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Gov. Tony Evers has granted more pardons than any Wisconsin governor in contemporary history. (Molly Beck / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.) Gov. Tony Evers has granted more pardons than any Wisconsin governor in contemporary history. (Molly Beck / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.)

Gov. Tony Evers has granted more pardons than any Wisconsin governor in contemporary history. (Molly Beck / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.)

By Alan Hovorka February 15, 2022

Has Gov. Evers granted more pardons than any Wisconsin governor in recent history?

If Your Time is short

  • As of February 2022, Evers has issued 416 pardons since taking office.

  • Only Gov. James Doyle came close to matching Evers’s record at 326, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, but that was over an eight-year period. 

  • To find a governor to issue more pardons than Evers, you would have to go back to Gov. Julius Heil in 1939.

During his eight years in office, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, did not issue a single pardon. In contrast, his successor – Democrat Tony Evers – touts every one he grants.

"Last week, I granted another 54 pardons, bringing our total to 391 — more than any Wisconsin governor in contemporary history," Evers said in a Jan 13, 2022, news release

On Feb. 7, 2022, he issued another release, setting the number at 416.

Pardons, of course, can restore certain civil rights and privileges and relieve some legal issues. They differ from clemency or sentence commutations, which would allow a person to leave prison early.

Pardons under Evers have included low-level drug dealers, long-ago drunk driving cases, mistakes made as youth and more. Among other things, a pardon can make it easier for people to get jobs. 

Is Evers right that the number is the most in "contemporary history"?

What’s in a number?

The key word in Evers’ claim, of course, is "contemporary." 

Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said in a Feb. 1, 2022, email that the governor’s office looked at the past 40 years. They also said they considered Evers contemporaries to be any previous governors still living today. 

In that timeframe, only Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, came close to granting the same number of pardons — 326, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. But he did it over eight years in office.

Here is a look at how various governors compare:

Looking beyond that 40-year period, Gov. Patrick Lucey, a Democrat who served from 1971 to 1977, issued at least 392 pardons. 

We say "at least 392" because tracking pardons requires reviewing Senate and Assembly journals or records held with the Wisconsin Secretary of State. And the exact figure for each governor may vary depending on who collected the information and how it was done.

For instance, numbers of pardons issued per governor provided by Evers differed from those provided by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. The governor’s office said Lucey issued 457 pardons through his six years in office. The bureau says the number was 392. 

For our figures, we are relying on the reference bureau, which compiles information on pardons, commutations and reprieves through the past couple years. The bureau has an ongoing effort to tabulate historical information on the use of executive clemency throughout all Wisconsin history. 

To find a governor who issued more pardons than Evers or Lucey, you would have to go back to Gov. Julius Heil, a Republican, who served from 1939 to 1943. 

At the time, Wisconsin governors served two-year terms. In his first term, Heil granted 486 pardons and another 448 in his second term, for a total of 934, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Our ruling

Evers said he’s issued the most pardons in Wisconsin "contemporary history."

As of Feb. 7, 2022, Evers had issued 416 pardons. In the last 40 years, only Doyle came close to granting the same number of pardons — 326. To find a governor who issued more, you’d have to go back to Julius Heil, whose term ended 79 years ago.

We rate his claim True.

 

 

Our Sources

Email interview with Britt Cudaback, spokeswoman for Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Feb. 1, 2022.

Email interview with Jillian Slaight, managing legislative analyst for the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, Jan 31, 2022.

Wisconsin Lawyer, "To Forgive, Divine: The governor's pardoning power," Feb. 1, 2005. 

Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, "Pardons in Wisconsin 1941-2022," Jan. 31, 2022.

 

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