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The following is an opinion piece/open letter to Governor Tony Evers written by First District County Supervisor, Nick Demske.

June 17, 2022

Dear Governor Tony Evers,

I canvassed to help get you elected, I knocked on my neighbors’ doors for you, I will vote for you in the upcoming election and I urge any person reading this to vote for you as well. Your veto powers have been the only thing preventing the Wisconsin State Legislature from bringing great harm to communities like mine in Racine through compassionless policy decisions. Wisconsin simply cannot afford to lose you in this role. For that, I want to thank you for acting as Wisconsin’s Governor these last four years.

Given my support of you politically, I can assure you it brings me no joy to write the following.

I write to communicate my profound disappointment, not just in your decision to request John Tate II’s resignation from his Chairmanship of our state’s parole commission, but also in your responses to all the events that led up to that decision as well.

Appointing Tate as Parole Chair was one of the best decisions you made in your tenure thus far because his leadership in that role facilitated the release of over 500 individuals who had overcome greater obstacles and prevailed through worse situations than most of us can even imagine. Appointing John–a licensed social worker–to this role was an act of courage and vision on your part. Requesting his resignation was very much the opposite.

I need not explain to you that, because Truth in Sentencing became the law in this state 22 years ago, no one in the Wisconsin prison system eligible for parole has served less than two decades behind bars. And of course, anyone who has been incarcerated for 20+ years has been convicted of atrocious acts. That is parole in Wisconsin. That is all it exists to do; to evaluate people convicted of committing terrible acts and establish whether or not they are the same person, or if they have evolved into an altogether different person who is fit to return to society.

I will not be so arrogant as to tell a victim’s family how to feel about this reality. For my political representatives, though, it is my duty to tell you how I feel, lest you not know how to represent me. And I feel that when you caved at the political pressure around what your parole commission is meant to do at its core, it was a tragic failure in leadership.

The parole commission entrusts people with freedom only after they’ve painstakingly earned it. It is one of the most humane mechanisms of government–the mechanism that recognizes that we are all capable of redemption, even in the wake of having made insurmountable mistakes. At its best, when it functions like it functioned under Tate’s leadership, parole represents the most radically humane part of government.

The part that believes the human spirit can overcome outrageous tragedy, the part that champions the miraculous power of forgiveness and the part that acts as a beacon of compassion for all humankind to gain hope from. For you to reverse soundly made decisions and remove proven effective leaders from your commission is for you to flinch at the question of whether or not we–as human beings–are capable of redemption.

When your political opponents began weaponizing the public’s potential fears against you, you could’ve leaned into it. You could’ve asked Wisconsinites whether we want to be a people that believes in redemption or damnation. You could’ve challenged our people to reflect on this issue, and this sentiment that we ought to still throw away those who have proven themselves rehabilitated.

You could’ve reminded Wisconsin that even though some victims of crimes can never be reunited with their families, still some perpetrators can turn from the harm they caused and reunite with their families, and society, to try to heal some of that harm. You could’ve chosen to lead on this issue. Instead, you chose to capitulate. And it was a moral failing.

You and I both, I’m sure, are not surprised this came during an election season. And I suspect, as any reasonable politician would have, you based this decision to not uphold your own values on some sophisticated political calculus. Yet, in my community, all I hear around this subject is that the people feel betrayed. And I deeply hope this misguided decision does not cost you a reelection. Though I’d be lying if I said I am certain it won’t.

This is not about Douglas Balsewicz, whose release you had rescinded. He, I’m sure, will sue the state of Wisconsin, demonstrate the illegality of that decision in court, and still be released in due time.

This is also not about John Tate II. He is a ridiculously capable and uniquely qualified leader who will be sought out by every organization in search of great leadership. He also remains the only person in this story who stayed true to his professed values.

This, Governor Evers, is about justice. And mercy. And courage.

And as much as I want to believe politically you made an unavoidable decision here, the truth is–from my vantage point–it looks more like you just reacted out of cowardice.

I pray you are reelected in November because I know the alternative would be atrocious for our state. But I also pray that, if you are, you decide to start leading Wisconsin out of courage, and do not continue to mislead the state like you did in this series of deeply disheartening decisions.

May God and the ancestors have more mercy on us than we have proven to have with each other.

Nick Demske
County Supervisor
Racine County’s First District

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