Cynics who argue politicians do nothing but take care of themselves are feasting this week on a lame-duck legislative session hatched by Republicans in an effort to weaken their Democratic rivals.
Rarely in Wisconsin have politicians moved so quickly and recklessly to consolidate power, showing little regard for unintended consequences. The state Senate and Assembly rushed to pass a package of bills Wednesday and failed to give agencies and the public adequate time to consider the changes. Except for a last-minute protest, the public had no say in crafting these proposals.
This is partisanship at its worst, at least by Wisconsin standards.
It’s also far from clear this power grab is politically wise for Republicans. Republicans moved to curb the authority of the state attorney general and governor—apparently unable to envision a scenario in which Republicans reclaim these posts in four years—at the risk of later handcuffing themselves. Republicans also didn’t consider the precedent they’re setting should Democrats someday control the Legislature and decide they want to make similar mischief.
Republican legislators seem only capable of fuming over their November defeats and seeking revenge.
And it’s laughable to hear Republican claims of pure motives.
Legislators, including Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, say they merely want a “more equal branch of government,” as if they planned all along to restrict Gov. Scott Walker’s power had he defeated Tony Evers. The Legislature voted in 2011 to give Walker more authority in adopting administrative rules for state agencies. Now, suddenly, Republicans say they went too far and voted Wednesday to reverse that 2011 law.
We’re not saying the 2011 law, Act 21, is good policy. Other proposals adopted Wednesday may also be worthy of consideration, such as making law a reinsurance program aimed at lowering health insurance premiums. But the timing and process stink, sullying the entire Republican effort.
Thankfully, the Legislature avoided enacting the worst of the bad proposals, which would have moved the 2020 Democratic presidential primary to help a Republican Supreme Court candidate win his April 2020 election.
One of the most heavy-handed measures enacted Wednesday is the restriction placed on Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, who has promised along with Evers to withdraw the state from a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. In a bid to stop Kaul, a bill passed Wednesday puts the Legislature in charge of litigation and spending any settlements.
Walker has indicated he will sign these measures, and if he does, it wouldn’t be out of character. For all the good Walker did in lowering taxes and promoting a business-friendly environment in Wisconsin, his election in 2010 marked the beginning of one of this state’s most divisive political eras. He will have entered office in much of the same way he left it—enveloped in controversy and unable to bring opposing sides together.
Evers has so far resisted taking a divide-and-conquer approach to policy making, stating he will seek “common ground.” It would be understandable if he were to take office in January feeling embittered, but Wisconsin doesn’t need more partisan rancor. It needs a governor who will work with both parties and pursue compromise whenever possible, someone to unite the state.