GOP-held legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan try to limit new Democratic governors' powers

The Washington Post

Two of the Democratic Party's biggest wins last month occurred in Wisconsin and Michigan, where their candidates won gubernatorial elections, unseating a well-known incumbent in the former and flipping the seat in the latter.

But in both states, Republicans maintained control of both chambers of the legislature. So, in anticipation of having to work with a Democratic governor, state lawmakers are aiming to pass legislation that would dilute the executives' powers.

In Wisconsin, Gov.-elect Tony Evers, a Democrat, is fighting to beat back Republican attempts to weaken his authority, calling it "a repudiation of the last election."

"The last election changed the state in a way that apparently the legislature has decided to not accept," said Evers, who defeated Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November. Evers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "everything's on the table" in terms of attempting to block the GOP plan, including legal action.

The Republicans, who have enjoyed single-party rule in the state for close to a decade, are gearing up this week to pass a suite of changes in an "extraordinary session" - which is where the legislature calls itself back after the session ends - that would, among other things, limit early voting; move the Wisconsin 2020 presidential primary from March, when Democratic turnout will be high, to April (an apparent effort to boost the chances of a conservative judge in that April's state Supreme Court election); restrict the governor's ability to make certain appointments; and otherwise hand more power to the state legislature.

In Michigan, where Democrats last month won the governor's mansion as well as the races for attorney general and secretary of state, Republican lawmakers last week introduced measures that would water down the authority of the individuals in those positions on campaign finance oversight and other legal matters.

A spokeswoman for the incoming secretary of state decried the move as "shameful," the Detroit Free Press reported.

The moves in both states have drawn comparisons to Republican efforts in North Carolina in 2016, when lawmakers pushed through legislation limiting the authority of Roy Cooper, the state's Democratic governor, after he defeated incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.

Former attorney general Eric Holder criticized the latest Republican-led efforts in a Sunday tweet.

Now that a Democrat is in the governor's mansion, some Republicans argue that maybe Walker had too much power and that to balance it out, power should be redistributed to the representative body.

"Wisconsin law, written by the Legislature and signed into law by a governor, should not be erased by the potential political maneuvering of the executive branch," said GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in a statement.

Democrats and left-wing activists view it as a blatant power grab and decry the speed at which Republicans are trying to force these measures through. The GOP state lawmakers unveiled their bills on Friday night, are holding a hearing Monday, and plan to vote on them Tuesday.

"It is clearly partisan, and it's motivated by results of the election. It's a sore loser session," Mike Brown, deputy director of the liberal advocacy group, One Wisconsin Now, told The Post. "None of these bills were introduced before the election. They didn't consider them during regular session. There's no way the GOP would have come back in to limit the power of the governor of their own party."

Because this is all happening at lightening speed, grass-roots activists have also had to organize fast. Protesters are descending on the capital, and Brown said the Wisconsin legislature's hotline crashed because of the volume of calls.

This story first appeared in the The Washington Post

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