MADISON, Wis.— Wisconsin Republicans were moving quickly Monday with a rare lame-duck session that would move the 2020 presidential primary date and make sweeping changes to the duties of the governor and attorney general’s offices.
The changes being sought would shift power to the GOP-controlled Legislature and allow outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker to make one last major mark on the state’s political landscape after he lost re-election in November.
Democrats, including Gov.-elect Tony Evers, have decried the moves as a power grab, threatened lawsuits and said the changes could create gridlock.
A Republican-controlled legislative committee planned a public hearing immediately followed by a vote Monday, which would set up approval Tuesday in the state Senate and Assembly. The votes to pass the sweeping package of bills would come about a month before Evers is slated to take office.
Evers decried the lame-duck session — the first in Wisconsin in eight years — as an embarrassment and an attempt to invalidate the results of the November election where Democrats won every constitutional office, including governor and attorney general.
He vowed to fight it, saying lawsuits were being explored, and called on the people of Wisconsin to contact their legislators even as the bills were speeding through. They were just made public late Friday .
“It goes to the heart of what democracy is all about,” Evers said at a Sunday news conference held at a Milwaukee law firm. “I think it’s the wrong message, I think it is an embarrassment for the state and I think we can stop it.”
Republicans want to move the 2020 presidential primary, when Democratic turnout is expected to be high, so it won’t be on the same date as an April election where Walker-appointed Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly is on the ballot.
Doing that is estimated to cost about $7 million. Holding the presidential primary in March, in between state elections in February and April, would be logistically impossible, 60 of 72 Wisconsin county election officials said in a letter of opposition.
The state Elections Commission unanimously adopted a motion
Monday declaring that the shift would be “extraordinarily difficult” and costly without additional funding. Commissioner Mark Thomsen, a Democratic appointee, called the plan “the biggest waste of money for a single person that I can think of” during discussion preceding the vote.
Similar limitations on early voting were found unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2016 and Democrats have threatened legal action again.
The executive director of One Wisconsin, which filed the lawsuit challenging the previous attempt to limit early voting, said the Republican’s latest effort shows they “refuse to accept the results of the 2018 elections” and are worried about large voter turnout.
“Republicans believe that they lost the election because too many people voted here,” Scot Ross said.
About 565,000 people voted early in the November elections.
The last lame-duck session in Wisconsin was eight years ago, just before Walker took office, when Democrats tried unsuccessfully to approve union contracts.
Democratic lawmakers who sit on the committee holding the hearing Monday said the scope of the lame-duck session was unprecedented and a reaction to Democrats winning all statewide races in November.
“It’s a power grab,” said Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach. “They lost and they’re throwing a fit.”
Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson called it “a last-ditch effort for them to maintain control and we shouldn’t be here.”
This year’s proposals are wide-ranging and would affect everything in the state from transportation funding to carrying firearms in the state Capitol to changing an election date.
Republicans also want to enact a protection in state law for people with pre-existing conditions but make it more difficult for the attorney general to remove Wisconsin from a federal lawsuit seeking to strike down the Affordable Care Act. The law currently has a guarantee of coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Erpenbach, the state senator, said expected legal challenges to what is passed could “grind things to a halt” in the Legislature for as much as a year.
Republicans have had majorities in the state Senate and Assembly since 2011, and worked with Walker the past eight years to past a host of conservative priorities. Republicans will maintain their majorities in the Legislature next year when the Democratic Evers takes over.
By SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press