Data Wonk

The Republican War Against Democracy

Details in lame duck bills show disdain for democracy by Vos and Fitzgerald.

By - Dec 5th, 2018 01:17 pm
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Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald.

Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald.

Taking advantage of the special “lame duck” session of the legislature, Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly have introduced five bills aimed at making it more difficult for Tony Evers to serve as an effective governor and Josh Kaul as an effective attorney general. As widely reported in the press, these bills were drafted in secrecy and scheduled for a vote the day after they were introduced.

The provisions in these bills mainly fall into two groups.

The first, echoing an earlier attempt by Republicans in North Carolina, would take away powers from Governor Evers that were enjoyed by Governor Scott Walker. In other cases, they would tie the hands of Attorney General Josh Kaul, in deciding what cases to take and which to drop. In most cases these powers taken from the governor or attorney general would be placed in the hands of legislative committees.

The second group of proposed changes in state law aims to make Evers’ first term into a twin of Walker’s third term, as though the governor not been defeated. These provisions convert numerous Walker-era policies into state law and place obstacles to changing them.

Additional provisions are aimed at advantaging Republicans and their allies in upcoming elections. There is a change in tax rules presumably aimed at rewarding their contributors.

What follows is a listing of the five bills. Whatever their fate (and some provisions have been amended or deleted since this writing) the fact of their introduction tells us a great deal about the character of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker, Rep. Robin Vos. Among the bills that were drafted (and described by the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau, or LRB, are these):

AB1069 has four parts. Parts 1 & 2 deal with highway funding. Part of the aim here seems to be to concentrate federal funding into a few mega-projects, so that smaller projects can be financed with only state and local funds, thus avoiding federal environmental requirements. Part 3 requires that tax revenue from internet sales must be used to reduce income taxes. Part 4 allows pass-through entities to pay less taxes.

AB1070 is a hodgepodge of 29 separate provisions by the LRB’s count, requiring 10 pages to list and summarize. The common theme is weakening the Attorney General and his Department of Justice (DOJ), the governor and state regulators.

For instance, it would require that all DOJ settlement awards go into the state’s general fund rather than remain with the department, cutting funds for investigation. It vastly increases the hiring of outside attorneys by permitting legislators to hire their own attorneys in disputes over statutes’ constitutionality and bypass the DOJ. In the words of the bill, the “speaker of the assembly, in his or her sole discretion, may obtain legal counsel other than from the department of justice …”

It would deprive the governor of control over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation‘s board and his ability to name the board’s CEO. It would also give Republicans the ability to appoint a majority of the state insurance board.

A number of the proposed provisions (basically those numbered 20 through 26, plus 29) are aimed at making rule making more difficult and cumbersome, weakening hearing examiners and allowing the legislature to intrude in the rule-making process. It instructs the courts that they should not defer to agencies. At the same time, it would make some administrative rules, such as those on identification cards, more difficult to modify by turning them into laws.

AB1071: This bill has two provisions aimed at giving Republicans an advantage in upcoming elections.

The first tries to help Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly win his spring 2020 re-election. It would move the presidential preference primary from April 7 to March 10. Although the court is legally nonpartisan, Kelly has established himself as a thoroughly right-wing partisan. The Republicans’ fear is that the presidential primary will cause an outpouring of turnout among Democrats and that most of those Democrats will vote for Kelly’s opponent. This, of course, assumes that no Republican will choose to run against Donald Trump.

Among other problems, this proposal would result in three elections within three months: a primary for state and local offices on February 18, the presidential primary three weeks later on March 10 and the state and local general election four weeks later on April 7.

The other provision aimed at winning elections attempts to overturn a federal court decision. Judge James Peterson ruled against Wisconsin’s law limiting early voting to two weeks before the election, leaving the decision up to the discretion of local governments. This provision tries to again restrict early voting.

AB1072: The thrust of this bill is to write various Walker administration and federal waivers into state law, locking Evers into Walker policies. These include a work requirement for Badgercare, drug screening for FoodShare applicants, prohibiting changes to the Walker reinsurance program and Medical Assistance plan, moving changes in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to the legislature, eliminating the ability of the Department of Workforce Development to waive work search requirements and specifying in detail how workforce training should be spent.

AB1073: This bill has 43 sections and runs to 141 pages. It seems to be an attempt to consolidate the other four bills.

Together the five bills paint an instructive overall picture of Vos and Fitzgerald. Most clearly, they are poor losers. Rather than accept the electorate’s decision, they are declaring war against the election winners and democracy in Wisconsin. They don’t just pick pick up their their ball and take it home, they slice it into little pieces so no one else can use it.

One reason that democracy has promoted moderation is the knowledge that fortunes may change. Today’s majority may become tomorrow’s minority. As a result, a party in power with intelligent leadership is motivated to think about a future when they are no longer in power. Will a proposal that looks good today still look good when the other party assumes the same power?

For Vos and Fitzgerald that is not a consideration: their answer is to establish two sets of laws, one for Republican administrations, a different set for Democrats. They neither understand nor support the concept embodied in John Adams’ comment “For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”

They also undermine democracy by assuring that the democratically elected government is a weak government, a government unable to fulfill its promises to the electorate. They are doing their utmost to turn the Evers administration into a Republican administration when it comes to policy, in effect trying to annul the election. They want to force Evers’ first term to duplicate Walker’s intended third term.

While declaring their disdain for democratic norms, Vos and Fitzgerald also show their contempt for other values. One is environmental protection as exemplified by their eagerness to avoid federal environmental rules on road projects and the amazing number of obstacles they would place on any kind of regulation, whether environmental or protecting consumers. They also show themselves as micromanagers, attempting to have the legislature intrude into all sorts of matters about which they have no expertise.

It appears that what we are seeing is a manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the finding that incompetent people often overestimate their abilities; whereas competent people know enough to understand the limits of their competence. This helps to explain why Vos and Fitzgerald are so eager to tell Evers what he should be doing. They are certain, without having to examine the evidence, that they are right.

For Democrats, Texas v. United States, the lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, is the gift that keeps on giving. No matter how often Republican candidates, including Leah Vukmir and Walker in Wisconsin, insisted they would protect people with preexisting conditions, their Democratic opponents could point to that case as proof that they lied. There it was right in the brief from Texas and Wisconsin: an explicit request that the judge rule against the ban on preexisting discrimination. It is puzzling, therefore, that Vos and Fitzgerald are so eager to continue Wisconsin’s participation in this case. Have they learned nothing from the last election?

Evers reached out to Republicans after the election. He was rewarded with a declaration of war. One lesson of history is that those who start wars often pay a heavy price.

More about the Lame Duck Laws

Categories: Data Wonk, Politics

One thought on “Data Wonk: The Republican War Against Democracy”

  1. Richard Marx says:

    The Republicans in Madison have just handed the Wisconsin Democrats an issue which will motivate much of the base to keep them involved until the 2020 elections. You would think that the Republican Party would be more concerned about their significant drop in support in the Milwaukee suburbs. Bruce Thompson’s statement about the Dunning-Kruger effect is on target.

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