Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, accused three Republican state senators of being “terrorists” after they withheld support for the state budget until Governor Scott Walker promised to veto several provisions. Vos was appearing on UpFront with Mike Gousha in a taped interview which aired on television Sunday morning in Milwaukee and Madison when he made the terrorism charge.
“Frankly I wish Governor Walker hadn’t negotiated with terrorists,” Vos said. “That’s a bad way to operate the legislature.”
“Terrorists? You’re calling rogue senators ‘terrorists’?” Gousha asked in a rare follow-up question.
“That’s what they are,” Vos answered. “You don’t hold somebody hostage for your own personal needs. What you say, you negotiate, you give and you take. A lot of the things they got Governor Walker…”
“They might say, ‘that’s politics,'” Gousha interrupted. “That’s what you do.”
The three Republican senators that held out were Chris Kapenga of Delafield, Duey Stroebel of Saukville and Steve Nass of Whitewater. In exchange for their votes on the budget, Walker promised to veto the expansion of the Public Finance Authority. Walker’s vetoes also ended the exemption of energy efficiency projects from the revenue caps on school systems, sped up the elimination of the state’s prevailing wage laws and killed the expansion of the authority of the Transportation Projects Commission.
Stroebel issued a statement (full statement here) to RightWisconsin on Sunday saying, “Brave men and women in uniform combat terrorists everyday.”
“Terrorists use violence in an effort to destroy our American way-of-life,” Stroebel said. “To imply fellow Republican legislators are terrorists is the type of hyperbolic rhetoric Wisconsinites are tired of hearing. Wisconsinites expect more of their leaders than to make these kind of personal attacks.”
Stroebel concluded his statement, “I hope all Republicans can move beyond name calling and continue working to implement conservative priorities.”
Governor Scott Walker’s spokesman Tom Evenson emailed a statement critical of Vos’ remarks. “It’s unacceptable the word was used to describe good public servants at a time when our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorism around the world,” Evenson said.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, called on Vos to apologize. “Comparing three sitting state legislators to ‘terrorists’ is beyond inappropriate, and the Speaker should apologize immediately,” Fitzgerald said in a statement Sunday evening.
“Negotiating vetoes is as much a part of the budget process as anything else, and the Speaker’s comments demonstrate a weak grasp on the events that transpired in the hours before the budget was passed on the senate floor,” Fitzgerald said. “I am proud of the senate Republican caucus for sticking to its principles and delivering a document that prioritized tax relief and education funding, while keeping Wisconsin on sound financial footing heading into the next biennium.”
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, partially defended Vos’ statement while regretting the Assembly Speaker’s choice of words. “I certainly understand the Speaker’s frustration with those that perverted the process,” Steineke said in a message on Twitter to RightWisconsin on Sunday. “They made a side deal with the Gov and voted on a budget that they knew was going to change and how it was going to change. The other 30 senators had no such privilege, so they voted on a budget with a lot of disappearing ink in it.”
“That being said, I would not have chosen those words,” Steineke concluded.
Steineke recently defended Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, from Republican criticism of his personal misconduct, saying, “We need to stop this stuff, on both sides.” Steineke even posed for a picture with Hintz, although he denies that was in response to the criticism of Hintz.
In a message to RightWisconsin, he said it was, “an odd question” of whether he would pose for a photo with the senators, but said he would if they wanted one.
No response has yet been received from Kapenga’s office. Nass is expected to make a statement Monday.
In response to Gousha’s point about politics, Vos said that there were deals within the budget process that were made with the governor. “But to go ahead and outside of that process where nobody else was involved,” Vos said. “Only three people made a backroom deal to be able to have something that could not be announced before the budget was enacted.”
“Maybe the budget would have failed if we had know some of those aspects were going to be vetoed,” Vos said. “But we never had the chance to know.”
The conversation was prompted by Gousha was asking Vos about text messages the Assembly Speaker sent the governor saying, “I won’t forget this,” after Walker made the veto promise.
“Very disappointed in the way I’ve been treated,” Vos texted, according to the Associated Press. “Not even the courtesy of a phone call before you took out things that were important to me.”
Gousha never asked Vos to define terrorism, or if the three senators should be investigated by the FBI. Nor was Vos asked to which vetoes he specifically objected.
This story has been updated with an additional comment from Steineke and an update on when Nass will make a statement. – 10:12 PM 10/22/17
Updated with a statement from Fitzgerald 7:36 AM 10/23/17.