'YOU ARE INCREDIBLY SAFE TO GO OUT' (copy)

Assembly Speaker Robin, working as a poll worker in Burlington during the 2020 spring election, talks to a member of the media. “You are incredibly safe to go out," he told viewers while wearing personal protective equipment.

It has been four years since Wisconsin voters ended former Gov. Scott Walker’s disastrous tenure. Without a doubt, Walker was the most destructive Wisconsin political figure since former U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy shamed the state and the nation with his assault on truth itself in the 1950s.

No one should ever forget Walker’s infamy, how he attacked teachers, nurses and librarians and the unions that represented them; how he cut funding for public education and public services; how he fought against the expansion Medicaid and bipartisan efforts to help working families get access to health care; how he widened the digital divide by turning away federal funding for the provision of high-speed broadband; how he attacked the Wisconsin Idea and the basic premises of free inquiry at the University of Wisconsin.

Walker is gone, and thinking Wisconsinites breathe a sigh of relief every day for his absence, and for the able service of Gov. Tony Evers.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin continues to be tripped up by Walker’s associates, many of whom retain the power to do immense harm — and one who does more harm than any of the rest.

Who is that?

Not former Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack. It’s true that Roggensack — as the leader of a cabal of right-wing judicial activists — has repeatedly undermined the health and safety of Wisconsinites over the past four years. The high court’s rejection of science and common sense made the coronavirus pandemic far worse for Wisconsinites, and Roggensack and her allies deserve their own chapter in the annals of shame.

But Roggensack is not the worst.

Nor is U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who as the state’s chief ally of former President Donald Trump has spread lies about the pandemic and about the 2020 election. Johnson peddles conspiracy theories, participates in fake-elector plots and is currently running the most racist campaign for statewide office in Wisconsin history. And he’s a multi-millionaire who has used his position to enrich himself so extravagantly that he has doubled his fortune since taking office.

But Johnson is not the worst.

When Evers defeated Walker four years ago, it was Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who led the effort to disempower the new governor by restructuring the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of state government. So radical was Vos’ attempt to deny the new governor the powers that previous governors had enjoyed that critics referred to the maneuver as a “coup.” Some of Vos’ schemes were upended, but he succeeded on enough fronts to make governing in Wisconsin dramatically more partisan, and dramatically less efficient.

Things got even worse when the coronavirus pandemic hit and Vos refused to cooperate with Evers at critical stages in the crisis. The speaker refused to take the deadly virus seriously — except when it came to protecting himself. When the governor sought to find common ground, Vos mocked him — responding to the governor’s calls for special sessions of the Legislature by gaveling in and out in a matter of seconds. Vos refused to go along with an effort to reschedule voting at the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 as dozens of other states had done because of public health concerns. Why? Vos thought a low-turnout election might help his candidate for the state Supreme Court win. Vos’ candidate lost because thousands of Wisconsinites risked their own safety to rebuke the speaker’s cruel politics.

But Vos did not get the message. He continued to play politics when he should have been governing. After Donald Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020, Vos conspired with the defeated former president to come up with a plan to discredit the results. Vos appointed disgraced former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to “investigate” the election, at a cost of more than $1 million to Wisconsin taxpayers. Gableman’s inquiry was a bust. The former justice embarrassed himself and his sponsor. But Vos refused to cut Gableman loose until Gableman turned on him and endorsed his primary challenger.

Vos almost lost that primary in southeast Wisconsin’s 63rd District, and he now faces November write-in challenges from the Republican primary candidate who almost beat him and a Democrat.

The Republican who is running against Vos this fall is Adam Steen, who takes the position that the speaker is not extreme enough. His website features pictures of Steen and Trump posing with their thumbs up, along with multiple rehashes of the former president’s Big Lies about the election he lost to President Joe Biden.

The Democratic write-in candidate in the western Racine County district is Joel Jacobsen, a former Burlington alder with broad experience in business and local government. The district leans Republican, but with Vos and Steen splitting the vote, Jacobsen stands a chance if he can get the word out about his campaign to toss Vos and restore a dignity to the state Capitol. Jacobsen rejects the extremism of both his Republican rivals. Unlike Vos and Steen, Jacobsen supports a woman’s right to choose, wants to provide adequate funding for education and would do away with gerrymandered legislative maps and voter suppression schemes that thwart democracy.

Write-in campaigns are hard. But they can prevail, especially against divided opposition. We hope voters in the 63rd District will seize the opportunity to replace Vos with someone who actually wants to serve the district and the state. That someone is Joel Jacobsen, and his challenge to toss Boss Vos is vital not just for one legislative district but for all of Wisconsin.

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