‘Wisconsin Has Never Seen Anything Like This’


They said plainly that they were worried that Evers would have too much power to undo conservative policies enacted over the past eight years under Governor Scott Walker, the Republican whose bid for a third term was rejected. So, the Republicans explained, they needed to take back some of that power before Evers had a chance to use it. “We do not believe that any one individual who would have the opportunity to come in and with the stroke of a pen eliminate laws that have been passed by our legislature and found constitutional by our courts,” said Robin Vos, the speaker of the state assembly, in a briefing with reporters before an all-night session of the legislature.

“We did have an election,” Vos continued. “Whether everyone here likes it, I respect the fact that Tony Evers is the governor and is going to be starting on January 7. But he’s not the governor today, and that’s why we are going to make sure that the powers of each branch are as equal as they can be.”

“The system,” Vos said, “right now is heavily weighted toward the executive.”

When Walker was governor, the imbalance of power was not a problem, Republicans readily admitted. “We trusted Scott Walker,” state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told a conservative radio host Monday. “We don’t trust Tony Evers right now in a lot of areas.”

Vos said Republicans, including Walker, had been discussing some of their proposals as far back as the spring. But the idea of stripping so much authority from the governor and the attorney general was not litigated during the election, Democratic state Senator Jon Erpenbach said. “There was no talk of this happening until now,” he told me in an interview.

What was litigated during the campaign was many of the pledges that Evers and Kaul made that, because of the legislature’s moves on Wednesday, they may now be powerless to carry out. Both had said they would withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on insurer discrimination against people with preexisting conditions. If Walker signs the new law, they would have to get the legislature’s approval first. Evers also vowed to disband the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the entity that signed and oversees the state’s much-criticized contract with FoxConn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer. Under a bill passed Wednesday, the legislature would assume temporary power over the WEDC, and Evers would lose the ability to appoint its leader.

The GOP’s response to the Democratic victories in Wisconsin appears to be modeled on what Republicans in North Carolina did to weaken the Democrat Roy Cooper after he won the governorship in 2016. And in Michigan, Republican legislators are considering similar legislation to shift power away from the incoming Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who will succeed Republican Rick Snyder next month.