Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says this extraordinary session is needed to restore balance of power between the governor and the Legislature. But he didn’t shy away from saying he wanted keep Republican legislation in place under a Democratic governor. “We did have an election,” Vos says. “Whether everyone here likes it or not, I respect the fact that Tony Evers is the governor and he’s going to be starting on January 7. But he’s not the governor today.”
Senate Republicans approved more than 80 last minute staff appointments — over the objections of Governor-elect Evers. That includes two appointments to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents. Many of the appointees didn’t receive a public hearing, prompting sharp words from Democratic Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee. “Are those the normal procedures that normally happen when individuals are not sore losers from the election,” Taylor asked of Republicans lawmakers. That spurred laughter and jeers from onlookers in the gallery, which prompted Senate President Roger Roth to kick them all out. Senators voted across party lines to approve all the appointments. Regular citizens aren’t the only ones speaking out against the last minute Republican measures.
Former Governor Jim Doyle called these moves by the GOP unprecedented. He says the transition from Republican Gov. Scott McCallum’s administration before him was much smoother. “He actually made a point at that time of saying that he felt that it was important for the public to see that democracy works,” Doyle says. “Even when he was on the losing end of that he was committed to making sure that people understood that it’s our democracy that matters more than whether one party or another happens to be holding on to power.” Prior to being governor, Doyle served as attorney general for more than a decade, a position Republicans are attempting to make less powerful in their sweeping proposals.
Doyle says he was able to work well with Republican Governor Tommy Thompson even when they disagreed politically. “Never once when he was angry with the Attorney General did he ever go to the Legislature and say ‘let’s curtail the Attorney General’s power,'” Doyle says. One of the proposals allows the legislature’s joint finance committee — rather than the attorney general — power to intervene in lawsuits that involve the state. The finance committee, like the rest of the legislature, is controlled by Republicans.
Midwest Environmental Advocates lawyer Sarah Greer says that could impact the kinds of settlements they’re involved in. “This would allow the joint finance committee an opportunity to oversee the process and maybe reject a settlement offer the parties agree to, which would prolong litigation and clog up the courts and would basically insert the legislature into the department of justice,” Greer says. The bills would also allow state officials to hire their own private attorneys on state-related lawsuits, rather than use the state attorney general.
The GOP lame-duck measures drew hundreds of protesters to the Wisconsin State Capitol last night and more today. For some, it was their first-ever political protest, while for others it evoked the historic Act 10 demonstrations in 20-11. Protesters returned Tuesday as lawmakers convened for sessions that could go until midnight or beyond. Some even heckled the governor at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
On Monday night, hundreds of protesters stormed the Wisconsin State Capitol to demonstrate their opposition to what they call a power grab by the party that lost control of the executive branch. In a rare lame duck session, Republicans are pushing bills that could prevent Democratic Governor-Elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-Elect Josh Kaul from implementing key parts of the platform they campaigned on.
James Korlack of Lake Mills says he is dissatisfied with how quickly the bills are moving through the legislature. “I oppose the fact they they are passing these power grabs over the weekend, without letting people say anything and just ignoring the will of the voters.”
For Julianne Zweifel of Madison, this move breaks Wisconsin’s long tradition of peaceful transitions of power. “It’s one of the foundations of our democracy. What’s happening now is a power grab and it’s entirely to the benefit of Republicans.” Zweifel feels that the GOP can’t claim a public mandate for their actions because she feels they won their seats unfairly. “The Assembly was put in power through gerrymandering. They don’t actually represent the majority of Wisconsinites. And this is just furthering that problem.”
Kathryn Martin of Madison, expressed a similar pessimism of state politics. “The people voted and they’re just not listening to the will of the people. Here we are again after Act 10. Nobody listened to us then. Hopefully they’ll listen to us now. But it’s not looking good. ” Marilyn Malot from Beloit says she doesn’t buy the argument from Republicans that the bills are about balancing power. “I think that’s kind of hog wash. Because if they felt that it needed to be rebalanced, why didn’t they do this before a lame duck session?”
Charlie Farmer, also from Beloit, said it was the plan to cutt early voting to only two weeks that brought him to the Capitol for his first ever protest. “Why would anyone in America want to restrict votes? It’s not believable. Not in my America.” No one testified in favor of the bills at last night’s public hearing.
Governor-elect Tony Evers condemned the bills and says he is exploring a legal challenge should they be passed by the legislature.