Wisconsin’s gov defies protesters on lame-duck session
Madison, Wis. – Demonstrators booed outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday during a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, at times drowning out a high school choir with their own songs in protest of a Republican effort to gut the powers of his Democratic successor.
The governor, wearing a Santa tie, appeared unfazed as he flipped the switch while one protester shouted “Hey Walker! Go home!” He left without taking questions from reporters about the bills being considered in the rare lame-duck legislative session. Walker, who has signaled support for the measures, later tweeted that he “can handle the shouts,” but he urged protesters to “leave the kids alone.”
Stung by their election loss last month, Republicans treated the lame-duck session as a final opportunity to use their political clout to weaken the next governor before time runs out. Democrats, who won every statewide constitutional office after nearly a decade-long GOP hold on power, derided the session as a cynical attempt to preserve the party’s waning strength.
“If he wanted to put a stop to this, he could,” said Russ Hahn, a 53-year-old attorney holding a sign that said “GOP Grinch Steals Democracy.”
The fact that Walker was making no attempt to halt the effort “clearly indicates he wants to be able to control things outside the governor’s office for the next four or eight years,” Hahn said.
At one point Tuesday, the public was ordered removed from Senate galleries after repeated warnings to be quiet. Spectators shouted “Shame!” and hurled complaints at senators, temporarily halting debate. Less than an hour later, Republicans said they would let people back in.
The GOP proposals would weaken the governor’s ability to put in place rules that enact laws and shield the state jobs agency from his control. Republicans also want to limit early voting to no more than two weeks before an election.
Republicans were still working to reach final agreement on what exactly they would pass. Leaders from both the Senate and Assembly negotiated into the night.
Walker burst onto the national political scene in 2011 with an aggressive anti-union agenda. Many of the same protesters who confronted him then returned to the Capitol on Tuesday – albeit in far fewer numbers. Protests in 2011 reached 100,000, but only a few dozen were on hand this time.
“The first thing Scott Walker did when he walked through the door of the Capitol was to create chaos,” Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said during Senate debate. “The last thing he is doing is creating chaos.”
Democrats vowed to do all they could to stop the proposals, which would weaken both Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.
Some hinted at filibusters or legal challenges and called the lame-duck session “illegitimate.” Former Democratic attorney general and Gov. Jim Doyle said the moves were unconstitutional.
Never in Wisconsin history “has an extraordinary session been used to deny the will of the people and take away powers from the newly elected governor and newly elected attorney general,” Democratic Rep. Chris Taylor said.
Despite the victories by Evers, Kaul and other Democrats, the party gained no ground in the Legislature and blamed partisan gerrymandering by Republicans for stacking the electoral map against them.
A GOP-controlled committee approved the measures late Monday after a nine-hour public hearing where only one person testified in support of one provision. The panel rejected a proposal to move the 2020 presidential primary date from April to March amid nearly unanimous opposition from the state’s local election clerks.
“The people aren’t asking for this,” Taylor said during the hearing. “You did not run on this. You didn’t tell people you would do everything in your power to take away the power of a newly elected governor and attorney general . ..”
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