By TODD RICHMOND and SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday he is open to looking at ways to limit the power of the incoming governor, Tony Evers, before he takes office in January.
Vos told reporters that in a lame duck legislative session later this month or next, he would consider bills that would “rebalance” the powers of the executive and legislative branches of state government, without saying what limitations he’d be open to considering. Vos said he wanted to discuss his ideas with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican who was meeting with GOP senators on Thursday to elect leaders.
Evers, a Democrat, narrowly defeated Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday, setting up divided government in Wisconsin for the first time since 2008. Republicans maintained control in the Assembly and Senate, setting up the likelihood there would be gridlock with Evers.
Britt Cudaback, a spokesman for Evers, said it was “unfortunate” that Vos was “doubling down on division just hours after Governor-elect Evers called on Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald to set aside differences and work together on the pressing issues facing our state.”
Vos made it clear that Republicans would not be giving Evers a free pass, despite his victory, and would work to “continue to deliver on our conservative promises.”
“If he chooses to poke Republicans in the eye, he will end up getting very little of what he wants,” Vos said. “If he wants to argue about Act 10 and all of the things that make people who eat granola and live in downtown Madison happy, that is his right but that is not where common ground is going to be found.”
Evers’ victory is ushering in a realignment of political power in Wisconsin. The attorney general candidate Josh Kaul claimed victory over the Republican incumbent Brad Schimel and Democrats were elected to the positions of state treasurer and secretary of state. Those victories marked the first time since 1982 that Democrats will hold all those offices — although the Kaul’s victory remained too close to call. Schimel acknowledged on Wednesday it appeared Kaul had enough votes to win.
As governor, Evers will propose a state budget and the Republican Legislature will be able to rewrite it. Evers will then be able to use his extensive veto power and Republicans won’t have large enough majorities to override him.
Evers ran on a promise to scale back many of the conservative laws Walker and Republican lawmakers had enacted over eight years. That includes reducing tax credits for manufacturers and restoring at least some of the collective-bargaining rights that public-sector unions lost under Act 10.
He also has said he wants to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, money that Walker refused, as well as renegotiate a $3 billion incentives package Walker negotiated for the massive factory Foxconn Technology Group is building in Mount Pleasant. The company has said the plant could employ up to 13,000 people, but Evers said the incentives package, the largest in U.S. history to a foreign corporation, was too generous.
The GOP turned back every Democratic challenger in both the Assembly and Senate, although one race was still too close to call Wednesday. What’s more, the GOP flipped a Senate seat that Democrats had won in a special election this summer. By Wednesday, unofficial returns were showing the GOP had a 63-35 advantage in the Assembly and a 19-14 edge in the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling didn’t return a message. Other Democrats blamed their failure on GOP-drawn legislative district boundaries.
As required by law, Republicans re-drew the boundaries in 2011 to make them take into account population changes noted in the 2010 census. Democrats contend the GOP illegally drew the districts up in a way that gives them in an artificial advantage, packing their supporters together and dividing Democratic voters across districts.
Republicans forcefully deny that argument, saying the districts were drawn fairly.
Democrats filed a federal lawsuit three years ago challenging the lines as unconstitutional. After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case earlier this year, it remains pending. A trial is set for April in Madison.
“The data are clear that the state is evenly divided but the Legislature has massive majorities for one party because they rigged the maps,” said Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Election Project, which organized the lawsuit. “Legislative results don’t match up with what is happening across the state. The evidence now is even clearer. (Tuesday’s election) reinforces the case that the maps are rigged. And all that evidence is in play in April.”
If Democrats lose in court they’ll have to live with the maps for the elections in 2020. The Legislature is scheduled to re-draw the boundaries again in 2021 in response to the 2020 census. Evers will be finishing the third year of his first term in 2021 and would be able to veto any maps the GOP proposes. That would force a federal judge to break the impasse and draw the maps himself.
“Either way we’re going to get fairer maps for the 2022 elections,” Chheda said.