Profile: Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos

By Madelon Wise

Robin Vos.

You’ve heard the name, but perhaps, like me, you know nothing about him. He has been in the news lately because of his rather public quarrel with Scott Walker over transportation in the 2017-2019 state budget. Vos has stated publicly via a Twitter exchange with Governor Scott  Walker that he fundamentally disagrees with Walker’s stance on whether to tax gasoline. Vos is in favor of the tax, whereas Walker staunchly refuses to implement it. Although the two very conservative Republicans have long agreed on most issues, the fissure on transportation continues.


Vos has been a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly since 2005, representing the 63rd district (which includes the communities of Rochester, Burlington, Town of Burlington, Yorkville, Dover, Union Grove, Mount Pleasant, and Sturtevant). Vos is the co-chair of the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee, along with Senator Alberta Darling.

The State Assembly is the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature. Together with the smaller Wisconsin Senate, it constitutes the legislative branch of Wisconsin’s government. Every citizen of Wisconsin is represented by two legislators, elected by the people in their area: one in the Assembly, and one in the Senate. Robin Vos is the Speaker of the Assembly, meaning he was elected by the other representatives.

Before joining the Legislature, Vos was a congressional district director and legislative assistant,  a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents (1989 to 1991), and a member of the Racine County Board (1994 to 2004). In his home town of Burlington, Vos is a busy member of groups like the Rotary Club (past president), Racine/Kenosha Farm Bureau, Knights of Columbus, Racine County Republican Party, Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce, Union Grove Chamber of Commerce, and Burlington Chamber of Commerce.

Outside Politics

Outside of politics, Vos is the small business owner of RoJo’s Popcorn. The name of the popcorn company brings to mind another right-wing politician, but as far as I can determine Vos did not name his company for his buddy Ron Johnson. Remember the “cookie law” that attempted to ban people from selling homemade baked goods from their kitchens? Vos introduced this law, although it was struck down as unconstitutional by a Lafayette County judge. Apparently, he doesn’t want anybody else selling snacks.

While his wife sells the popcorn, Vos serves on several committees, including the Committee on Assembly Organization (Chair), Committee on Employment Relations (Chair), Committee on Rules, Joint Committee on Employment Relations (Co-Chair), Joint Committee on Legislative Organization (Co-Chair), Joint Legislative Council, Committee on Assembly Organization (Chair), Committee on Employment Relations (Chair), Committee on Rules, Joint Committee on Employment Relations (Co-Chair), Joint Committee on Legislative Organization (Co-Chair), and the Joint Legislative Council.

ALEC & Past Legislation

Robin Vos is the current ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) public sector co-chair of Wisconsin, along with Representative Scott Suder and Koch lobbyist Amy Boyer. The must-read ALEC Exposed: The Hijacking of a State put out by the Center for Media and Democracy, describes ALEC in this way:

“ALEC brings elected representatives together with lobbyists from global businesses to approve cookie-cutter legislation – that often benefits those same corporations – for introduction in state capitols from Madison to Montgomery to Tallahassee, regardless of the distinct traditions and interests of the constituents in each state.”

The report goes on to document how ALEC distributes money through a complicated “scholarship fund,” keeps secrets, buys legislators, pays no taxes, and has been at the helm of the systematic reddening of our once-liberal state. The legislation brought forth by ALEC has been implemented in most states, strategically putting forth an agenda that made a Donald Trump presidency possible. An open records request revealed the names of donors, and the top contributors include AT&T, the drug manufacturer trade group PhRMA, T-Mobile, Kraft, Exxon Mobil, US Tobacco, and of course, the Koch brothers and other right-wing groups, foundations, and trade groups.

Through ALEC’s backing, Vos has introduced numerous pieces of legislation, including a Voter ID bill, which was temporarily struck down but upheld on appeal. and the “Health Care Freedom Amendment,” a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment that prohibited the legislature from requiring individuals to obtain health insurance.

Of major bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Vos, the only surprise was WI SB10, “definition of tetrahydrocannabinols and the use of cannabidiol.” This bill passed, ensuring that children with seizures could use a plant substance to help with their illness.

Current Legislation

Presently in committee is Assembly Bill 299, “regarding the free expression within the University of Wisconsin System, providing an exemption from rule-making procedures, and granting rule-making authority.” Cutting away the legalize, this bill would penalize “boisterous,” “unreasonably loud” protest behavior at campus events. Students who speak out or protest at events could be expelled. The “Campus Free Speech Act” was produced by the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based think tank whose operations are underwritten by some of the largest right-wing funders including the Koch and Walton foundations.

Another Vos-proposed piece, WI SB216, would lower wages for private sector employees working on public projects. This bill is also in committee.

What Vos opposes is as interesting as what he favors. He’s spoken against LRB-2248/1, the Compassionate Choices Act, introduced on March 8, 2017, by State Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Representatives Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) and Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains).

The proposal is modeled after Oregon’s “death with dignity” law, passed in 1997. California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington also allow the practice. The lawmakers behind Wisconsin’s bill cited a May 2016 Gallup poll that found 69 percent of Americans believe doctors should be able to painlessly end a terminally ill patient’s life if requested.

I hope you have enjoyed learning, along with me, about Robin Vos.

After completing this research, I have a clearer idea of how and why my beloved state has changed so drastically.