Most Decembers, a towering balsam fir adorned with gold garland and handmade ornaments offers a festive respite from the politics of Wisconsin’s State Capitol.
Not this year.
Gov. Tony Evers, a first-year Democrat, issued a call recently for students to design science-themed ornaments for the soon-to-arrive evergreen, which he took the liberty of renaming the Capitol Holiday Tree. Republicans, committed to keep calling it a Christmas tree and already skeptical of Mr. Evers, were appalled. And so began the latest battle in a long-running political war on holiday naming conventions, and on Wisconsin’s newly — and rancorously — divided state government.
“This is ‘PC’ garbage. It’s a Christmas tree,” State Senator Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, wrote on Twitter. “This is not a holiday tree,” wrote Scott Walker, the two-term Republican governor who was unseated by Mr. Evers and who appeared on Fox News this week to discuss wintertime tree-labeling.
Partisan outrage — and counteroutrage — was on full display this week on the floor of the State Assembly as Wisconsin lawmakers passed a resolution to reinstate the term “Christmas tree.” In a debate that lasted about a half-hour, lawmakers from both parties offered soliloquies on inclusion, holiday cheer and religious diversity, plus extensive histories of how evergreens in the Capitol rotunda had over the decades been called Christmas trees, then holiday trees and then Christmas trees again.
“As a Christian, I will be voting against this because I believe that we should be making sure that all religions can participate in having a holiday tree here in the State Capitol,” said State Representative David Crowley, a Democrat.
“This is more divide-and-conquer politics by the Republican majority,” said another Democrat, State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa.
With equal passion, Republicans were incredulous that anyone suggested a large fir decorated with lights and ornaments in December was anything other than a Christmas tree.
State Representative Scott Krug, a Republican, urged his colleagues to “call the thing what it is.” “It’s a Christmas tree, it’s a Christmas tree, it’s a Christmas tree,” he said.
As the debate stretched on, Democrats bitterly noted the contrast with a special legislative session on gun violence last week, which Republicans started and ended in less than a minute without debating any bills.
“Instead of doing something substantive and helpful, we’re trying to politicize a tree because it’s going to score cheap political points,” said State Representative Jonathan Brostoff, a Democrat. He added, “If you want to be serious about doing something nice for the Christians in your district, stop them from getting killed.”
The debate about what to call the tree, which is to go on display after Thanksgiving, was symptomatic of broader gridlock at Wisconsin’s Capitol. Since Mr. Evers took office in January, ending Republican control of state government, he has struggled to find common cause with the Republican-led Legislature.
Last December, Republicans pushed for laws limiting the power of the incoming governor just before Mr. Evers took office. When Mr. Walker, then the departing governor, appeared in the rotunda at the time, he was loudly booed by protesters who had turned out to speak against the Republicans’ bills. But Mr. Walker stayed anyway. He was there to light the Capitol Christmas tree.
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