Timing of Governor Evers’ mask mandate causes speculation if it’s a political or health issue

Jill Karofsky is swearing into the Wisconsin Supreme Court August 1, the same day the mandate goes into effect

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – When Governor Evers’ mask mandate goes into effect August 1, it’s also the same day Jill Karofsky, a Democrat, is being sworn into the state Supreme Court. Karofsky is taking over Republican Daniel Kelly’s seat.

That has many people wondering about the timing of Evers’ order.

There is no debate Governor Evers’ latest public health emergency is getting people talking.

“There shouldn’t be anything political about it,” carpenter Bill Machler said.

“A lot of people say it has to do with the election and stuff like that,” customer Lisa Dalebroux said.

“I think it’s being politicized, but mostly I believe it’s a very valid health issue,” customer Thomas Tucker said.

“It’s spiking, the virus has all over the United States,” La Crosse resident Mark Snyder said. “So, it’s good to have the mask.”

So what are local experts saying?

“I think that the timing is not a coincidence,” UW-La Crosse assistant political science professor Anthony Chergosky said.

“Maybe just a little bit of both,” former UW-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim said. “It’s primarily a health issue of course.”

Chergosky and Heim both say politics is getting in the way of the governor’s mask mandate.

“With Jill Karofsky joining the Court, the majority on the court goes from 5 to 2 conservative, down to 4 to 3 conservative,” Chergosky said.

Back in May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted by a 4 to 3 margin to strike down the governor’s Safer-at-Home order. Brian Hagedorn, a conservative, voted with the liberal justices. However, conservative Daniel Kelly broke the tie. Kelly’s seat is being replaced by Karofsky August 1, the same day Evers’ new order goes into effect.

“With the previous 5 to 2 conservative majority, there was zero chance that any mask order by Evers would be maintained,” Chergosky said.

Chergosky says Republicans are arguing Evers doesn’t have the power to issue a mask order.

“Now, that is something that the courts could decide,” Chergosky said. “Or, the Republicans can come back in the state Legislature, (and) vote against Governor Evers’ order.”

But Evers is declaring his mask mandate as a new public health emergency.

“And therefore, he’s got 60 days to implement something,” Heim said. “And that’s kind of the question I suspect, is at least a 50-50 chance this is all going to be in the courts again.”

A recent AP-NORC poll shows about 75 percent of Americans are in favor of people wearing masks in public. 89 percent of Democrats approve, compared to 58 percent of Republicans.

“The Republicans are trying to say ‘we think masks are fine. We support people wearing masks. But we don’t support the governor ordering people to wear masks,'” Chergosky said.

“What’s disappointing is this is gonna end up with a certain amount of uncertainty in the public in the state of Wisconsin,” Heim said.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion on Evers’ mandate, politics continue to butt heads with health and safety.

“This is just another episode in the ongoing and rather vicious struggle between the Republicans in the Legislature and the Democratic governor,” Chergosky said.

Evers’ order is scheduled to end on September 28.