Republicans’ Plan for Permanent Power
They began plotting last spring to retain power even if a Democrat won for governor.
Amid the outrage over the Republicans’ lame duck legislation has been the repeated salvo that they are simply “sore losers,” as many Democrats have charged. But the narrative this suggests — of petty and partisan mischief making — completely misses the point of what’s really happening here. As a recent story in the New York Times reported, the planning for this sweeping 141-page legislative package began last spring — more than half a year ago. This is not an upsurge of angry revenge, but a cooly-plotted, long-term scheme to assure Republicans continue to hold power permanently in Wisconsin.
The unstated goal is to assure that Governor-elect Tony Evers is so constrained by the legislature that he fails as governor, much as the chief objective for Republican U.S. Senate leader Mitch McConnell, as he declared it, was to make sure Democratic President Barack Obama failed. And Evers’ failure will then make it much easier for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to run for governor in 2022, which he is expected to do, as Urban Milwaukee columnist Steven Walters wrote yesterday. His column offered a revealing look at the thinking of Republican leaders, who see Evers as a weakling they can easily push around.
Vos and Fitzgerald have been planning their scheme since the special legislative elections won by Democrats in the last year, followed by the decisive victory of moderate liberal Rebecca Dallet in the April 3 election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. These were clear signs that a blue wave was coming, as Walker himself warned.
It was sometime that spring, that “Vos said he had met with the governor and Mr. Fitzgerald to discuss ideas to rein in executive power,” the Times reported.
Vos told the Times he had an interest in restricting the governor’s power and that some provisions being passed would have introduced even if Walker had won re-election. But if so, why hadn’t that been done in the eight years they held power? And why would Walker agree to meet about restricting his power?
The more likely scenario was that all three were mapping out ways to constrain the governor should a Democrat win. As the Times reported, Vos and other Republicans “acknowledged the obvious: Some of the provisions passed this week would not have been put forward had Mr. Evers lost.”
Actually it’s difficult to think of any change contained in the lame-duck bills that Walker or the legislators would have favored had he been reelected. Fitzgerald told the Times he and Vos had conferred about how best to “put on solid ground” some of the policies the Republicans had advanced during eight years of full control of state government. “We were kicking it around, nervous about the way the elections were going to go,” Fitzgerald said.
But while Democrats swept all the statewide offices, the red wall Republicans built with gerrymandered legislative districts held firm. Moreover, GOP leaders felt Evers did not win overwhelming statewide support, “so they could take him on in a history-making way,” Walters reports. “After all, Republicans reasoned, Evers won largely because voters in two counties – Dane and Milwaukee – favored him over Walker by a stunning margin of 288,915 votes…Evers winning margin of only 29,227 votes was ‘no mandate’… (as) Vos told his caucus when they met to re-elect him speaker.”
And no mandate meant they could rewrite state laws with no fear of punishment from voters. Moreover, Vos and Fitzgerald “have never considered Evers their political equal in take-no-prisoners Capitol wars,” Walters reveals. “So, they thought he would struggle to offer a quick response to their rewrite of the rules of governing.… After all, Evers had a ‘Tony too nice’ reputation.”
And so the two legislators and Walker loaded up the lame duck bills with constraints on the governor’s power, while Walker appointed a massive list of 81 Republican loyalists to various state boards and commissions.
Walker and Vos told Walters they “didn’t include some of the most radical steps they had considered. That not-so-subtle message is: ‘It could have been worse.’”
But that was only because they knew they couldn’t get away with it. They dropped their plan to move the date of the 2010 presidential election only after it came out that would cost taxpayers $6.8 million and after county clerks across the state and the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Board opposed three straight months of elections as practically impossible to administer. As for trying to cut back the governor’s veto, which Republicans say they were too nice to include, there is a long history of court cases in Wisconsin upholding this powerful veto power.
Evers ran on a platform of increasing state funding to K-12 schools, and Vos has already made it clear the legislature won’t approve this. Evers wants to provide more health care coverage, but Republicans will oppose his plan to accept the more than $1 billion in federal Medicaid money Walker rejected. And the lame duck legislation prevents Evers and Kaul from opting out of the lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act and its coverage of pre-existing conditions. Vos would likely work with Evers to increase highway funding, but an increase in such funding will make more funding for schools all the more impossible.
As for Kaul, the legislation takes away his solicitor general, which leaves him less ability to pursue high profile legal suits, and takes away his power to determine how funds won through court cases are distributed — something attorney generals of both parties have used to win favor with voters. Republicans have done everything they could think of to make it harder to Evers and Kaul to govern effectively and win reelection.
Vos has insisted the legislature “hasn’t taken away” any of the governor’s power and suggested his critics were “grossly exaggerating” the impact of the lame duck legislation. That claim was repeated in an especially slippery column for Atlantic by sort of conservative but always opportunistic commentator Charlie Sykes, who called on Walker to not sign the legislation, while claiming the 141 pages of legislation accomplishes “extraordinarily little.”
In short all the planning by Walker, Vos and Fitzgerald since last spring was just to accomplish some “de minimus” legislation, Sykes contends.
This disingenuous claim is deliberate, to prevent independent voters in Wisconsin — who opposed the 2012 recall as an attempt to wrongly overthrow their elected governor — from deciding Republican legislators are now doing the same sort of thing to a Democratic winner. That is clearly the message Evers is trying to convey to voters.
Certainly, the new governor still has powers he can use to his advantage in determining his approach to governing. But it should begin with a clear realization: this “history making” legislation that passed with barely any public discussion is merely the first battle of a four-year war that Vos and Fitzgerald intend to wage against Evers. Your move, too-nice Tony.
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More about the Lame Duck Laws
- Judge Blocks Lame Duck Voting Restrictions - Laurel White - Jan 18th, 2019
- Rep. Jimmy Anderson Seeks to Void the Wisconsin Power Grab - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Jan 10th, 2019
- Op Ed: Lame Duck Mischief Defamed the State - Spencer Black - Jan 2nd, 2019
- Campaign Cash: Lame Duck Law Helped Ashley Furniture - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 20th, 2018
- Op Ed: Liberals All Wrong on Early Voting Law - Rick Esenberg - Dec 20th, 2018
- Op Ed: We the Irrelevant People - Sheila Plotkin - Dec 19th, 2018
- History Repeats With Latest Post-Election Republican Attack on Early Voting - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 19th, 2018
- Kaul Calls Lame Duck Laws ‘Terrible’ - Mary Kate McCoy - Dec 19th, 2018
- Court Challenge to Voting Restrictions Filed - Laurel White - Dec 18th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: State Facing Endless Lawsuits? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 18th, 2018
- One Wisconsin Institute Files Request for Court to Enforce Rulings Striking Down Republican Lame Duck Restrictions on Voting - One Wisconsin Institute - Dec 17th, 2018
- Motion to Block Early Voting Restrictions to be Filed Today - Citizen Action of Wisconsin - Dec 17th, 2018
- Carpenter: Require ‘Lame Duck” Bills to Supermajority Votes - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Dec 17th, 2018
- Op Ed: Lame Duck Bills Too Rushed, Secretive - Erin Grunze - Dec 16th, 2018
- Walker Signs Lame Duck Bills - Laurel White - Dec 14th, 2018
- Rep. Zamarripa Statement on Lame Duck Bills - State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa - Dec 14th, 2018
- One Wisconsin Institute Announces Coming Legal Action Against GOP ‘Lame Duck’ Voting Rights Attacks - One Wisconsin Institute - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor Walker just sealed his legacy as the worst Governor in state history - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Extraordinary Session Legislation into Law in Green Bay - Gov. Scott Walker - Dec 14th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers Statement on Kimberly-Clark Announcement - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 13th, 2018
- Walker Defends Lame Duck Bills - Laurel White - Dec 12th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: Republicans’ Plan for Permanent Power - Bruce Murphy - Dec 11th, 2018
- Lame Duck Law Adds Work For State Agencies - Rich Kremer - Dec 11th, 2018
- Lawmakers Change How WEDC Tracks Jobs - Laurel White - Dec 10th, 2018
- Op Ed: Republican Power Grab Unprecedented - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 10th, 2018
- The State of Politics: 5 Reasons for Republican Power Play - Steven Walters - Dec 10th, 2018
- Campaign Cash: WMC Behind New Anti-Regulation Bill - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Dec 7th, 2018
- Wisconsin Budget: One More Tax Cut For The Wealthy - Tamarine Cornelius - Dec 7th, 2018
- City Beat: Episode 002 - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 6th, 2018
- Lame-Duck Bill Changes Highway Funding - Rich Kremer - Dec 6th, 2018
- Murphy’s Law: What Will Scott Walker’s Legacy Be? - Bruce Murphy - Dec 6th, 2018
- Governor Walker: What Will Your Message To Gov.-Elect Evers Be? - State Sen. Tim Carpenter - Dec 6th, 2018
- WI & MI GOP Attempt to Undermine the Voice of Voters, Put Democracy and Safety at Risk - Democratic Attorneys General Association - Dec 6th, 2018
- Your Right to Know: Lame Duck Laws All About Secrecy - Dee J. Hall - Dec 5th, 2018
- Data Wonk: The Republican War Against Democracy - Bruce Thompson - Dec 5th, 2018
- Extraordinary Session Update: Legislature Approves Critical Reforms - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Dec 5th, 2018
- Rep. Gwen Moore Statement on Republican Power Grab - U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore - Dec 5th, 2018
- Statement on Lame Duck Session - State Rep. Evan Goyke - Dec 5th, 2018
- Legislature Works Overnight To Curb Evers Power - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Dec 5th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers Statement on Extraordinary Session - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 5th, 2018
- Republican’s Holiday Gift to Wisconsin: An Assault on Democracy - State Sen. Janis Ringhand - Dec 5th, 2018
- Unprecedented Power Grab Will Break Wisconsin for Years to Come - State Sen. Chris Larson - Dec 5th, 2018
- Senator Taylor Believes GOP Are Taking Career Ending Votes - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Dec 4th, 2018
- Bill Curbing Evers’ Power Moves to Legislature - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Dec 4th, 2018
- Extraordinary Session Policy Items Flying Under the Radar - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Dec 4th, 2018
- Will Republican Legislature Risk Contempt With Scheme to Enact New Limits on Early Voting? - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 4th, 2018
- Representative Lisa Subeck Statement on the Extraordinary Session - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Dec 4th, 2018
- Power Tends to Corrupt, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely - State Rep. Jimmy Anderson - Dec 4th, 2018
- Governor-elect Tony Evers’ Testimony to the Joint Committee on Finance Opposing Extraordinary Session Legislation - Gov. Tony Evers - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Eight Days After November Election Republican Assembly Leader Robin Vos Requested New Restrictions on Early Voting - One Wisconsin Now - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Op Ed: GOP Bills Change 400 Sections of State Law - State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Rep. Brostoff Statement on Republican Effort to Override Will of Wisconsin Voters - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Conservation Voters issue statement on lame duck bills - Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Evers Will Fight Plan to Limit His Power - Corri Hess - Dec 3rd, 2018
- GOP Lame Duck Session Targets Evers - Laurel White - Dec 3rd, 2018
- ACLU of Wisconsin’s Board of Directors condemns lame duck session - American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Stop the Wisconsin GOP power grab - Indivisible Madison - Dec 3rd, 2018
- Election defeat leads to GOP temper tantrum - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Nov 30th, 2018
- Vos Republicans: ‘Too Many People Voted’ - One Wisconsin Now - Nov 30th, 2018