Lame-duck Wisconsin Republicans pass vote to restrict incoming Democrats in controversial 'power grab'

Chris Riotta

Republican legislators in Wisconsin have voted to limit the powers of the incoming Democrat governor and state attorney general after losing the two key positions in the 2018 midterm elections.

With the state government divided for the first time in ten years, the Wisconsin Senate voted before sunrise to pass a series of measures empowering the GOP-controlled legislature while weakening the Democrat replacing Republican Governor Scott Walker.

The lame-duck session’s controversial vote took place despite weeks of protests and internal disagreement, effectively reducing the powers of incoming Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers and Democratic Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, both of whom spoke out against the sweeping bill. Critics have spoken out against the measures as well, with two dozen health care providers, insurers and hospitals across the state warning they could pose unintended consequences to Medicaid.

The measure passed 17-16 with all Republicans in the legislature except one in support. All Democratic legislators voted against the bill.

Mr Walker has previously expressed his support for the measure, which would prevent his Democratic replacement from withdrawing a federal waiver request to implement the work requirement for able-bodied adults younger than 50.

Among the proposals related to Medicaid, the bill requires new legislative oversight of waiver requests related to health care made by the governor, a move Democrats decried as a power shift designed to handcuff the new administration.

The bill would weaken the governor’s ability to put in place rules that enact laws and shield the state jobs agency from his control until September. It would also limit early voting to no more than two weeks before an election, a restriction similar to what a federal judge ruled was unconstitutional.

“Why are we here today?” Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said as the debate of more than nine hours began late Tuesday night. “What are we doing? Nothing we’re doing here is about helping the people of Wisconsin. It’s about helping politicians. It’s about power and self-interest.”

As debate resumed at 5:00 am local time, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said, “This is a heck of a way to run a railroad.”

She added, “This is embarrassing we’re even here.”

Republican and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos countered that the bills would ensure a balance of power between the Legislature and the executive branch.

The Wisconsin Assembly, also controlled by Republicans, later passed the bill in the early morning, sending it to the governor’s desk for consideration.

Wisconsin lawmakers in both the legislature and the assembly throughout Wednesday are expected to continue debating the rest of the proposals designed to limit incoming Democrats.

The proposal would also weaken the attorney general’s office by requiring a legislative committee, rather than the attorney general, to sign off on withdrawing from federal lawsuits. That would stop Mr Evers and Mr Kaul from fulfilling their campaign promises to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit seeking repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Both Democrats made opposition to that lawsuit a central part of both of their campaigns.

“The first thing Scott Walker did when he walked through the door of the Capitol was to create chaos,” Democratic Senator Jon Erpenbach said during Senate debate. “The last thing he is doing is creating chaos.”

Associated Press contributed to this report