“A merry Christmas, Governor!” cried a cheerful voice. Bob Cratchit, a young aide who was new to the staff, made the mistake of wishing Governor Ebeneezer “Tony” Evers a merry Christmas.
“Bah, humbug!” said Evers.
“Christmas a humbug, governor?” asked Cratchit. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”
“What right have you to be merry?” asked the governor. “Do you see Chrsitmas mentioned in our latest press release? It says, ‘Happy Holidays.’ It also says, ‘The best way to show those you love that you care about them is to stay home and stay away.’ Mention Christmas again and you can stay home, too, forever!”
“Governor,” Cratchit interrupted, hoping to change the subject. “Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin Lemahieu have sent another letter concerning the number of unemployed in Wisconsin still waiting for their benefit claims to be resolved. They ask if, given the…” Cratchit stopped himself before he said ‘Christmas.’ “…holidays if some of the employees at the Department of Workforce Development could work overtime to resolve the claims.”
Evers looked at Cratchit coldly. “What? Put our folks to work overtime?” Evers asked. “Bah, humbug!”
Looking at his watch, the governor noticed that it was past his nap time. He still kept a watch even as the rest of the world looked at their phones. “Folks, who forgot to tell me it was time to go?” the governor asked. “It’s nearly 4:00 PM. Send the car around. It’s off to the mansion for me.”
As Evers headed to his car, he glanced down into the rotunda and noticed the Christmas tree set up by a couple members of the state Assembly. “Cratchit! If I see that tree again tomorrow, you and your family can live on Obamacare rather than state employee insurance, and that goes for your Tiny Tim, too!”
At the governor’s mansion, Evers dozed restlessly in his bed chamber. He found no comfort that evening from the cold, and this evening was particularly chilly. As he turned to pull another blanket over his shoulders, he felt a sudden draft from the window.
The governor pulled the blanket down from his head to peer into the room. “Who’s there? Nobody has called me Ebeneezer since I was a child.”
No reply came.
Evers thought to himself, “It’s just an undigested bit of bologna. There’s nothing there.”
“Who’s there? Who are you?” the governor asked.
This time Evers could make out a shape stepping out of the wall. The governor turned away, but the shape took form and demanded Evers’ attention.
“Ebeneezer! Do you not recognize your old political partner, Jacob Marley?”
“Jacob? But you’ve been dead these ten years.”
“Yes, Ebeneezer, ten years this very night. Christmas Eve,” said the spirit. “I come to you with a warning. Unless you change your ways, you will not win re-election in 2022.”
“Jacob, it’s Tony now, and what do you mean I won’t win? Your prediction is a humbug, I tell you, a humbug! The Republicans are on the run on the Covid issue, and we’re going to use redistricting as an issue…”
The spirit of Marley let out an inhuman scream that caused Evers to hide under his blankets.
“What have I told you about redistricting? Nobody cares,” Marley told Evers. “Look, look at me.”
Evers slowly pulled the blankets down and reluctantly looked at Marley in the darkness.
“Do you see these chains? They were forged, link by link, by the political mistakes I made when I lived,” said Marley. “You have these chains, too, and they have been growing very fast just since last Christmas. Kenosha alone forged chains that could bind Prometheus.”
“Who?” asked Evers.”
“Never mind,” said Marley with a sigh. “I keep forgetting that, despite your titles, you really don’t know anything. Let’s just say your chains are long enough to pull a boat from Milwaukee to Minocqua.”
“Jacob, you were always a good friend. What can I do to fix my mistakes?” Evers asked.
“You will be visited by three ghosts this very night. Listen to them, Ebeneezer, and listen well, or your political career will be over,” said Marley.
“It’s Tony now, and I don’t know if I can change…”
Another inhuman scream from beyond echoed off the walls of the bedroom chamber, sending Evers back under the blankets shaking with fear.
“You will change, Ebeneezer, or you will lose!” wailed Marley.
The room spun while time and space left Evers. When the governor recovered he heard the clock striking ten. Before the last chime, Evers heard his name again.
“It’s Tony, actually.”
The governor squinted, trying to make out the shape that was forming in front of him. Soon an old man appeared before him, dressed in a blue suit and a red vest. “Is that Lee Dreyfuss?”
From every wall in the governor’s bedchamber the wails of the dead could be heard.
Evers again pulled the covers over his head, trembling in fear. “Spirit, what is your name?”
“I am Christmas Past, Ebeneezer, and I’ve come to take you to when you lost the spirit of Christmas.”
“I thought this was about my political career?”
“Fortunately with you it’s a one-stop trip. Come out from underneath the blankets and see your past.”
As Evers stepped off the bed the room began to change. “It’s the Capitol Rotunda, and the Christmas tree is up! How is this happening? I said there would be no Christmas tree this year.”
“And there isn’t one. We are at the Capitol, one year ago today. Coincidentally, there wasn’t one last year, either.”
“But there it is,” Evers replied.
“No, Ebeneezer, that is the ‘science’ tree. Or the ‘holiday’ tree,” the spirit replied. “What it isn’t is a Christmas tree, because you expressly forbade that term from being used. The tree is only symbolic of one holiday, but you decided you could not bear to see a Christmas tree. And instead of Christmas ornaments, you asked school children from across the state to send ‘science’ ornaments.”
“It really is Tony, not Ebeneezer, and I was trying to be inclusive,” said the governor.
“So inclusive that you would exclude the meaning of Christmas from Christmas itself,” Christmas Past replied. “Come with me.”
“Where are we going?” asked Evers. “I thought this was one stop?”
“We are just going up to your office, and a little forward in time,” said the ghost. “Look, Ebeneezer, there you are at your desk as the first reports of Covid-19 were coming in. You could have reached out to your Republican colleagues and asked them for help. Former Governor Tommy Thompson was just a phone call away.”
“The Republicans thought Covid-19 was not going to be a big deal, and we used it against them,” Evers said.
“They will have to answer for their mistakes, and you need to answer for yours,” said the spirit. “You squandered an opportunity to rise above partisanship and truly serve Wisconsin. Instead, every decision you made was about conflict and confrontation rather than compromise. You even flip-flopped about holding the Spring Election. As a result, your previously high approval ratings have dropped and your relationship with the legislature is awful.”
“Ghost of Christmas Past, what can I do to fix this?”
“It’s time, Ebeneezer, well past your bedtime, is it not?” the spirit replied.
Suddenly Evers found himself in his bed back at the governor’s mansion. “That must have been a dream. All of it. A humbug. Those spirit folks never were here.”
Then Evers heard people laughing in the next room. “Who’s here? Don’t you know how late it is? I am trying to sleep!”
“Come, join me in the next room, Ebeneezer, it’s time to see the Christmas you are missing! Come! It’s now time for you to see the Ghost of Christmas Present!”
“Ghost of Christmas Present, if you are who you say you are, I’m afraid of what I will see,” said Evers. “By the way, you spirit folks should really call me Tony.”
“Do you dare to contradict the spirits? Come, join us!” With that, Evers felt himself lifted from the bed and hurled through the door. When he regained his feet in a great room, Evers saw a woman with big, red hair and a large, flowing red robe. She was surrounded by children who were laughing and playing with toys. Everywhere Evers looked, there were signs of Christmas: holly, wreaths, garlands and bells.
“Humbug! Weren’t you in the Wizard of Oz?” Evers asked. “Or maybe it was on television news.”
“Oh, Ebeneezer, I see we still have much work ahead of us,” said the Ghost of Christmas Present, laughing. “Come with me.”
The room went black and when Evers could see again he saw that he was on a street in a depressed business district.
“What do you see, Ebeneezer?”
“Christmas Present, where am I? Why are all of these store fronts boarded up?” asked Evers.
“This is your own downtown, governor,” the ghost answered. “They were boarded up during the riots when their windows were smashed and the stores were looted. They have not reopened and it is a bleak Christmas for the merchants. Some have just given up.”
“I didn’t realize they were still boarded up,” Evers answered meekly. “I tend to nap in the car.”
“Kenosha was worse, governor. Kenosha burned while you were sleeping,” said the ghost.
“But it’s not my fault! None of this is! I called out the National Guard,” Evers said.
“Too late, Ebeneezer, too late…”
The sky spun and Evers soon found himself standing in an empty classroom. “Christmas Present, where are we, and where are all of the students? Are they on Winter break?”
“No, Ebeneezer. These classrooms were never filled. These are the classes that went virtual despite the science you worship,” the spirit answered. “Teachers ill-prepared for online education are attempting to teach students without the technology or the personal attention needed for learning. Many don’t bother attending their online classes at all.”
“Really, it’s Tony. And what does that have to do with me?” said Evers. “I haven’t closed the schools recently.”
“Yes, yes, you have, governor,” the ghost replied. “You have fought opening school doors to parents all over the state. When studies have shown that students and parents benefit from school choice, what have you said?”
“I said those studies are a humbug! All of them! Humbug!” said Evers.
“Because you never read them. Or you didn’t want to believe them,” the ghost said. “Now parents across Wisconsin have few, if any, choices when their school districts close their doors. Even when many of these schools are open, how many of Wisconsin’s children are not learning?”
“Those studies are humbug! They’re produced by the Bradley Foundation! The Koch family! Humbug!”
“Ebeneezer, look down.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present opened her robe slightly to reveal two children sitting next to the spirit’s boots, a boy and a girl. “These are the children that are being denied an education. The girl is Want, the boy is Ignorance. Beware this boy, for he is Wisconsin’s doom.”
“Well, let’s not be judgemental,” Evers replied. “I’m sure the school is doing the best…”
But Evers stopped when he realized the ghost was gone and he was back in his bed chamber. “I must have imagined this. It’s some sort of trick by Robin Vos, or some prank left behind by Scott Walker. But none of those things are my fault.”
It was not yet midnight so the governor climbed back into bed to try to get some sleep.
Evers did not sleep long before the windows clattered open and the wind blew into the room from off the lake. This time no voice was heard, but Evers knew that someone, or something, was in the room.
“Will you folks just let me be? I need some sleep,” said the governor.
There was no answer, but Evers knew the spirit was there. He pulled down the blanket and looked toward the open window. There stood a dark shape in a black robe. Evers could not see the spirit’s shape.
“Are you the Ghost of Things Yet to Come?”
No answer. Instead, the spirit pointed a bony finger towards the window. Evers suddenly found himself outside the mansion in daylight.
“What is this? What am I seeing?” he asked.
The spirit was silent, but the silence was broken by the sound of moving men. “C’mon, let’s get him out of here. We still have to move the new governor in.”
Evers shivered. “What year is this?” he asked the ghost, but no answer came.
There was a crash of broken glass.
“You idiot! You dropped his mirror!” one of the movers yelled.
“It’s not like he’ll want to look at himself after the beating he just took. Just fill out the claim slip and stick it in a box,” said the other mover.
“I can’t believe he didn’t even want to be here,” said the first mover.
The other mover replied, “Probably in a bar, if he can find one that’s open. Never saw an election like it. Not in Wisconsin.”
Evers closed his eyes, not wanting to see whose belongings were leaving the mansion. When he reopened them, he was at the Democratic Party offices.
“Total wipeout. Haven’t seen anything like it,” said a young campaign staff member. “Never saw anything like it. Not only did he lose, but we lost more legislative seats.”
“Worse than Ed Garvey,” said one of the older consultants. “But he never listened. We tried to warn him.”
“But of all people, can you believe who beat him?” said another campaign staff member, holding a drink in a paper cup. “I thought for sure the Republicans nominated a loser.”
“They’re all losers until they win,” said the older consultant. “And they’re all winners until they lose. Well, let’s close it up. It’s not like there’s anything more to be done here.”
“Spirit, of whom are they speaking? Tell me!” But the spirit did not answer. Instead he pointed towards the window where the Capitol could be seen. Soon Evers and the spirit were outside the press room.
“How do you write his epitaph?” asked a reporter in the corner desk. He had a half-eaten sandwich and a canned soda sitting on a stack of papers perilously close to tipping over onto his laptop.
“Epitaph?” asked a young woman over the top of her laptop. “He’s not dead.”
“His career is,” answered the older reporter. “Toast. They’ll probably turn to Mandela Barnes in four years since he was smart enough to leave halfway through the term for Washington.”
“Do you think he’ll come back? The Democrats are a mess right now,” asked another reporter. She took off her glasses and rubbed her temples. “After Evers is forgotten, who else might run?”
“Spirit, tell me, are these the things that must be? Or are they just the things that might be?” asked Evers. “Surely I won’t be defeated and forgotten like this. I can’t be.”
“Maybe Wisconsin should just stop electing governors named Tony,” one of the reporters laughed.
“No, this is all a bad dream, I tell you,” said Evers. “A humbug! You folks think you can fool me, but this is just a bad dream! I will be re-elected!”
Evers threw himself on the floor in front of the spirit. “I won’t lose like this! I won’t!”
Then the governor heard the clock chime. The twelve bells told him it was midnight and he looked up to see he was back in his bed chamber. It was as if he had never left.
“It was all a bad dream. A humbug,” said Evers. “I don’t believe in ghosts anymore than I believe in Christmas.”
The next morning when Evers awoke, he looked outside his window. During the night, snow had fallen outside the governor’s mansion. He saw a couple of college-aged boys dragging a pine tree along on a sled.
“Boys!” Evers yelled out the window. “Where are you going with that tree?”
“To the Capitol, sir! The Assembly Speaker asked us to bring him another tree to put up in the rotunda. It’s Christmas, and he’s giving us $20 a piece,” the older boy yelled back.
“Humbug! I’ll not have my orders disobeyed! You used a chainsaw to cut down that tree?”
“Yes sir,” said the younger boy. “It’s on the sled under the tree.”
“Good, good,” said Evers. “You probably cut that tree illegally in the park, but no matter. If you do as I say, I will give you $40 each. If you don’t, I will have the Capitol police arrest you!”
“What do you want?” asked the older boy.
“I want you to cut the tree into firewood,” said Evers. “Then I want you to take it to the Capitol and tell Vos that there will be no Christmas tree! After you have done that, come see me for the money.”
Evers closed the window just as the whirr of the chainsaw started. He called for his maid.
“Merry – Happy Holidays, sir!”
“Yes, yes it is I suppose. It will be happy indeed when Vos gets my message,” said Evers. “There will be no Christmas. Not as long as I am governor.”
Across town, the Cratchit family gathered for Christmas dinner. After the four of them took their places at the table, Bob Cratchit poured himself a glass of fair-trade wine.
“You’ve outdone yourself this year,” said Bob Cratchit to his wife. “Tofu turkey, organic sweet potatoes and low-intensity farmed cranberries. What a Christmas!”
“We’re not supposed to say Christmas, dad,” said Cratchit’s daughter. “It’s racist, and it’s cultural appropriation from the Druids.”
“What do they teach you in school,” Cratchit said.”Very well, a small prayer before dinner. God bless this food we are about to eat, may She bless our family and bless our governor. Amen.”
“God bless us, everyone!” said Tiny Tim. “We’re going to need it.”