By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans, just weeks away from losing control of both the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, planned to take big lame-duck votes Tuesday on a sweeping attempt to limit the powers of incoming Democrats, a step that opponents decried as a last-gasp power grab and attempt to invalidate the election.
At the same time, a separate Republican proposal, one that would move the 2020 presidential primary election from April to March, appears to be dead. A Republican-controlled committee did not advance the plan on Monday after top GOP officials said it didn’t have enough votes to pass.
The other legislation, if approved by the Legislature, would go to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature just five weeks before he is replaced by his Democratic successor, Tony Evers. Even as Evers won his election, Republicans maintained majority control of the state Legislature in November. The rare lame-duck session they’ve organized gives Walker one more chance to leave a mark on the state after losing his bid for a third term last month.
At a sometimes raucous hearing that ran deep into the night on Monday, all one person testified against the proposed legislation. The bill sponsors, meanwhile, broke from normal practice by not appearing or sending surrogates to speak.
“The people aren’t asking for this,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, a Democrat from Madison. “You did not run on this. You didn’t tell people you would do everything in your power to take away the power of a newly elected governor and attorney general. You rig the system when you win and you rig the system when you lose.”
Rep. John Nygren, a Republican and a chairman of the Joint Finance Committee, downplayed the lame-duck proposals, saying the goal was to balance the power of the Legislature and governor. Nygren said the legislation would “bring us together to solve the problems of the state.”
Evers, Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul and other opponents urged Republicans to reject the proposals. Protesters flooded the Capitol on Monday, chanting “Shame!” and occasionally disrupted the public hearing and a news conference with Republican leaders.
The lame-duck maneuvering in Wisconsin is similar to what Republicans did in North Carolina two years ago and to what is being discussed in Michigan before a Democratic governor takes over there. The bills were moving quickly in Wisconsin, having just been made public late Friday afternoon.
Walker signaled support for the proposals on Monday, and his office has been working with Republicans on the legislation. Evers, for his part, called the unusual lame-duck session “rancor and politics as usual.” The last lame-duck session in Wisconsin was in 2010 when Democrats tried unsuccessfully to enact labor agreements.
Republicans had proposed moving the date of the 2020 presidential primary to improve the chances of election prospects of a conservative Supreme Court justice, who was appointed by Walker and is on the ballot that year. But election clerks objected, saying the change would cost the state $7 million.
The proposal to move the primary date didn’t even get a vote in the committee. Republican committee co-chairs said after the meeting that it didn’t have votes in the Senate to pass.
The remaining proposals would weaken the governor’s ability to put in place rules that enact laws and shield the state jobs agency from his control.
Republicans also want to restrict early voting to two weeks before elections.
Other measures would weaken the attorney general’s office by allowing Republican legislative leaders to intervene in cases and hire their own attorneys. A legislative committee, rather than the attorney general, would have to sign off on withdrawing from federal lawsuits. That would stop Evers and Kaul from fulfilling their campaign promises to withdraw Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit seeking the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
They made opposition to that lawsuit a central part of both of their campaigns. Democrats have responded by arguing that Republicans, in restricting their ability to get out of the lawsuit, are trying to invalidate the will of voters.
Opponents have said many of the bill, if passed, are likely to be challenged in court, a prospect that’s likely to bring mire state government in gridlock next year.