In what critics are calling a bald-faced power play, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed a set of bills Friday that restrict the powers of the governor—just as a Democrat is set to replace him.
In exchange, the laws will expand the power of the Legislature, which remains in Republican control. According to the Associated Press, the measures will effectively prevent Governor-elect Tony Evers and incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul from delivering on some of their campaign promises to withdraw from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, as the governor will no longer have the ability to withdraw from certain legal actions without facing a potential veto from the Legislature. The governor will also be stripped of his ability to get rid of the state’s Medicaid work requirement and will no longer have full power to appoint members of a state economic board. In other areas of governing, the Legislature will have to sign off on his changes to certain programs as well as certain settlements by the attorney general.
The laws also eliminate the state Department of Justice’s solicitor general’s office, which outgoing Attorney General Brad Schimel used to file partisan lawsuits challenging Democratic laws, according to the AP. The elimination of the office will limit the means Kaul has to challenge Republican-authored laws.
Separately, the other laws in the lame duck package will restrict early in-person voting to just two weeks before an election, when previously voting could take place as early as almost seven weeks in some cities. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised later Friday that his advocacy group, the National Redistricting Foundation, would sue to block the limitation on early voting.
Upon learning Walker had not vetoed the laws, Evers accused him of betraying the will of the public, a majority of whom voted in a Democrat. He also said he would explore his options, and he has not ruled out a legal challenge. Walker has dismissed the criticism as “hype and hysteria,” arguing in a statement that the laws did not “fundamentally diminish executive authority” and that “the new governor will continue to be one of the most powerful chief executives in the country.”
The news broke as a similar plot appeared to unfold in Michigan, where the Republican lawmakers are scrambling to limit the power of their state executives ahead of the governor and secretary of state positions flipping to Democrats. On Friday, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation from a lame-duck session to scale back minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that once began as more ambitious citizen-led initiatives. The Republicans in the Legislature have not yet passed laws meant to curtail the power of the governor, but a number of measures to do so have advanced to the final scheduled session days.