Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin told me on Monday that the GOP effort to kneecap the incoming governor was “more becoming of a Third World country than the state of Wisconsin.”
“They saw what happened in North Carolina. They’re clearly trying to duplicate that,” said Pocan, a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who served for years in the state legislature before winning his seat representing Madison in Congress.
The Michigan GOP proposals did not go as far and were not moving quite as fast as those in Wisconsin, but they would similarly shift power to intervene in litigation from the governor’s and attorney general’s offices to the legislature, where Republicans maintain a majority. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer captured the governorship last month after Republican Rick Snyder ran the state for two terms. Democrats also won the offices of attorney general and secretary of state, and another lame-duck GOP proposal would move campaign-finance authority from the secretary of state to a six-person bipartisan commission, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Among the GOP proposals in Wisconsin is an attempt to slice early voting to just two weeks from as many as six. And Republicans would change the date of Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential primary in what Democrats said was an obvious attempt to lower turnout for a separate state-supreme-court election scheduled for the same day.
The limits on the power of the governor and attorney general to decide whether the state signs on to—or removes itself from—litigation is clearly aimed at Evers’s and Kaul’s pledge to take Wisconsin out of a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurers cover people with preexisting conditions. “The core promise of the winning candidates for governor and attorney general would be blocked by this power grab,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of MoveOn.org.
Wikler spoke to me by phone from a packed hearing room at the state capitol in Madison, where legislators were considering a 141-page plan that was unveiled only on Friday. After a lengthy hearing Monday afternoon, the state Assembly and Senate could vote on the package on Tuesday. Wikler said the hearing and two overflow rooms were filled with opponents of the GOP plan, and hundreds “if not thousands” more were expected to demonstrate on the steps outside.
But without a majority in either legislative chamber, Democrats were powerless to stop the bills on their own. “There’s a small chance to beat it back,” Pocan told me, “but the likelihood is they have the votes unless people really are heard.”
Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Assembly, defended the moves on a local radio show as ensuring “that each of the branches [of government has] an opportunity to negotiate at the table equally.” But he did not explain why GOP legislators did not feel a need to beef up their authority while Walker was in office, and he made clear that lawmakers wanted to prevent Evers from undermining state laws implementing voter-ID rules and work requirements for Medicaid. Vos acknowledged that the legislature should have acted earlier to move the presidential primary, but he said the change was not aimed at securing a conservative seat on the Supreme Court but rather at separating nonpartisan local elections from the all-consuming White House contest.