The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wisconsin Gov. Walker signs lame-duck legislation to weaken incoming Democratic governor, attorney general

Outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation to weaken the incoming Democratic governor's power, and dismissed opposition as "hype and hysteria." (Video: Reuters)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Friday signed sweeping legislation that weakens the power of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, dismissing a national outcry over what Democrats have characterized as a blatant power grab.

The legislation, passed this month in a lame-duck session by the Republican-controlled legislature, consolidates power in the legislature and strips it from Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, both Democrats.

Walker, who signed the bill just 24 days before leaving office, said the impact had been overstated.

“There’s a lot of hype and hysteria, particularly in the national media, implying this is a power shift,” Walker said. “It’s not. . . . What’s there doesn’t match the rhetoric attacking it.”

The legislation erodes the ability of the governor to create rules that enact laws. It also prohibits Evers from taking over a state job control agency until September 2019.

Evers was sharply critical of Walker, who he defeated in last month’s elections, for signing the legislation.

“Today, Governor Walker chose to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin,” Evers said in a statement. “This will no doubt be his legacy. ... The people of Wisconsin expect more from our government than what has happened in our state over the past few weeks.”

Republicans also moved to strip power from the attorney general by requiring a legislative committee to approve whether the state can pull out of a federal lawsuit. The move is aimed at prohibiting Wisconsin from withdrawing from a lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan push to curb power of newly-elected Democrats

Caroline Fredrickson, president of the left-leaning American Constitution Society, decried the legislation that Walker signed, describing it as an undemocratic attempt to wrest power from people just elected to office,

“The people of Wisconsin are the victims of a state political coup perpetrated by scorned politicians, who lack the courage to gracefully hand over power to the next generation of duly-elected leaders,” Fredrickson said in a statement. “Wisconsin citizens sent a clear message, on election day, that they want a change from GOP rule. But what lawmakers have done subverts that message and undermines their votes.”

Liberal advocacy groups are expected to sue in coming days in a bid to block implementation of the measures.

While Republicans lost all statewide seats in last month’s midterm elections, they retained majorities in both houses of the legislature, a result that Democrats said was achieved by gerrymandering.

Amid a throng of protesters, the legislature stayed in session all night earlier this month to pass the bills. The state Senate approved the legislative package 17 to 16, and the Assembly passed it 56 to 27.

Walker, a onetime presidential candidate, had signaled he was likely to sign the measures, posting a lengthy statement on Facebook earlier this week defending the measures and pushing back against some of the criticism.

“Let’s set the record straight — the new governor will still have some of the strongest powers of any governor in the nation if these bills become law,” Walker wrote. “He will have the power to veto legislation and he will have some of the broadest line-item veto authority of any governor in the nation.”

Walker also voiced support for some of the specific measures, including one requiring a public report on people pardoned by the governor, which he called “reasonable.”

Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the State Assembly, who has staunchly defended these measures, on Thursday thanked Walker for signing the legislation and again criticized Democrats and the news media for how they have responded to the bills.

“Through his actions, he’s acknowledging the importance of the legislature as a co-equal branch of government,” Vos said of Walker. “As Democrats and the media continue to inflate these laws into something they’re not, Assembly Republicans are focusing on the new legislative session and will work to find common ground in divided government.”