MADISON, Wis. -- Demonstrators booed outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday at a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony, drowning out a high school choir with their own songs in protest of a Republican effort to gut the powers of Walker's 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 by 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."
Later 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, as they walked out under police escort. Less than an hour later, Republicans said they would let people back in.
The Legislature met deep into the night Tuesday to pass a series of bills, first unveiled Friday, that would weaken the governor's office and transfer power to the Legislature and away from two Democrats, Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul. The Legislature wasn't expected to complete its work until early this morning.
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.
Still, Democrats vowed to do all they could to stop the measures. 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.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers met privately ahead of separate Assembly and Senate votes to send the bills to Walker.
A GOP-controlled committee approved the measures late Monday.
"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. You rig the system when you win, and you rig the system when you lose."
Republican Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the committee, downplayed the proposals and said the goal was to establish balance in power between the Legislature and governor. Nygren said it was a positive step that would "bring us together to solve the problems of the state."
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters Tuesday that his constituents want him to protect everything the GOP has accomplished over the past eight years under Walker.
"We do not believe any one individual should have the opportunity to come in and with a stroke of the pen ... eliminate laws passed by our Legislature," Vos said, citing rules enacting voter photo ID, a key GOP initiative.
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. Debate in the Assembly finally began around 10:30 p.m., more than nine hours after it was scheduled to start.
"Even you have questions," Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said as debate began. "The Senate has questions. Why are we here today? What are we doing? Nothing we're doing here is about helping the people of Wisconsin. It's about helping politicians. It's about power and self-interest."
Evers called the unusual lame-duck session "rancor and politics as usual." The last lame-duck session in Wisconsin was in 2010, when Democrats tried unsuccessfully to enact labor agreements.
The Senate passed one measure, on a party-line vote, to enact Medicaid work-requirement rules that Walker recently won a federal waiver to establish. The bill would also give the Legislature oversight over the governor seeking future waivers for health care, a change Democrats said would handcuff the new administration.
The proposals in Wisconsin 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.
Other measures would weaken the attorney general's office by allowing Republican legislative leaders to intervene in cases and hire their own attorneys. A legislative committee, rather than the attorney general, would have to sign off on withdrawing from federal lawsuits.
That would stop Evers and Kaul from fulfilling their campaign promises to withdraw Wisconsin from a multistate lawsuit seeking repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They made opposition to that lawsuit a central part of both of their campaigns.
Protesters shout in anger Tuesday after they were ordered to leave the Wisconsin state Capitol.
A Section on 12/05/2018
Print Headline: Wisconsinites angered by GOP's power play