Republican leaders denounce vandalism, call on Democratic leaders to ‘stop’ protesters

MADISON, Wis. — Republican leaders have expressed frustration with Gov. Tony Evers and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway after protesters pulled down two statues and vandalized the Wisconsin State Capitol.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Rep. Tyler August gathered outside of the Capitol building to denounce both the Tuesday night actions of protesters and the lack of action from Evers and Rhodes-Conway.

Tuesday night’s protests were spurred by the arrest of a Black activist outside of The Cooper’s Tavern on Tuesday.

During the press conference, Vos and Steineke called on the governor and mayor to enact a plan to deal with future protesters, citing what they call a “lack of leadership.”

Steineke demanded that Evers and Rhodes-Conway enact a plan to “stop” the protesters who were out Tuesday night.

“The protesters and the people rioting and causing the violence last night, they’re promising to come back day, after day, after day, and Gov. Evers has not articulated a plan on how he’s going to stop them,” Steineke said. “The mayor has not articulated a plan on how she’s going to stop them. The city of Madison is in a dire crisis right now, and there is a lack of leadership at the top.”

Vos said he wants to see the people involved in the vandalism be held accountable for their actions.

When asked what the Legislature is doing to address the issues raised by recent protests, Vos said he thinks the Legislature should take time to weigh all of their options to find common ground before acting.

He went on to say he believes it’s more realistic for the Legislature to wait for a special session after the November election or wait until January or February to come together.

Vos’ Democratic colleagues also denounced the violence shown Tuesday night, but the minority leader in the state Senate said it could have been prevented with action.

“The sad part is that all of this could have been prevented,” said Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Mason, as part of a statement. “The Republicans who control the legislature have refused to act to address the systemic racism that threatens the fabric of our society; they won’t even acknowledge it.”

Vos said he would be open to reforms on police accountability and training but said Wisconsin laws are already in practice.

“A lot of the ideas that are being brought forward aren’t necessarily applicable to Wisconsin,” Vos said. “We already have pretty rigorous training, but we could do better. We already have the ability to hold police accountable, but we can do better.”

Vos said he is working to get consensus on legislation among his colleagues but said he doesn’t want to rush bills through. He said the Legislature would meet after the election or early next year.

“I think this is the opportunity for the protesters to feel good that we are going to come up with a product that everybody can live with,” he said. “But it also means if the protests turn violent, that is going to set people back to feel like now the protesters are unreasonable and their demands are too.”

Former Gov. Scott Walker also weighed in on the destructive protest Wednesday morning.

None of the legislative members who spoke at the press conference wore masks to the event shortly after Dane County reported its highest ever spike of COVID-19 cases within a 24-hour period.