Insurrection, partisan turmoil, election division: A 2021 timeline of Wisconsin politics

Political 2021 Timeline

MADISON, Wis. — Divisive partisan fights over COVID-19 relief funds and mandates. Review after review of election results already recounted and authorized in 2020. Court battles over political maps.

RELATED: ‘The center of national politics’: Wisconsin political reporters recap 2021 in For the Record special report: Sunday, Jan. 2, on CBS after Face the Nation

In Wisconsin, 2021 continued to make national headlines and will stay in the center of national politics as one of the major U.S. battleground states in 2022. Here’s a timeline of Wisconsin’s biggest political and statewide headlines of 2021:

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

  • Vaccine rollout speeds up: Wisconsin passes 1 million mark for first doses of COVID-19 vaccine early in the month–and then again hits 1 million fully-vaccinated Wisconsinites at the end
  • Also at the end of March, the statewide mask mandate is removed for good as the Wisconsin Supreme Court rules Gov. Evers exceeded his authority with the order
  • Legislature Republicans try to take control of how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, a responsibility the federal government largely gave to governors. Evers vetoes the bill.
    • As the year goes on, they’ll keep trying to control the funds for things like additional stimulus payments or rewards for schools who kept in-person learning. Evers will veto all those measures.
    • The governor controls about $3.2 billion of the funds, and will spend the rest of the year disbursing it across Wisconsin
  • A Republican businessman files a lawsuit challenging voting practices like dropboxes in Wisconsin; the Wisconsin Supreme Court will go on to drop the lawsuit in June.
    • This is the first of a couple election-related lawsuits filed in Wisconsin this year (several others were also filed in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election.)
  • Assembly Republicans authorize another elections investigation with the power to issue subpoenas.
    • This is the second election review Republicans launch this year. The first is an audit to be conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.
  • A dash of bipartisanship: Evers signs a bill allowing bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go

APRIL

  • Wisconsinites 16 and older become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Nationwide, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is briefly paused as the CDC investigates rare cases of blood clots following the shot.
  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court rules that a now-expired statewide executive order limiting indoor capacity limits exceeds the governor’s authority, further limiting future statewide orders designed to control the pandemic
  • Donald Trump endorses Sen. Ron Johnson for a third term. To date, despite a year of speculative headlines, Sen. Johnson has still not announced whether he plans to seek reelection.
    • As the year progresses, a slate of Democrat contenders emerge in what will likely be a lively and expensive 2022 primary, including frontrunner lieutenant gov. Mandela Barnes, Bucks executive Alex Lasry, state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, and Outagamie County executive Tom Nelson.
  • A task force set up to examine policing and race relations in Wisconsin after the racial reckoning of 2020 releases 18 recommendations for police reform.
  • Wisconsin attorney general Josh Kaul launches sweeping probe into sexual assault allegations among Catholic clergy statewide

MAY

  • Vaccine demand begins to drop off, as people who want a COVID-19 vaccine finish their initial series while hesitancy in other populations remains. The state approves the Pfizer vaccine for children between ages 12 and 15.
  • In what hindsight will tell us is a short-lived respite amid declining cases, the state begins to relax COVID-19 safety recommendations for the vaccinated.
  • Assembly Speaker Robin Vos makes the first hires for the Assembly-led elections investigation: former police officers.
    • Two officers quit within weeks.
  • It’s Wisconsin’s biennial budget year, and the GOP-controlled legislature begins its back-and-forth with Gov. Evers to sign a 2-year budget into law. In May, they scrap dozens of priorities from his proposals, like marijuana legalization, expanded Medicaid, and a repeal of Act 10.
  • Legislature Republicans begin a push for an early end to extra federal unemployment benefits, on which they blame an emerging labor shortage.

JUNE

JULY

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

  • Wisconsin politics are once again in the national news as Gableman defends his elections investigation, and threatens clerks with subpoenas. Still, it’s not enough for some Wisconsin conservatives; former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke leads a protest at the state capitol saying the probe is insufficient (other election reviews are also still ongoing).
  • Thousands of Afghan refugees arrive at Fort McCoy, reaching at its height about 13,000; reports of issues with food, clothing, and medical care begin to emerge.
  • Actions in redistricting lawsuits ramp up from both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans propose maps with few changes from the current ones; Gov. Evers Peoples Map Commission releases its maps as well which improve chances for Democratic districts but don’t entirely eliminate Republican advantages.
    • Evers will veto the Republican maps in November, setting up court battle.
  • Department of Workforce Development announces a partnership with an IT company to streamline the unemployment claims process, after massive backlogs in 2020 and ongoing appeal backlogs in 2021. They announce they’ll be using $80 million in federal funds to upgrade their system.
  • After months of leadup, former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch formally launches her Republican bid for governor in 2022.

OCTOBER

  • Gableman kicks off the month serving his first subpoenas to Wisconsin Elections Commission and officials of the state’s five largest cities.
  • Anti-abortion bills clear the state Senate as similar anti-abortion pushes takes center stage nationwide; Gov. Evers will veto the bills later this year.
    • Wisconsin could become one a of a small handful of states nationwide that revert to an old state law banning abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned in 2022. In December, Attorney General Josh Kaul will announce he doesn’t plan to enforce the law.

NOVEMBER

  • Tragedy in Waukesha: Six are killed and dozens more injured when suspect Darrell Brooks is accused of driving his SUV through the Waukesha holiday parade.
  • Kyle Rittenhouse is found not guilty of murder in the killings of two people during protests in Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in 2020.
  • Wisconsin’s chief elections official, Megan Wolfe, defies GOP calls for her resignation, and defends how the 2020 elections were run.
  • While gubernatorial election results in Virginia and New Jersey project a tough 2022 road for Gov. Evers in Wisconsin, Democrats see a failure to unseat the Mequon-Thiensville school board in a recall election that garners national attention as a hopeful sign for how race-related education issues will fare at the ballot box.
  • Wisconsin’s unemployment rate reaches a tied historic low rate of 3%, below pre-pandemic levels.
  • In a far-reaching decision that will benefit Republicans for years to come, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rules it will only accept new political maps to rule on which have minimal changes to the current maps.

DECEMBER

  • The Omicron variant begins spreading in Wisconsin. Hospitals plead with the public to get vaccinated as COVID hospitalizations reach highest they’ve been since last December and staffing shortages and overcrowding threaten to overwhelm hospitals.
  • The Gableman probe, which was supposed to be completed by the end of the year and costing hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars, will now drag into 2022.
    • Gableman files a lawsuit seeking to jail Madison and Green Bay mayors if they don’t sit for interviews. Both say they haven’t been properly requested to testify, and Madison mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway says she will only interview in public. The hearing is now set for January.
    • The fight to block subpoenas in court continues, with a December hearing on Kaul’s requested block and a decision expected in January. Kaul is arguing the subpoenas are too broad, and that testimony should be public–not behind closed doors.
  • Big-name changes in the Wisconsin legislature:
  • Longtime Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett resigns to accept an appointment as ambassador to Luxembourg, which is confirmed in the U.S. Senate.