Dec. 5, 2018
During the recent hearings, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, started yelling at fellow Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats to stop hectoring Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, shouting that all should remember that “elections have consequences.”
And just now — as we adjust to face necessary bipartisanship with a re-cast Democratic majority House, and as we hear paeans to former President George H.W. Bush’s nimbleness with working with opposition opponents — comes news about Republican-majority state legislatures moving to strip newly elected Democratic governors of their powers.
Stories in Slate and in The New York Times described efforts by Republican state legislators in Wisconsin, to use their gerrymandered majorities essentially to overturn the recent election of Democrat Tony Evers as governor by passing legislation to clip the powers of the governor before he takes office. The moves are drawing substantial protest, and Republicans have faced delays and substantial protests.
Both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature worked through the night, passing only one of a series of laws, but intending to address the rest today that would limit the authority of the governor and a newly elected Democratic attorney general to withdraw from legal challenges to Obamacare, and would protect some of the conservatives’ signature policies on issues like guns.
These efforts follow the model set in North Carolina in 2016, who voted to increase the Legislature’s powers while reducing those of the governor’s office when the election went against the Republicans. Slate outlined efforts by Republican legislators to strip the incoming governor of power, shrink the governor’s role in elections and voting rights, appointment power for state jobs, and challenging the judiciary to halt appointment of judges not to their liking.
Similar moves are now under way in Michigan, where Republican lawmakers are looking at measures to control legal fights involving the state and would shift oversight of campaign finance, and in Arizona’s Maricopa County, where the Republican-dominated board of supervisors said last month that it was studying a takeover of some Election Day logistics now handled by the county recorder, a newly elected Democrat. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, one election is pending over charges of fraud in trashing or interfering with absentee ballots.
Last month, Wisconsin voted to replace Republican Gov. Scott Walker with Democrat Tony Evers. The bills by GOP legislators, aided by a grossly partisan gerrymander, meeting in a lame-duck session, have proposed to rewrite power sharing. “The Wisconsin GOP’s power grab is best described as a crisis for the rule of law. It transcends mere hardball politics and instead marks an effort to erode the separation of powers prescribed in the state constitution,” argued Slate. Republicans seek to accomplish three broad goals — to manipulate the 2020 state Supreme Court election; denude the governor and attorney general of their executive authority; and curb voting rights. If passed, these proposals would constitute a sweeping overhaul of the Wisconsin government, illegitimately entrenching Republican control.
Specific laws target Wisconsin’sSupreme Court Elections in 2020 by resetting the date of the election to a date removed from the state’s primary elections. The reason? Democratic turnout is expected to be high, and might spill over into support for a liberal Supreme Court judge whose election could change which party’s nominees control the court. Said Slate: There is no plausible reason for the shift except to decrease Democratic turnout. It would cost the state an extra $7 million, and 60 of 72 Wisconsin county election officials have already declared that it would be logistically impossible. Legislative Republicans are plowing ahead anyway, well aware that a progressive Supreme Court could undo the GOP assault on unions, voting rights, gun control, education, and the environment.
Under Walker, Wisconsin attempted to slash early voting, allowing the practice just two weeks before Election Day and only on weekdays. In 2016, U.S. District Judge James Peterson blocked these limitations, ruling that the scheme “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race.” His decision restored the previous law, under which municipalities can allow voting as early as 47 days before an election. In November, a record number of citizens took advantage of early voting, casting more than 547,000 ballots before Election Day.
Republicans also have targeted the ability of the governor and incoming Democratic Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul to handle state litigation. Evers and Kaul rode to victory partly on their promise to withdraw from multistate litigation seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act’s most popular provisions, such as protections against pre-existing conditions. Republican legislators seek to prevent this withdrawal by transferring law enforcement authority to the legislature. Special Session Bill 2 would require the governor and attorney general to obtain explicit legislative approval before withdrawal from the suit — which the legislature is certain to withhold. It also abolishes the principle that the attorney general represents the state in litigation. The bill authorizes legislative leadership to hire private lawyers, using taxpayer money, to defend state laws in court when legislators do not trust the attorney general to litigate a case. It also makes it difficult for the attorney general to operate by eliminating the office of the solicitor general, which oversees high-profile cases. Finally, the bill bars the attorney general from reaching settlements without legislative consent.
Dan Kaufman argued in a New York Times op-ed that “No one is really bothering to hide the purpose of this lame duck legislation: to continue the Republicans’ hold on state government, even at the expense of core democratic principles like respect for the separation of powers and majority rule. The legislation would nullify the decision-making of Wisconsin’s voters, who rejected Republicans for every statewide office in the November midterms.”
Elections do have consequences. These efforts to block the will of the election should be set aside.