Wisconsin’s extended stay-at-home order is drawing criticism from lawmakers and law enforcement as thousands plan a protest at the state capitol in Madison.
The protest is slated for April 24, when the Department of Human Services’ order was originally supposed to expire. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, this week told the Health Secretary Andrea Palm to extend the mandate until May 26 in a bid to slow the spread the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, a novel coronavirus that emerged from mainland China last year.
Protesters want Wisconsin reopened “so we can have our lives back and so that Wisconsin can thrive,” organizers wrote on the event’s Facebook page.
“Lift the stay-at-home order so we as people can engage with one another in our parks, our playgrounds, at our workplaces, in our place of worship, in our communities and have connection again,” they said.
Organizers encouraged people to bring signs with phrases including: “I am losing my business,” “my kids are missing their graduation,” and “I couldn’t grieve with my family.”
Nearly 3,000 users have said they’re going and another 12,000 marked a tab that they’re “interested” in the event.
It’s one of dozens of protests happening across the nation. Crowds already gathered in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia. Demonstrations are scheduled for Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, Maryland, and other states.
Evers said at a press conference on Thursday he was glad people could exercise their First Amendment rights.
“The Capitol and its grounds have been part of exercising first amendment rights as long as I’ve been alive,” the first-term governor said.
“We’re encouraging people that do come to use social distance discipline so they can remain healthy,” he added.
Social distancing refers to measures recommended or ordered by public health officials, including staying at least six feet from non-household members and wearing a mask and gloves in some public settings.
Madison Marie, one of the organizers, accused Evers of not listening to people who have lost jobs, farmers, mental health experts, small business owners, and others.
“You and DHS have narrow views and it’s making the rest of us suffer,” she wrote.
Lawmakers and a Sheriff
After Evers extended his mandate, some Republican lawmakers criticized the move, and a sheriff issued a statement indicating he won’t enforce the order.
In a Facebook video, state Rep. Shae Sortwell, a first-term Republican, said the measure is “absolutely lawless.”
“There should not be a bureaucrat that has the authority to shut down the economy of the state of Wisconsin,” he said.
State Rep. Barb Dittrich, another GOP member, called Evers a “tyrant” while state Rep. John Jagler said the extended order’s “effects on our economy will be crippling.”
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said during a radio interview Friday that he plans on having a legal response to Evers in place in the coming days. A lawsuit isn’t the best move because of the potential consequences if it’s struck down, he said.
“Republicans think the pandemic is serious. We know that it’s real,” Vos said. But the economy “is starving,” he added.
Vos said that people should attend the April 24 rally, which saw an explosion of interest after the order was extended.
Another avenue to express frustration, petitions to recall Evers, have garnered thousands of signatures.
Evers in a statement Friday responded to critics.
“Folks are scared and they need to know who they can trust,” he said. “They should trust science. They should trust our public health experts. And they should be able to trust their elected officials to make the best possible decisions based on science and facts. I can’t speak for any other elected officials, but that’s my commitment.”
Christopher Schmaling, the Racine County sheriff, said in a statement that Evers and the state Department of Human Services have the authority to develop emergency measures and enforce rules to protect the public during a health crisis.
“However, state law does not have the power to supersede or suspend the constitutional rights of American citizens,” he said.
Urging the department to come up with a plan that balances safety and the need for businesses to operate, the sheriff said he took an oath to uphold the constitutional rights of Americans.
“I cannot in good faith participate in the destruction of Racine County businesses or interfere in the freedoms granted to all of us by our Constitution,” he wrote. “We will leave the enforcement of public health orders to the health department experts.”
The county has a population of about 200,000 and is located south of Milwaukee.