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Wisconsin GOP moves to limit authority of incoming Democratic governor

Jacob Fischler, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

The Scott Walker era in Wisconsin is ending much as it began: with a controversial effort to weaken his political opponents that attracted protests and a national spotlight to Madison.

Tuesday, protesters continued to disrupt an extraordinary session of the state Legislature but didn't change the outcome as both chambers moved to approve a GOP bill to enhance the Legislature's power at the expense of Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers, who defeated Walker in the Republican's attempt at winning a third term last month, and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.

Republicans maintained control of both legislative chambers in the Nov. 6 elections.

After a combative, all-night session, the state Senate voted 17-16 early Wednesday to approve the bill with just one Republican voting against it. The Assembly followed, voting 56-27 to pass and send the bill to the governor's desk.

The episode comes two years after Republicans in North Carolina's Legislature made a similar gambit, enacting limits on the incoming Democratic governor's authority that are still being challenged in courts.

Republican leaders in Michigan have also been criticized following the 2018 elections for aiming to limit state authority over clean water enforcement -- a central campaign issue for Democrats who won in November -- on their way out of office.

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"North Carolina in 2016 started the roadmap that other Republican-dominated states are following," said Kathleen Dolan, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "We've seen an increasing evolution in take-no-prisoners partisan politicking and using every lever of power. This is part and parcel of a new philosophy of governing."

As amended, the Wisconsin bill would require legislative approval for the state to back out of a federal lawsuit. The initial version of the bill had also allowed legislative leaders to hire their own attorneys to work on behalf of the state, but that provision was removed in an amendment overnight. Backing out of a lawsuit challenging the 2010 federal health care law had been a major campaign issue for Evers and Kaul.

It would also weaken the governor's oversight of a controversial state economic development corporation by giving the Legislature the power to appoint some members. Evers said during the campaign he would disband the organization.

Carrie Lynch, a spokeswoman for Evers, said the governor-elect was eager to avoid litigation but didn't rule it out. Negotiations among Senate Republicans continued late into Tuesday night, indicating the caucus, which holds an 18-15 edge over Democrats, was trying to find a unified position.


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