Responding To Democratic Victories, Republicans Strip Governors Of Power
Republican lawmakers in Michigan and Wisconsin are responding to their party's losses at the Gubernatorial level by attempting to restrict the powers of the incoming Democratic Governor.
Wisconsin Republicans suffered some big losses on Election Day this year, most notably being Scott Walker losing his bid for a third term in office to Democratic nominee Tony Evers and Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel losing his bid for re-election to Democratic nominee Josh Kaul. In response to these developments, the state legislature, which will remain in Republican control in January, is seeking to limit the powers of both offices now that they will be controlled by Democrats:
When Democrats won the governor’s office in Wisconsin, it was one of the party’s most celebrated midterm successes in regaining power in the states. Now Republicans are striking back, moving to slash the power of the new governor even before he takes the oath of office.
Democrats reacted with fury, crowding the halls of the State Capitol in Madison on Monday and accusing the Republicans of trying to undo an election they had lost. It was only the latest such Republican effort across the country to try to use legislative action to counter blows the party suffered at the polls. For Wisconsin, a state that both parties will urgently vie to win in 2020 elections, it was one more sign of the ferocious partisan split that has rippled through the state in recent years.
“It’s a power grab,” said State Senator Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat, before a hearing on the package of bills that includes restrictions on the incoming governor’s ability to shift how public benefits programs are run, and on his authority to set the rules that determine how state laws are carried out. “They lost and they’re throwing a fit.”
The long list of proposals Republicans want to consider also includes wide efforts to shore up their strength before Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Gov. Scott Walker last month, takes office: new limits on early voting, a shift in the timing of the 2020 presidential primary in Wisconsin, and new authority for lawmakers on state litigation. The Republican plan would also slash the power of the incoming attorney general, who is also a Democrat.
In recent years, single parties have come to dominate state legislatures, allowing lawmakers to make significant policy changes in states even as Washington wrestled with gridlock. But in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where Democrats regained governor’s offices in capitals that Republicans fully controlled for years, Republicans are making last-minute efforts to weaken their powers.
In Michigan, Republican lawmakers are considering proposals that would give them more authority to intervene in legal fights involving the state and would shift oversight of campaign finance — efforts that Democrats say are aimed at shrinking the authority of their leaders, including Gretchen Whitmer, who won the governor’s race there, and Dana Nessel, a Democrat who won the race for attorney general.
Some local areas are seeing glimpses of similar battles. In Arizona’s Maricopa County — with 4.3 million residents, the nation’s fourth most populous — the Republican-dominated board of supervisors said last month that it was studying a takeover of some Election Day logistics now handled by the county recorder, a newly elected Democrat. The supervisors have said they have a nonpartisan interest in improving the county’s elections.
In Wisconsin on Monday, Democrats and liberal groups called the Republicans’ proposals for curbing Mr. Evers’s authority in advance of his swearing in next month a blatant power grab and a rejection of the election outcome. Some said they were considering legal action against any legislation the Republicans may try to push through this week.
Republicans, who will retain their legislative majorities under the Democratic governor, have defended the hastily introduced package of bills as a necessary check on executive power.
“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 Robin Vos, the speaker of the State Assembly, and Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican leader in the State Senate, in a joint statement last week.
But as hundreds of angry residents gathered at the Capitol, the Republican leaders spoke bluntly of the ideological clash between their caucus and the incoming governor.
“I think that Governor-elect Evers is going to bring a liberal agenda to Wisconsin,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “There’s going to be a divide between the legislative branch and the executive branch.”
“We want to ensure that the new administration doesn’t try to work around the Legislature,” Mr. Vos said, explaining the package of bills that Republicans say they hope will be taken up by the full Legislature on Tuesday. “We want both branches to have an equal seat at the table.”
As the New York Times points out, this isn’t entirely unprecedented. Two years ago, when the North Carolina’s Republican Governor was defeated by Democratic nominee Roy Cooper. Republicans in Raleigh responded by restricting the power of the Governor principally by repealing or changing laws that granted the Governor discretion with regard to the application of certain state laws or otherwise gave the Executive Branch the authority to act without the need to seek legislative approval. The outcome of that legislation would make the North Carolina Governor among the weakest in the nation. Presently, though, those changes in the law are the subject of litigation that remains unresolved to this day.
The actions in Wisconsin and Michigan appear to be somewhat more limited than what happened in North Carolina two years ago, but beyond that difference, it’s clear that what is happening in both states is a purely political action that would not be happening if the election had turned out differently. Because of the way they did turn out, though, the Republicans in both states are taking advantage of the lame duck period between Election Day and the inauguration of the new Governor to take power away from the Governor and put it firmly in the hand of a state legislature that remains firmly in the hands of the Republican Party. In that sense, it’s yet another example of the kind of cynical, dirty politics that has become all too common in the United States today. Additionally, it’s easy to see how the people who voted for the Democratic candidates in both states would be outraged by this since it seems like and probably is, a blatant attempt to undercut the meaning of their vote in November.
In the end, it doesn’t appear that there are any legal barriers preventing the Republican legislature and the outgoing Republican Governors from taking this action. The only limitation that exists is the approval or disapproval of the voters, however since the election has already taken place the Republican legislators think they have little to fear in terms of retaliation from the voters. Sadly, they’re probably right. By the time the next election takes place, this will all be forgotten.