The Nation’s Eyes Are on Wisconsin … Again

This isn’t the first that Wisconsin has been the center of attention and it won’t be the last time either.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision this week to immediately strike down the state’s Safer at Home order once again put the Badger State in the national political spotlight. 

Wisconsin became the first state to have a court throw out an order enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has caused 435 deaths and sickened more than 11,500 people statewide as of Friday.

The decision attracted immediate national attention. Wisconsin residents were inundated with texts and calls from friends and relatives from coast to coast as word spread, many expressing disbelief. The state’s top elected official became an interview target for national news programs.

Gov. Tony Evers appeared on host Don Lemon’s show on CNN Wednesday night shortly after Wisconsin’s highest court ruled the stay-at-home order, which had been set to run through May 26, “unlawful” and “unenforceable.” Evers told Lemon that the ruling has transformed Wisconsin into the “Wild West” and described the decision and its aftermath as a “bad day for Wisconsin.”

Evers also appeared on MSNBC with host Ali Velshi on Wednesday night and the immediate reopening of parts of Wisconsin in the aftermath of the court’s ruling generated news segments on NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday morning. Evers returned to CNN on Thursday night for an appearance on Chris Cuomo’s “Cuomo Prime Time” show.

CNN stationed correspondent Omar Jimenez in Waukesha, where he filed multiple reports on Thursday and Friday about patrons flocking to bars and businesses in Waukesha County that had opened, some immediately, after the court handed down its ruling. 

Evers wasn’t the only interview target for national media. 

West Allis Mayor Dan Devine also made an appearance on CNN on Thursday to discuss how the ruling affected the suburban Milwaukee County community and CNN’s John King interviewed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Friday morning.  

Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show,” said on the air Thursday night that the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling gave the anti-lockdown movement a major win. He also mocked the decision by scores of Wisconsinites to trek to their local watering hole as their first act after the court’s decision. 

“I do sympathize with people in Wisconsin. I mean, even in normal times, they only get to be outside, like, two months a year. I mean, their weather is a natural lockdown,” Noah joked. “But if the first thing you do when you’re not locked down is pack yourself into bars where you’re spraying into each other’s faces, something tells me you give zero (expletive).”

Just last month, the eyes of the country focused on Wisconsin and its hyperpartisan political landscape as many voters were forced to go to the polls, and in some cases wait an hour or two in line, to cast ballots in the presidential primary while in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

A nationwide audience and interested observers from around the world will center their attention on Wisconsin again in August for the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee the week of August 17. The convention had been scheduled for mid-July but was pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.