With Gov.-elect Tony Evers scheduled to be inaugurated today, several people with ties in the Chippewa Valley have been quietly serving on advisory committees ahead of the transition to the new governor.
Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King and Judge John Manydeeds are both serving on the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Advisory Council, making recommendations on statewide policy and possible future legislation.
“You feel real privileged to be asked to be part of a statewide group like this,” King said. “We’ve had opportunity to provide input to the governor-elect on where things are at and where things are going.”
King said they’ve now completed six or seven hours of meetings via conference call, with issues ranging from the need for more assistant district attorneys to overcrowded jails and prisons in the state, and examining the positives of diversion programs for first-time offenders.
“These are the types of things we’ve shown and demonstrated are working and would like to see implemented statewide,” King said of the diversion programs. “We’re doing some good work here in Eau Claire County.”
King anticipates the committee will continue to meet in the future.
“This work has a very healthy, bipartisan aspect to it, so it’s very encouraging that members from both sides of the aisle are coming together to implement reform,” King said.
Manydeeds said it has been an honor to serve on the committee alongside retired court of appeals judges and some of his mentors, like a former teacher.
“There are some amazing people on it,” Manydeeds said. “It’s an opportunity to look at things and make some common-sense suggestions. It’s a situation where we’ll continue to meet and be able to talk about things.”
Manydeeds said he hears from officials ranging from probation agents to law enforcement officers who have made suggestions on input for the committee.
UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer is serving on the Next Generation Workforce and Economic Development Policy Advisory Council. Meyer noted he served on a similar advisory committee for Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
“I feel very honored to be asked to offer any advice,” Meyer said. “A lot of (our work) is focused on career pathways and identifying career choices. We had a couple meetings by phone, and they were very productive. We put together our own lists of recommendations.”
Meyer said his list includes supporting the university’s budget and increasing wages for educators, which he described as stagnant.
“I believe there will be some bipartisan support for that,” Meyer said.
Meyer said he believes he was asked to be on the committee because UW-Stout has been involved in Fab Labs, which promote science, math and engineering careers, for several years. Meyer said he has worked with Evers on getting Fab Labs developed in the state.
“It gets students excited about what they are learning, and Gov.-elect Evers is very excited about that, and wants to see it continue,” Meyer said.
Ron “Duff” Martin, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and a former Eau Claire teacher on leave from the district, is serving on the Inauguration Committee.
“I also serve on a subcommittee, the ‘what’s best for kids,’” Martin said. “I was excited to be part of that and to share ideas of how to make public education a center of the life of communities.”
Martin said he’s worked alongside Evers on issues ranging from race relations to safety in schools to addressing the teacher shortage. He believes that is why he was asked to serve.
“I think (Evers) knows my commitment and the tens of thousands of public educators I represent,” Martin said. “He’s a real collaborator, and he brings people together.”
The work on the committee has been exciting, he added.
“We just brought some ideas of what Gov.-elect Evers can do, from executive orders, and what we can do for kids and communities, and some potential legislation.”
Martin said he expects his committee to also keep meeting in coming months.
“I anticipate we’ll do a few more conference calls,” Martin said. “We haven’t met in person because we’re from all corners of the state.”
Martin said the committee’s work is setting a foundation of what might happen for kids in the state.
“We have a lot of ideas on how we can improve lives of young people in Wisconsin,” Martin said. “It’s an exciting time for public education in Wisconsin.”
Kara O’Connor, government relations director for the Chippewa Falls-based Wisconsin Farmers Union, serves on the Agriculture, Energy, and Natural Resources Policy Advisory Council.
“The reason Wisconsin Farmers Union was asked to be in this role is we’re hearing from farmers every single day -- we have our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on,” O’Connor said. “I think (my selection) was our advocacy work with the Legislature.”
O’Connor praised Evers for forming the multiple advisory councils.
“I haven’t seen a governor, in my time in Wisconsin, have listening sessions even before his inauguration,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said she is telling the committee what farmers are telling her about their economic challenges, especially the struggles of dairy producers.
“We’re also hearing them say, ‘I don’t know if my water is safe to drink,’ and they also are saying they are struggling to find and afford health care,” O’Connor said. “And they are concerned about their rural schools, and possible closures. And they are concerned about their crumbling roads.”
Like others, O’Connor said it has been an honor to be part of this group.
“I was grateful for the opportunity,” she said.