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.


FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    The GOP is now an active participant in the Trump Crime Family.

  2. Jen says:

    This is so disgusting. They lose, so they change the rules on their way out the door. What immature, childish, bratty behavior.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    These guys make extra judicial actions look reasonable.

  4. Teve says:

    Stupid people with shitty values.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Teve: You give them too much credit, I think they have only one value and a pretty shitty one at that.

    eta for clarity

  6. drj says:

    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.

    Because of shameless gerrymandering.

    Democrats are simply not allowed to govern in the state of Wisconsin, even though they won the most votes (while also overcoming voter suppression, of course).

    The GOP’s reaction to Trump (and silence on the Wisconsin and Michigan power grabs) shows that it is no longer a party that believes in democracy. What they believe in is not popular sovereignty, it’s GOP sovereignty.

    In other words, today’s GOP is, without question, the enemy of the People. (Not all the people of course, but “People” in its present Constitutional sense.)

    All that nonsense about “a Republic, not a Democracy” is nothing but a lame attempt to give a thin veneer of respectability to the GOP’s present hostility to the principle of popular sovereignty.

  7. mattbernius says:

    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.

    To that point, both legislatures, as part of the lame duck session, are also looking at legislation that will restrict voting rights and attempt to neuter anti-gerrymandering measures.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    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.

    I don’t think you really meant to bothsides this, Doug, but I feel it necessary to point out that all the examples given of ratfwcking are by Republicans.

    GOPus delendus est.

  9. drj says:

    Oh yeah, guess who actually engaged in voter fraud this year.

    Hint: it was not the Democrat.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    Kevin Drum has been on top of this and has a fourth example of GOP ratfwcking. Law enforcement occasionally tried to actually apply the requirements, so Florida transfered authority over concealed carry permits to the state Ag Commissioner, a reliable GOP. However the Ag Commissioner elect is a Dem, partly because of this nonsense and Parkland, so the lame duck lege is trying to move the role to the CFO (state CFO?) who is still a GOP.

  11. Moosebreath says:

    Per Kevin Drum, add Florida to the list.

  12. Moosebreath says:


    Ack — Ninja’ed.

  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I have said many times; when you cannot sell your ideas you are forced to game the system. In other words…cheat.

  14. Franklin says:

    I’m here in Michigan. I think the outgoing Republicans have proposed something unconstitutional every other day since the election. They’re trying to undo parts of the marijuana proposal we just approved, they’re trying to allow the legislature to intervene in court cases, today they’re actually trying to prevent modern scientific methods from being used when regulating toxic cleanups.

    This is why we voted them out, and furthermore passed an anti-gerrymandering proposal so we can kick them out of the legislature as well.

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @drj: Given that the GOPs are, predictably, doing a ‘you Dems said there was no voter fraud’ thing, this should, properly, be referred to as “election fraud”. As should snowbird double voting, which actually happens and which GOPs also don’t care about. Why they don’t care is left as an exercise for the reader.

    GOPus delendus est.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @drj: Don’t you understand? If the media and the social media companies were not so biased against Republicans, they would have won the elections. This is the Republicans trying to put things right, as best they can, only to be attacked by the media again. The Republicans are the real victims here.

  17. drj says:


    The Republicans are the real victims here.

    That goes without saying. Personally, I just love these tough-talking guys who can’t wait to dish it out, but turn into instant snowflakes the minute some uppity whatever has the gall to talk back to their natural betters.

  18. Tyrell says:

    This is commonly called Chicago style politics.
    “They stole it, fair and square.” (1960 presidential election)

  19. Kathy says:

    This is bad.

    The inevitable question is, do Democrats do the same thing when the situation si reversed?

    I’m not proposing that then it’s ok. That would be whataboutism. In fact, if the Democrats also do this, that only makes matters worse.

    Revolutions almost always have two components, a political and a social one. The former usually involves a large group of people who resent that the government does not take their will into account. It tends to be coupled with real or perceived abuses. See the American Revolution. It’s a classic example.

    You already have a vast segment of the population who have twice won the popular vote and lost the presidency, in particular the second occasion involved a big difference rather than a close result. Add now people who elect governors who won’t be able to govern. That increases the feeling that their will is not taken into account.

    Add the various ways in which the party in control of Congress, when there is one, stymies a president from the opposite party. I’d say also the party in control of congress and the presidency can just steamroll legislation, but that has not quite proven to be the case (see El Cheeto, years one and two)

    I’m not saying the US is headed towards revolution or civil war, but such things are more likely when the purpose of politics is not to govern, but to defeat the other side.

  20. Paine says:

    Don’t tell me… 40 years ago some democrat did something vaguely similar which completely justifies this sort outrageous behavior…

  21. Kathy says:

    Fake News, Everyone!

    This is obviously fake. For one thing, ti was published in CNN. Then they say the breach was noticed in April, but they’re not even talking about it until now. And the FBI apparently didn’t take their email serves. How can that be, if they were really hacked? Fake. Witch Hunt! They’re just sore they lost the election! Fake!

  22. Sleeping Dog says:

    There’s no reason that two months should elapse between the time the incoming administration and legislature takes over. The elections on Tuesday, they are the government on Wednesday.

  23. Jax says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Agreed. At the very least, be ready to be sworn in by Friday. No more lame duck power grabs.

    If Trump loses in 2020, there’s no way he’s going silently. I do not trust the US Senate to NOT pull some crap like this.

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: No, Chicago Style is actual voter fraud. The memoirs of the Cook County Clerk from the era describe printing up actual registration cards and sending people out in busses with captains to hand out the cards at each stop.

    The fact that people have to go back to when I was 9 [edit]8 years-old to find examples of actual Democratic Party voter fraud is also telling to me. But, I digress.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Paine: Closer to 60, I was 8 in 1960 and will be 67 this summer.

  26. rachel says:

    @Tyrell: Didn’t a bunchn of people who were Democrats switch over to the Republican Party in the decades after that?

    Why, yes, they did, and they brought their cheating ways over with them.

  27. KM says:


    The inevitable question is, do Democrats do the same thing when the situation si reversed?


    Look, whataboutism aside this *absolutely* cannot be allowed to stand. If Dems meekly accept being neutered when they gain power but turn around and give full power back to Republicans when their time comes, IT. WILL. NEVER. STOP. The traditional method of political correction in this country – voting – is being actively subverted by the losers to diminish it’s power. They are simply not playing by the agreed-upon rules and therefore no longer qualify for their protection. They’re not interested in upholding our democratic system as is but rather punishing those who stripped them of power as much as possible. If this is the new norm (and by all signs it has been for over two decades now), the Dems would be absolute fools to not accept the reality that their opponents would cheerfully booby-trap everything as one last FU out the door.

    Honestly, listening to some Dems talk about “preserving norms” is like listening to an abuse victim justify their beating by not wanting to disrupt their home life with police investigations. They are handing the Repubs the knife to cut them but worrying about how the scars will look later. Repubs want to strip power out of spite? Fine – make the law so that whatever changes you make to the office have a corresponding large negative effect on your own party that cannot be reversed for a decade or more. Make sure that if they want to ratf^ck somebody, they’ll need lube of their own. If we can’t stop the behavior, at least make it hurt enough so they’ll think twice.

  28. JohnMcC says:

    Hopefully this is off-topic, but the Atlantic has a very depressing article outlining the potential actions our President could take by simply declaring one of several kinds of ’emergency’. Like facing voters in ’20 who plainly don’t like him anymore?

    What the President Could Do/Elizabeth Goitein

  29. Tyrell says:

    @Kathy: I am certainly in agreement with you on this one. This network news situation is exactly what I and others have been talking about. It is an obsession with scandals, sleaze, and gossip (“uninformed source”). And there is the negativism, propaganda, hollering, and a depressing atmosphere. That is why I switched to other sources that are positive and educational – that reports facts and information. And apparently a lot of other people have left the mainstream news.
    News pioneers Ted Koppel, Ted Turner, and the amazing Larry King have noted the same thing:
    “it’s not news”.

  30. al Ameda says:


    The inevitable question is, do Democrats do the same thing when the situation is reversed? … I’m not proposing that then it’s ok. That would be whataboutism. In fact, if the Democrats also do this, that only makes matters worse.

    I’m still not sure why Republicans are allowed to be the Bolsheviks, while Democrats (often characterized and depicted by Republicans as angry Bolsheviks) actually end up looking on hopelessly in horror, distress, and anger?

    So, should Democrats grind the radical Republican greaseball opposition into maggot-dust? Absolutely.