Republicans plan lame-duck power grab ‘denying the will of voters’ just weeks before Democrats take control

Clark Mindock
AP

Wisconsin Republicans are attempting a dramatic re-shifting of power in the state that would undermine the incoming Democratic administration even before they even start their first day.

A slew of bills were planned to be voted on in the Republican-controlled state legislature on Tuesday, where they were expected to pass and be sent on to Republican Governor Scott Walker’s desk just weeks before he leaves office.

The bills would limit the powers of the incoming Democrats in what opponents have described as a blatant last minute power grab that would effectively invalidate the will of the people.

The legislation has already attracted mass protests in the state capital of Madison reminiscent of the 2011 demonstrations when Mr Walker effectively eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.

Those protests lasted weeks and lead assembly Democrats to filibuster for 60 straight hours in an attempt to stop the governor from moving forward with those changes, but the session was abruptly ended by Republicans.

This year’s proceedings are not expected to be a repeat of those contentious protests, with Republicans poised to finish up their business much quicker.

Eyeing the potentially expedited push to curb the incoming administration’s powers, Democrats in the state Assembly attempted to cast the Republican efforts as an effort to deny the will of the voters.

Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz told reporters on Tuesday that Democrats and Republicans had breached from tradition for consensus to agree to time limits on debate for legislation because the lame-duck session is an “illegitimate” power grab and an “absolutely horrible day for Wisconsin”.

The proposed legislation brought out a crowd of people to testify against the measures on Monday in a hearing that turned raucous at times and ran late into the evening. Of those that came to express their opinion on the efforts, just one person did not testify against the measures. In a break from normal practice, the sponsors of the bills did not appear or send a representative to speak on their behalf in support of the legislation.

“The people aren’t asking for this”, said Democratic Representative Chris Taylor. “You did not run on this. You didn’t tell people you would do everything in your power of a newly elected governor and attorney general. You right the system when you win and you rig the system when you lose”.

The midterm election results were a pendulum swing after the 2016 election, when the state shocked the nation by voting for Donald Trump after voting for Barack Obama twice.

But the state is known for its purple streak, and Mr Walker had occupied the governorship since 2011 in spite of repeated controversies that had thrust him into the upper echelons of the Republican party leadership before a short lived 2016 presidential campaign saw him drop out before any primary vote had even been cast.

Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul have joined in the chorus of opponents to call on Republicans to reject the lame-duck measures that Republican Representative John Nygren – co-chair of the committee that held the Monday hearing – said was not a power grab and was intended to balance the power between the governor and legislature.

“Shame!” protesters chanted outside the state Capitol on Monday.

The proposed measures would weaken the governor’s ability to implement rules that would enact laws and shield state jaws that he controls.

They would also potentially disrupt voting in 2020 by cutting the number of early voting weeks to just two – which could damage Democratic turnout after 2018 saw early voters favouring the party heavily.

As for the attorney general’s office, the proposals would weaken his purview by allowing Republican leaders in the legislature to intervene in cases and hire their own attorneys. The measures would also take the power to withdraw from federal lawsuits away from the attorney general, and give it to a Republican-Controlled legislative committee – a move that could keep Mr Kaul from fulfilling a campaign pledge to withdraw the state from a lawsuit aimed at repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Associated Press contributed to this report