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Scorched earth: WI Republicans strip powers of governor, AG after midterm losses

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Tony Evers will take the reins in Wisconsin in a little over a month, but at least Republicans are graciously relieving him of some of Scott Walker’s old workload. That’s the reason the GOP is stripping powers from the governor’s office, right? And to think every Democrat in the state legislature opposes this oh-so-kind gesture!

In the real world, though, it’s a perfect example of the dog-in-the-manger ploy:

The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate has passed a sweeping measure taking power away from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, and reducing how long early voting can take place.

The measure was approved on a 17-16 vote with all Democrats and one Republican voting against it. The Assembly was expected to give final approval later Wednesday morning and send the measure to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has signaled his support.

The bill would limit the governor’s ability to put in place administrative rules that enact laws and give the Legislature the power to control appointees to the board that runs the state economic development agency until Sept. 1.

The legislation would also require legislative approval to withdraw from lawsuits, taking that away from the attorney general.

This legislation evolved over the last couple of days, when it became apparent that Wisconsin Republicans were serious about this project. The final version of the bill didn’t emerge until late in the process, leaving lawmakers complaining about the lack of preparation for the vote. After a new iteration of the bill dropped at 4 am this morning, state senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) exclaimed, “Not a way to run a government!”

Evers is curiously ungrateful for the efforts to lighten his workload:

Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers calls the Republicans’ attempt to strip the incoming leaders of key powers “embarrassing,” adding that “this is bad public policy and it’s telling the people of Wisconsin that their vote doesn’t count.” https://t.co/aHTw6mnHdI pic.twitter.com/sgELVGe7ys

— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) December 5, 2018

Republicans say that they just want to make sure that the legislative and executive branches share power equally:

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester told reporters he wanted to make sure lawmakers have as much control of state government as Evers.

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

Republicans have controlled both branches for eight years. Their concern about constitutional balance seems at the very least tardy. If that’s the reason, why not take it up before the election — or earlier, when it would have limited Scott Walker’s authority?

There are all sorts of outcome-based reasons for doing this, of course. Republicans will insist that Democrats wouldn’t have played fair with executive authority without those restrictions. As Evers notes, both he and incoming AG Josh Kaul ran on a platform of activism, so the impulse behind this effort may well be understandable. There is a need to protect a lot of good work done over the last eight years, especially from the GOP’s perspective.

That still doesn’t make this the right method, unless we’re now fully embracing a means-justifying-ends philosophy. Elections do have consequences — and Wisconsin voters chose Evers and Kaul to fill these offices as they were established. Republicans will succeed in this effort, and in a similar one in Michigan, thanks to a lame-duck period for outgoing Republican governors and GOP legislative majorities. However, the next time an election comes around, they’d better be ready for those consequences — and the consequences of the precedents being set in both states for scorched-earth tactics regarding constitutional offices.

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