Wisconsin voters dealt Republicans a blow last month when they gave Governor Scott Walker the boot and elected Democratic candidate Tony Evers, and Republican lawmakers appear to be fighting back: the GOP is looking to limit voter turnout in the next election and remove crucial powers from the incoming governor and attorney general.
The sweeping plan — to be taken up Tuesday — would remove Gov.-elect Tony Evers' power to approve major actions by Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul and give that authority to Republican lawmakers.
That could mean the campaign promise made by Evers and Kaul to immediately withdraw Wisconsin from a federal lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act would likely be blocked.
The 141-page plan goes further than what Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos suggested lawmakers would take up during the so-called lame-duck legislative session before Evers takes office.
"It’s real kind of inside baseball, kind of legislative stuff that it’s hard for me to believe people will get too excited about," Fitzgerald said three days before the plan was released.
Republicans plan to limit early voting to just two weeks — some counties allow as many as six weeks for early voting — as well as separate the 2020 presidential primary from an April election in order to cut down on voter turnout. Why? To better chances of electing a conservative Supreme Court justice.
The plan also limits the autonomy of the governor in several ways as it hands greater authority to lawmakers:
The legislation is wide-ranging and would limit Evers’ power in a host of ways. His agencies would have less freedom to run their programs. He would not be able to ban guns from the state Capitol without the OK of lawmakers.
The power of the incoming attorney general also would be greatly diminished.
The Legislature — not the attorney general — would have control of how to spend money from court settlements. The recently created office of the solicitor general, which oversees high-profile litigation, would be eliminated.
Legislators would gain the power to intervene in any litigation when a state law is challenged, and they would have the ability to appoint their own private attorneys — at taxpayer expense — to handle the case instead of the attorney general.
Democrats believe these measures, and more, are simply a matter of Republicans throwing a fit over Walker’s loss.
"It's clear they're out to try to cripple the incoming governor and attorney general as best they can," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Middleton Democrat on the Legislature's finance committee. "It's a tantrum because Scott Walker lost. It's frustrating because they're not even giving Tony Evers a chance to be governor."
Evers and Kaul said Republicans were ignoring the voters who elected them just three weeks ago.
"I’ve said all along I’m committed to working across the aisle, but I will not tolerate attempts to violate our constitutional checks and balances and separation of powers by people who are desperate to cling to control. Enough is enough," Evers said in a statement.
Though Walker has indicated his support for certain elements of the plan, it remains unclear whether all of the measures enjoy his support.