Wisconsin Republicans launch audit of state government diversity efforts

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Legislature’s audit committee voted Tuesday to launch a comprehensive review of diversity and inclusion efforts across state government after the Assembly’s top Republican vowed to eliminate equity initiatives.

The committee voted 6-4 to order the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct the review, with all four Democrats on the panel voting against the proposal.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order in 2019 requiring each state agency to create and monitor equity and inclusion plans to address employment barriers, assess workplaces to ensure they’re equitable and promote inclusion and expand professional development to encourage a more inclusive culture.

State Auditor Joe Chrisman said in a memo to committee members that the review could show what agencies have done to comply with the order, how much compliance has cost and outcomes. The probe will include cabinet-level agencies, other executive branch agencies, the state Department of Justice and the state university system, Chrisman said.

Conservatives across the country have been working to limit diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Republican lawmakers in about two dozen states have filed bills this year looking to restrict DEI initiatives. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who is white, has pledged to end diversity efforts in state government, saying that such initiatives are “cancerous” and that he wants a society that is “truly colorblind.”

In December he forced Universities of Wisconsin regents to freeze diversity hires, re-label about 40 diversity positions as “student success” positions, drop an affirmative action hiring program at UW-Madison in exchange for funding to cover staff raises and construction projects. Vos said after the deal was complete that he wanted an in-depth review of diversity initiatives across state government.

Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback tweeted that Republicans are trying to weaponize the audit bureau “to conduct purely ideological and politically-driven exercises.”

Sen. Eric Wimberger, a Green Bay Republican who co-chairs the audit committee, countered with a statement saying legislators must ensure state agencies and the university system use tax dollars wisely.

“This proposed audit has very clear goals of delving into the administration’s DEI initiatives,” Wimberger said in a statement, using the abbreviation for diversity, equity and inclusion. “What did the agency do? How much did it cost? And what did it achieve?”

Sen. Tim Carpenter and Rep. Francesca Hong, two Democratic members of the audit committee, released a joint statement accusing Vos of trying to use the diversity audit to deepen political divisions ahead of the November elections. They predicted Republicans will use the audit as a pretext to end diversity programs across state government.

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