Wisconsin Dems Apoplectic as Legislature Moves to Check Incoming Governor

‘These people are sore losers …’

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(Jacob Fischler, CQ-Roll Call) The Scott Walker era in Wisconsin is ending, after groups like the Eric Holder-led National Democratic Redistricting Committee cajoled activist courts into gerrymandering the state into blue territory.

But despite the Democratic win, evidently Walker’s aggrieved political adversaries didn’t get the memo.

Tuesday, protesters continued to disrupt the state Legislature—but didn’t change the outcome—as both chambers moved to approve a GOP bill to enhance the Legislature’s power at the expense of Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers.

Republicans maintained control of both legislative chambers in the Nov. 6 elections.

After a combative, all-night session, the state Senate voted 17-16 early Wednesday to approve the bill with just one Republican voting against it. The Assembly followed, voting 56-27 to pass and send the bill to the governor’s desk.

The episode comes two years after Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature made a similar gambit, enacting limits on the incoming Democratic governor’s authority that are still being challenged in courts.

“North Carolina in 2016 started the roadmap that other Republican-dominated states are following,” said Kathleen Dolan, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. “We’ve seen an increasing evolution in take-no-prisoners partisan politicking and using every lever of power. This is part and parcel of a new philosophy of governing.”

However, the Republicans in the state legislatures often have levied the same criticisms of their Democratic executive counterparts, expressing concern that the governor’s absolute authorities over matters like, for instance, appointing the members of the state elections board in North Carolina, have led to less accountability, more partisanship and an increased potential for corruption.

As amended, the Wisconsin bill would require legislative approval for the state to back out of a federal lawsuit. The initial version of the bill had also allowed legislative leaders to hire their own attorneys to work on behalf of the state, but that provision was removed in an amendment overnight.

Backing out of a lawsuit challenging the 2010 federal health care law had been a major campaign issue for Evers and newly elected Democrat Attorney General Josh Kaul.

It would also weaken the governor’s oversight of a controversial state economic development corporation by giving the Legislature the power to appoint some members. Evers said during the campaign he would disband the organization.

Ironically, considering the opposition to litigation that is at the heart of the issue, Evers’ spokeswoman, Carrie Lynch, said the governor-elect may consider suing the legislature if he doesn’t get his way.

Lynch said Evers was eager to avoid litigation but didn’t rule it out.

“We’ll have to see what they pass and we’re hopeful that cooler heads will prevail,” Lynch said.

Democrats in the statehouse were apoplectic over the session’s agenda, claiming it contradicted the will of the voters.

“When you’re passing laws that undermine a democratically elected governor and attorney general, it’s no longer a democracy,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said in a phone interview. “These people are sore losers … It’s exactly what people hate about politics and it’s exactly why people have no confidence in government to address the public’s best interests.”

The move would have a “toxic effect” on the Legislature moving forward, he claimed, making it more difficult for lawmakers to work with a new governor to address relatively nonpartisan issues.

Walker has not explicitly endorsed the bills, but indicated to reporters he’d support it.

“The governor will review the legislation if it gets to his desk,” Walker spokesman Tom Evens said on Tuesday. “That’s all we’re going to say.”

Protesters in Wisconsin have flooded the state Capitol this week, chanting slogans during Senate proceedings. A public hearing Monday lasted nearly nine hours, with the testimony from the public overwhelmingly against the GOP agenda.

The protests were reminiscent of a scene in 2011, just after Walker took office, when he pushed a bill to reduce the power of public-sector unions. The move led to a recall effort, but the outrage among Democrats didn’t translate into electoral success, as Walker survived, won re-election and the GOP maintained majorities in both chambers that still exist.

(Jacob Holzman contributed to this report.)

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