Wisconsin Republicans OK bills stripping power from new Democratic governor
After a rancorous, sleepless night of debate, Republican lawmakers early Wednesday pushed through a sweeping set of bills that will limit the power of Wisconsin’s newly elected Democrats, including the incoming governor and attorney general.
The legislation, which Democrats vehemently opposed and protesters chanted their anger over, passed through the Republican-held state Legisla- ture after hours of closeddoor meetings and some amendments. The votes fell largely along party lines; no Democrats supported the measures.
“That’s what this is about: power-hungry politicians using their grubby hands in their last-ditch effort to desperately cling to power,” said state Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Democrat, before the vote Wednesday morning. “All we’ve seen demonstrated today and over the past few days is a contempt for the public.”
The fight over power in Madison came after Republicans, who have controlled the state for eight years, lost the offices of governor and attorney general during the midterm elections. Tony Evers, a Democrat, defeated Scott Walker, a two-term governor.
Republicans explained the moves to limit the authority of the governor as part of a long-needed change in the balance of power, which they said had become tilted in favor of the executive branch. Robin Vos, the speaker of the Assembly, accused Democrats of fanning hysteria and overstating the effects of the bills.
“You are so grossly exaggerating the words of this bill it makes me sick,” Vos said.
Democrats scoffed, noting Republicans had seemed perfectly satisfied with the balance of power when Walker held the role. Hundreds of protesters streamed to the Capitol as the debate went on over several days. Some carried signs with messages like “GOP Grinch Stealing Democracy” and chanted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” during one hearing.
Evers, the governorelect, issued a statement Wednesday expressing outrage and accusing the Republicans of grabbing power against the wishes of the voters.
“Wisconsin has never seen anything like this,” Evers said. “Wisconsin values of decency, kindness, and finding common ground were pushed aside so a handful of people could desperately usurp and cling to power while hidden away from the very people they represent.”
The package of bills, which awaits Walker’s signature, would limit early voting and, for the coming months, give lawmakers, not the governor, the majority of appointments on an economic development board. They also will prevent Evers from banning guns in the Wisconsin Capitol without permission from legislators.
The bills also would require Evers to get permission from lawmakers to seek adjustments on programs run jointly by federal and state governments, such as public benefit programs.
And they would bar Evers from installing any political appointee whose confirmation is rejected by the Senate. (Current law allows a governor to renominate such appointees or allow them to serve as a provisional appointment.) The measures also include a provision requiring the corrections department, at lawmakers’ request, to publish online the names of prisoners pardoned by the governor or released before finishing their sentences.
“It provides more opportunity for oversight for a coequal branch of government,” Romaine Quinn, a Republican state representative, said of the measures.
But Gordon Hintz, the Democratic leader in the Assembly, said the legislation undermined the power of democratically elected officials.
“We’re here because you don’t trust Tony Evers and you don’t want to give up power,” he said. “You’re sore losers.”
Protesters at the state Capitol in Madison hold up signs on Tuesday as the Wisconsin State Assembly debates a series of bills that would strip the incoming Democratic governor of power.