MADISON, Wisconsin — In an extraordinary session that started on Tuesday afternoon and didn’t end until after dawn on Wednesday, Republican lawmakers passed a series of bills designed to strip power away from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.
The laws included measures that would force the incoming governor, Tony Evers, to seek legislative approval for any changes to the state’s public benefits programs — including Medicaid — and severely curtail the ability of the new attorney general, Josh Kaul, to bring or leave lawsuits on behalf of the state. Evers and Kaul both ran on a promise to end the state’s legal fight against the Affordable Care Act.
The laws now go to Republican governor Scott Walker for final approval. Though Walker didn’t respond to a VICE News request for comment, he has previously said he would be willing to sign the bills. But Evers said Thursday he intends to make a personal appeal to Walker to veto the legislation when it lands on his desk and intends to pursue legal options if Walker declines.
The Wisconsin Capitol dome has been home to furious protests in past the eight years under Walker, most notably in 2011, when he sought to end the state’s longstanding practice of collective bargaining for public employees.
But the outrage this week was far more muted. Still, Democratic lawmakers decried the Republican legislation as an attempt to change the rules of government in the aftermath of an election loss —part of a growing trend that has also seen Republican legislatures in North Carolina and Michigan cut powers in advance of incoming Democrats in recent years.
“It is ridiculous that Republicans are more concerned with clinging to power, than accepting an election,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) in a speech on the Senate floor late Tuesday night. “Your antics today are what the voters rejected on November 6.”
Republicans, meanwhile, were relatively tightlipped. None of the dozen or so contacted by VICE News agreed to an interview.
To some degree, that’s because their position in the legislature is secure. Gerrymandering in the state has all but guaranteed Republican control, even as the statewide vote tilts back Democratic. In November, for instance, Democrats won most statewide elections but Republican candidates for the Assembly still won 64 percent of the seats. They also gained one seat in the Senate.
If signed into law, the bills are likely to face legal challenges from none other than the incoming attorney general.
This segment originally aired December 5, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.