Top Senate Democrat says comment about voters being ‘not smart’ in rejecting increased sales taxes was sarcastic, a ‘poor choice of words’

MADISON, Wis. — The state senate’s top Democrat said a comment she made about voters being “not smart” if they didn’t support a referendum to raise taxes was sarcastic and a poor choice of words.

The exchange between herself and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who had asked her what it meant if voters rejected raising taxes, happened in a budget roundtable with other legislative leaders and the Wisconsin County Association. The proposal in question, included in Gov. Tony Evers’ budget plan, would allow voters to raise local sales taxes in municipalities and counties around Wisconsin by passing referendums to that effect.

“Perhaps it means that they’re not smart,” Sen. Bewley said. She declined to “rethink” the comment in the immediate aftermath.

“Janet, do you want to rethink that?” Vos said. “I mean, I disagree with people a lot, but I don’t think people who disagree with me are dumb.”

In a statement released later, Sen. Bewley said it was a failed attempt at sarcasm and a poor choice of words in response to Vos’s statements.

“What I should have said, is that the voters of Walworth County are not smarter than the voters in my district, and that there’s no good way to deal with a system that forces people to go to referendum in order to pay for essential services, such as having an ambulance come when you call for help,” she said in a statement. “It has nothing to do with being smart, it has everything to do with the Republican controlled legislature starving local governments of the resources they need to protect their communities.”

Correction: A previous version of this article inadvertently missed a word when describing the Senator’s comment, stating “support” rather than “didn’t support” a referendum to raise taxes.