Just a month after the influential midterm elections, Wisconsin finds itself in the midst of an unprecedented, yet equally as important, lame-duck session. The term lame-duck is used to describe the final few months of a politician’s career before leaving office due to retirement or reelection loss. In a literal sense, the idiom refers to a duck which is unable to keep up with its flock, making it a target for predators.
This suggests the lame-duck politicians have limited power in their final two months, that they can’t keep up with the flock — in this case, Wisconsin’s voters. And if the results of the midterm elections show anything, it shows the state GOP is out of touch with its constituents. Instead of catching up with the rest of the flock by determining how to best represent their constituency moving forward, our lame-duck politicians are clipping the wings of anyone who disagrees with them.
In the short two month period between election day and inauguration day, Wisconsin Republicans have drafted almost unheard-of lame-duck policies that would allow Gov. Scott Walker to limit the powers of the governorship and attorney general position, shift the dates for the 2020 presidential primary among other changes designed to benefit the Republican party. This rare lame-duck session began with a public hearing today, though the package of bills was not released until the end of the business day Friday, Nov. 30. A vote among the full legislature could be coming as soon as tomorrow.
It’s not unusual for the Walker administration to fast-track bills. In fact, in Walker’s two years of office, a quarter of all bills, including some of the Republican party’s most contentious legislation, were passed within two months of introduction. This time, the legislature only had two months before governor-elect Tony Evers officially succeeds Walker, which gives them, as well as the public, barely enough time to adequately reflect on the legislation and voice concerns.
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Despite the time constraint, many have been vocal about what the lame-duck session means for Wisconsinites and the overall health of our state’s democracy. Even our usually even-tempered, soft-spoken Evers has threatened litigation if any of the lame-duck measures become law. And for good reason — the measures put forward by the lame-duck legislation are an abuse of the GOP’s waning power. At its simplest, the legislation was put forth to put the incoming administration at a disadvantage under the guise of checks and balances.
Though vast in the number of changes, the highlights of the lame-duck legislation paint a clear picture — strip the power from the governorship and attorney generalship. One change would put legislators in control of state litigation, making it impossible for attorney general-elect Josh Kaul to fulfill his campaign promise of removing Wisconsin from the lawsuit meant to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Another would allow lawmakers to control how court settlements are spent and allow lawmakers to select and replace the attorney general with taxpayer-funded private attorneys when state laws are challenged in court. Essentially, were the lame-duck legislation to pass, Wisconsin’s attorney general would be more of a figurehead than anything else.
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The same goes for the governorship, as the bill would limit the governor’s power to make rules that implement current and future state laws, while the legislators would gain greater power to block any rules Evers would establish. Furthermore, Evers would be forced to get permission from the legislature before making any changes to security in the capitol and before asking the federal government to make any changes to programs ran by the state and federal government.
Perhaps the most outrageous part of the legislation would move the 2020 presidential primary and limit early voting in order to make it easier for Walker’s Supreme Court nominee, conservative judicial activist John Kelley, to be elected. Although all of the possible changes the lame-duck session may bring are unfair, this is a clear indicator that Republican lawmakers are not working for their constituents — they’re here to support their party, and their party only.
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American democracy on all levels was made with checks and balances in mind. No one branch of the government should have more power than the other — especially when the legislation that would shift the power is written with clear party divisions in mind. It is clear this lame-duck legislation disregards the tenants of our government in favor of foul partisan play.
Each side may continually make calls for bipartisanship and civility in politics, but actions speak louder than words — and the Republican party’s disregard for fairness and the sanctity of democracy is deafening.
Abigail Steinberg ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.