Wisconsin Assembly’s top Republican wants to review diversity positions across state agencies

By TODD RICHMOND Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican lawmaker who forced the Universities of Wisconsin to reduce diversity positions called Tuesday for an in-depth review of diversity initiatives across state government and repeated his claim that he has only begun to dismantle equity and inclusion efforts in the state.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos made the remarks after the Legislature’s employment committee voted to release $107.6 million to cover a 6% raise for about 35,000 UW employees. The vote resolved a six-month battle over the raises; the state budget Republicans approved in June included funding for the raises, but Vos refused to allow the employment committee to release the money, using it as leverage in his fight against campus diversity initiatives.

Vos and Universities of Wisconsin President Jay Rothman finally reached an agreement earlier this month. The deal called for the regents to freeze diversity hires, re-label about 40 diversity positions as “student success” positions, drop an affirmative action faculty hiring program at UW-Madison and create a position at the flagship university focused on conservative thought. In return, Vos agreed to hand over the money for the raises as well as tens of millions of dollars for construction projects across the university system.

The regents voted to approve the deal last week despite intense criticism from students and faculty that they were selling out students of color and LGBTQ+ students. Vos, who is white, said after the regents’ vote that he had only just begun to remove “these cancerous DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) practices” from UW campuses.

He signaled on Tuesday that he won’t stop there, saying he thinks DEI efforts have divided people and that he wants a truly colorblind society.

“We’re not done yet trying to look at how pervasive DEI is throughout the entire system of state government,” Vos told the employment committee. “I have faith that legislative Republicans will begin a much needed, long-term, in-depth review of DEI in every state government, be it at the Department of Corrections or the UW system, tech colleges or every part of state government. So stay tuned. This is just the first step and hopefully a lot more to come.”

He then wished everyone a merry Christmas. He quickly left the room after the vote, telling trailing reporters that further details might come later this week.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, tweeted that Evers is the governor, not Vos. She said Evers’ administration would continue diversity efforts “notwithstanding the small-minded objections of legislative Republicans.”

The governor filed a lawsuit with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in October arguing that lawmakers had overstepped their authority by blocking the raises. Attorney General Josh Kaul, who is representing the governor, sent a letter to the court Tuesday arguing that the vote to release the raises doesn’t render the case moot and that the justice still need to decide the bigger question of whether legislative committees can block previously approved spending.

The employment committee voted 6-1 to release the money for the raises. A 4% raise is retroactive to July, with another 2% increase coming in July 2024.

Republican Chris Kapenga, who serves as president of the state Senate, was the only committee member to vote against releasing the raises. After the vote, he told reporters that he voted “no” because he wants diversity efforts eliminated altogether.

“I want to see DEI dead,” said Kapenga, who is white. “I think it’s disgusting. … We have laws in the Constitution that protect people for what DEI supposedly does.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to vote this spring on bills that would release funding for the construction projects, including about $200 million for a new engineering building at UW-Madison; $78 million to renovate dorms at UW-Whitewater, Vos’ alma mater; and $45 million for demolition projects across the system.