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Wisconsin Senate’s Move To Undermine An Incoming Democratic Governor, Explained

Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled state Legislature passed a number of measures Wednesday to cripple the authority of the state’s incoming Democratic leaders, including Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.

Two-term Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who narrowly lost his re-election bid last month, is expected to sign the package into law before he leaves office in January.

So… how did this happen and what does it mean?

Evers, the state schools superintendent, defeated Walker by a razor-thin margin in the midterm election on Nov. 6, securing what appeared to be a major victory for Democrats in the Midwest given the abundance of GOP-controlled governors’ offices and state legislatures in the region.

But instead of giving Evers a chance to reach across the aisle, Republican lawmakers decided to throw “a tantrum” over Walker’s ouster, as state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) put it to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month.

In an effort to maintain control of the state government, Republican lawmakers pushed through legislation that would kneecap the state’s newly elected Democratic leaders ― essentially undermining the will of the state’s midterm voters. Here are a few ways their proposals would have an effect:

Strip the governor of power to approve major actions by the attorney general

Republican lawmakers would take control of these decisions under their new bill, which suggests Evers and Kaul would be blocked from withdrawing Wisconsin from a federal lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act ― one of Evers’ campaign promises.

Limit the governor’s control of public benefits programs

Under one proposal, Evers would have to seek permission from the Wisconsin Legislature before requesting changes to programs run jointly by the state and federal governments.

Limit early voting

The bill limits early voting to no earlier than two weeks before Election Day in municipalities statewide. In recent years, some communities have offered several weeks of early voting to make it easier for people to get to the polls.

The measure challenges a 2016 federal court ruling that struck down previous early voter restrictions for “intentionally [discriminating] on the basis of race.”

“Wisconsin’s restrictions on the hours for in-person absentee voting have had a disparate effect on African Americans and Latinos,” Judge James Peterson wrote in his decision. “The intent was to secure partisan advantage.”

Since Latino and African-American voters tend to favor Democratic candidates, the measure now awaiting Walker’s signature is considered likely to benefit Republican candidates.

At least one law firm has said it will challenge the measure if it is signed into law.

Give Republicans full control of a state economic development agency

Walker created the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation in 2011 as a private-public agency that would grant loans to companies looking to grow. Soon, however, the project was littered with mismanagement scandals.

Evers campaigned on reorganizing if not shutting down the ineffective WEDC. But under the Republicans lawmakers’ bill, the incoming governor would be stripped of his authority to oversee the agency, Instead, the Legislature would be able to appoint as many people to the board as Evers would, and the governor would be barred from appointing the board’s chief executive. 

Eliminate the office of the solicitor general

The bill would shutter the recently created office of the solicitor general within the state’s Justice Department, which is in charge of high-profile litigation. 

The solicitor general, a position that exists in the vast majority of states, reports to the attorney general, whose power would also be hindered under the GOP’s bill.

Strip the attorney general of power to determine how to spend settlement winnings

Under their proposal, the Republican-controlled Legislature would assume this authority.

Prohibit the governor from banning guns in the state Capitol without lawmakers’ approval

And since Republicans control the state Legislature, Evers’ push to ban firearms on the property would be all but guaranteed to fail.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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