "saved the Supreme Court." Conservatives control the court 4-3 and when Hagedorn takes over that will increase to 5-2.

Hagedorn said his victory shows that conservatives can prevail in next year's high court race. Conservative Justice Dan Kelly is up for election, and liberals are optimistic they can win because the election is on the same day as the Democratic presidential primary, when turnout is expected to be high.

It is unusual for Supreme Court justices to speak at political conventions. Seats on the court are officially nonpartisan, but Hagedorn has deep ties to the Republican Party and previously worked as Walker's attorney. At the 2017 Democratic Party convention, two liberal candidates for the office spoke.

Republican members of Congress praised President Donald Trump in their comments at the convention. Rep. Bryan Steil, who replaced former House Speaker Paul Ryan, credited Trump for getting his message out by going around the mainstream media. Rep. Glenn Grothman said he thought Trump was doing a great job as president, while Rep. Sean Duffy noted that Trump won his rural northern Wisconsin district by more than any other in the state.

Wisconsin is expected to be a key battleground state in the presidential race. Democrats are holding their national convention next summer in Milwaukee, something Republicans said provides the Wisconsin GOP an opportunity to offer a contrast.

"They're going to bring their crazy to the doorstep of Wisconsin," Duffy said of Democrats.