Wisconsin Republicans push ahead with vote to gut new governor’s power amid protests

Scott Walker, GOP seeking "repudiation of the last election" with new laws, says Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 4, 2018 4:45PM (EST)

Scott Walker (Getty/Mike Theiler)
Scott Walker (Getty/Mike Theiler)

Wisconsin Republicans plan to vote Tuesday on numerous bills that will limit the powers of the state’s incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.

Republicans are finalizing plans to limit the power of Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Lawmakers also plan to curb early voting and give Republicans in the legislature control of the state’s job creation agency.

Outgoing Gov. Scott Walker signaled Monday that he will sign the legislation but several Republican lawmakers have not said they will support the bills. Republicans have an 18-15 majority in the state Senate.

The full Senate vote comes after the Joint Finance Committee approved three bills by a party-line vote of 12-4. The committee declined to vote on a bill that would have moved the 2020 presidential primary from April to March, which would cost taxpayers in the state close to $7 million.

Evers and state Democrats have vowed to sue if the Senate approves the legislation Tuesday.

"We will actively be looking at either to litigate or do whatever else in our power to make sure the people of Wisconsin are represented at the table," Evers told reporters Monday.

Walker downplayed the legislation, insisting that "much of what we did over the last eight years is work with the Legislature, not at odds with the Legislature. For all the talk about reining in power, it really doesn't."

Along with limiting gubernatorial powers, Republicans in the legislature plan to give themselves power over redistricting, after winning 64 percent of assembly seats despite taking just 45 percent of the popular vote and losing handily in statewide races. The bills would also give the legislature power over the state’s voter ID law and keep the state in a federal lawsuit seeking to dismantle Obamacare.

One aspect of the legislation that will certainly be challenged in court is a bill to limit early voting to two weeks. A similar move was ruled unconstitutional in 2016.

The legislation would give Republicans lawmakers control of litigation involving the state and allow the legislature to replace the attorney general with state-funded private attorneys handpicked by the Republicans when state laws are challenged in court. The bills would entirely eliminate the solicitor general position, which represents the state in court in high-profile cases. The legislation would also allow lawmakers to hire private attorneys paid for by taxpayers when they are accused of violating certain laws.

The legislation would require Evers to get permission from the legislature if he wants to ban guns in the state capitol, would limit his ability to implement laws based on rules set by the governor’s office while allowing the legislature to block any rules he does put in place, and would require permission from the legislature for any changes to public benefits programs.

The legislation would also make it easier for companies to challenge environmental laws, allow the legislature to appoint their own handpicked members to the agency that oversees state health benefits, and use federal money for small state road projects so other projects do not have to comply with federal environmental and wage laws.

The moves are similar to what Republican lawmakers did in North Carolina when they sought to limit the power of new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature is also planning a move to limit Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer’s power.

The bills will be voted on as the Wisconsin State Capitol is packed with protesters demanding that Republicans allow elected leaders to govern.

“I view this as a repudiation of the last election,” Evers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I will take any steps possible to assure the people of Wisconsin that I will not invalidate those votes. And frankly, I’m encouraging citizens across the state of Wisconsin to help me in that effort.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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2018 Midterm Elections Republicans Scott Walker Tony Evers Wisconsin Wisconsin Legislature