Wisconsin Republicans Try to Shrink Power of New Democratic Governor

Facing the prospect of sharing political power for the first time in almost a decade, Republicans in Wisconsin are racing to set new limits on the authority of Democrats who will soon take over the offices of governor and attorney general.

It was the latest effort by leaders of a state to try to shift authority in the face of an election loss, and it set off furious protests from Wisconsin Democrats, who said they would not stand for the moves and called on residents to raise loud objections.

Republicans called lawmakers to the state capital this week to weigh a sweeping plan that could diminish the power of Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Gov. Scott Walker last month, by restricting his ability to shift how public benefits programs are run and limiting his authority to set rules for carrying out state laws.

The long list of proposals Republicans want to consider also includes wide efforts to shore up Republican strength before Mr. Evers is sworn in next month: new limits to early voting, a shift in the timing of the 2020 presidential primary in Wisconsin, and new authority for lawmakers on state litigation.

In recent years, single parties have come to dominate state legislatures, allowing lawmakers to make significant policy changes in states even as Washington wrestled with gridlock. But an imminent return to shared power following November’s elections has set off a flurry of rushed, legislative battles in places including Wisconsin and Michigan, where Democrats regained governor’s offices in capitals that Republicans fully controlled for years.

In Michigan, Republican lawmakers are considering proposals that would give them more authority to intervene in legal fights and would shift oversight of campaign finance — efforts that Democrats say are aimed at shrinking the authority of their leaders, including Gretchen Whitmer, who won the governor’s race there.

The moves in Wisconsin this week are similar to efforts in North Carolina in 2016, where Republicans in the General Assembly tried to restrict the power of the governor after a Democrat was narrowly elected to the post. That set off a bitter court battle that continues to this day.

In Wisconsin, Democrats and liberal groups were already voicing outrage — calling the Republicans’ proposals for slashing Mr. Evers’s authority a blatant power grab and a rejection of the election outcome. Some said they were considering legal action against any legislation the Republicans may try to push through this week.

Republicans, who will retain their legislative majorities under the Democratic governor, have defended the hastily introduced package of bills as a necessary check on executive power.

Members of the public filled an overflow room at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Monday. Democrats had called on residents to raise loud objections to a set of Republican measures.

“Wisconsin law, written by the Legislature and signed into law by a governor, should not be erased by the potential political maneuvering of the executive branch,” said Robin Vos, the speaker of the State Assembly, and Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican leader in the State Senate, in a joint statement last week.

Mr. Evers condemned the proposals and urged Wisconsin residents to speak up against them. He said Republicans were trying “to take us back to Nov. 6” and change the election results.

“We’re not going backwards in time to revote this election,” Mr. Evers said. “I won.” Mr. Evers said he hoped to persuade the legislative chambers — both of which are controlled by Republicans — to vote down the bills. If that fails, Mr. Evers said, a “Plan B” could include litigation.



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