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Wisconsin Republicans deny accusation of refusing to work with governor’s female aide

Wisconsin Republicans deny accusation of refusing to work with governor’s female aide
Mandela Barnes, left, and Tony Evers in January before they took office as Wisconsin's lieutenant governor and governor, respectively. (Steve Apps / Associated Press)

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ spokeswoman accused Republican legislative leaders Saturday of refusing to work with the governor's chief of staff because she is a woman, leading the GOP lawmakers to call the charge "asinine" and "clueless."

The back-and-forth came after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald detailed at the Wisconsin Republican Party convention what they said was a strained relationship with the new governor, who is in his fifth month in office.

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"There's a real disconnect on all different levels with this governor," Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald said he and Vos have only met with Evers twice for five minutes since January.

Evers "has communicated repeatedly to GOP leadership that they should work with his chief of staff, just like they did under the previous governor," said his spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff. "That directive wasn't confusing to them when the chief of staff was a man."

Everyone who served as chief of staff under former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, was a man. Evers' chief of staff is Maggie Gau, who ran his campaign and previously worked for Democrats in the Legislature.

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

Fitzgerald replied in a statement, "The most powerful senator on the budget committee is a woman," referring to Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling, “and perhaps they'd know that if someone from the governor's team was actually engaged in budget negotiations.”

Vos, in a tweet, pointed out that his own chief of staff, communications director and policy director are all women.

"Evers staff - Clueless," Vos tweeted.

Vos and Fitzgerald defended their approach to Evers, including killing several of his major proposals, including Medicaid expansion.

"It will be over our dead bodies," Vos said of approving Medicaid expansion.

Evers built his budget around accepting the Medicaid money, which would then make $1.6 billion in federal funding available for other healthcare priorities. Baldauff said the governor's budget is built around what Wisconsin residents want. Polls have shown broad support for expanding Medicaid.

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.

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

Republican members of Congress praised President Trump. Rep. Bryan Steil, who replaced former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, credited Trump for getting his message out by going around the mainstream media.

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.

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Sen. Ron Johnson, the only Republican in statewide office, told reporters he thought Joe Biden posed the biggest threat to Trump in Wisconsin because of his high name recognition and personality. He compared him to a congenial company sales manager.

"He's a likable guy," Johnson said.

But Johnson said he thinks Trump is right on the issues and will prevail.

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