Gov. Evers

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers, setting both a somber and optimistic tone, will caution in his State of the State speech on Tuesday that the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic in an “unrelenting” 2020 will carry over into this year, but “we aren’t defeated.”

Evers will ask for a moment of silence and dedicate the speech to the more than 5,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in Wisconsin to date.

“We’ve made it through a difficult year, folks,” he said in prepared remarks released ahead of the 7 p.m. speech. “While it was discouraging, we aren’t defeated. While it was trying, we’re tough.”

Evers was pre-recording his speech, which is typically used by governors to set the tone for the coming year and outline their broad priorities. It was to be broadcast on Evers’ YouTube and Facebook pages. State lawmakers planned to gather in the Senate and Assembly chambers to watch the address on television monitors. Republican legislative leaders planned to respond.

Traditionally, the governor would deliver the speech in the Assembly with lawmakers from both chambers, members of the Supreme Court, the governor’s Cabinet and other guests crammed in. Concerns about spreading the coronavirus scuttled such plans this year.

In the excerpts, Evers called 2020 one of “the most unrelenting years many of us have ever experienced,” while detailing the state’s response to the pandemic. Evers was fought by Republicans over many of his efforts to address the virus, including a “safer at home” order the Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out in May. The court is currently weighing a challenge to Evers’ statewide mask mandate.

Republicans have also been critical of Evers’ vaccine distribution plan, saying it’s not getting the vaccine out quickly enough. Evers and other Democratic governors are urging the federal government to distribute vaccines more quickly, while cautioning that the public likely won’t be inoculated until June.

“Unfortunately, many of the challenges of 2020 will no doubt carry into this new year,” Evers said in the prepared remarks. “I do not underestimate the challenges that this new year may bring, or the grief we’re still grappling with, the ramifications we’ve yet to fully realize, the new problems that may arise still this year.”

Evers’ speech came on the same day the state Senate was voting on a COVID-19 relief bill. It is a pared down version of one the Assembly passed last week. While the Senate bill contains fewer provisions opposed by Evers, he has still not said whether he would sign it should it clear the Legislature.

Evers will release his two-year state budget plan next month, laying out in detail his priorities for the second two years of his term, which will consume much of the Legislature’s time this spring and into the summer. The Legislature is also tasked with the once-a-decade task of redistricting this summer.

Evers last year in his State of the State speech announced the creation of a commission to draw maps that will serve as an alternative to what the Republican-controlled Legislature creates. That commission has been holding meetings throughout the state to gather feedback.