Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


State GOP proposal encourages reconciling of political dysfunction

Proposed constitutional amendment will limit governor’s sweeping veto power, restore democratic will in legislative process
Bennett Waara

Impeachment threats. Budget wars. Gerrymandered maps. It isn’t much of a closed secret any longer — infighting within Wisconsin’s government has rendered state politics unimaginably dysfunctional. A recent effort from state Republicans to crack down on the governor’s veto power throws even further doubt on the ability of the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic governor to work together in the long term.

At the end of January, Republicans introduced a proposal to the Legislature that aims to limit the governor’s ability to partially veto bills. The partial veto remains one of Gov. Tony Evers’ strongest and most effective policy tools in the face of a hostile, partisan legislature. The GOP proposal would drastically reduce Evers’ ability to influence legislation. Now Evers is retaliating by suing state Republicans for obstructing basic government functions before the state’s highest court.

The partial veto, or the line item veto, has a rich and distinctive political history in the state. Since the 1969 legislative session, governors — both Republicans and Democrats alike — have used their partial veto powers extensively to strike specific items from a larger bill to shape legislation how they see fit.


The original intentions and usages of the constitutional power were not to sow political enmity between the governor and the Legislature, but rather to prevent deadlock in an alternative where all appropriations were grouped in one bill and subject to a single yes-or-no veto check from the governor.

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Various governors have since exploited loopholes in this power, shaping its controversial status today. Notably, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, even used a partial veto to strike specific letters of words from an appropriation bill to create new words in what became known as the “Vanna White” veto.

The jurisprudence surrounding these developments has been favorable to gubernatorial power in Wisconsin, and legislatures have been forced to resort to constitutional amendments — like those in 1990 and 2008 — to check the governor’s partial veto powers away from flagrant abuses. No more “Vanna White” vetoes.

Last summer, Evers continued historical precedence when using his partial veto to edit the state’s annual appropriations bill. Evers changed a figure from the bill to extend permanent increases in public school funding 400 years into the future, altering it from the mere twenty-odd years specified in the original bill, according to AP News.

The move, it appears, has tipped Republicans in the state legislature over the edge. The recent GOP proposal would prevent the governor from increasing a tax or fee with partial veto power. The amendment process largely remains Republicans’ only avenue to bypass the Democratic governor and the liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

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If passed in the Legislature during consecutive two-year legislative sessions, the final fate of the amendment would then be determined by voters at the polls before becoming law — no gubernatorial or judicial approval required, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

With the recent approval from state Republicans of revised, fairer electoral maps drawn by Evers, this amendment process would be a surprising — but welcome — gesture for Republicans to engage with the democratic process in an honest manner.

Seats in the Legislature are set to become much more competitive under the new electoral maps. According to estimates from Wisconsin Public Radio, Evers’ proposed maps will likely return the state Legislature to a 50-50 split between Republican and Democratic representatives after the next election in November. Republicans enjoy a resounding majority in the Legislature now, but a constitutional amendment process would likely need to garner bipartisan support in the next legislative session to move forward.

In the context of a heavily gerrymandered state Legislature resulting in a near supermajority in both the Senate and the Assembly, an argument can be made that a democratic mandate from the majority of voters in the state gives Evers the right to wield his partial veto powers, even if that means deceptively at times.

But with the likely advent of a Legislature more representative of the people of Wisconsin, this mandate will quickly become obsolete.

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Any measure that can be passed in a competitive Legislature and subsequently approved by voters in the state deserves a place shrined in the state constitution — regardless of partisan leanings in the battle between Evers and his GOP rivals in the Legislature.

Political deception lies at the heart of Wisconsin’s gubernatorial partial veto powers. The ability of the governor to single-handedly and fundamentally alter legislative intentions with one — or many — strokes of the pen becomes impossible to justify when fair maps more accurately reflect the will of voters.

State courts, bound by vague constitutional texts and historical precedent, have time and time again ruled in favor of the governor’s veto powers. Wisconsin court cases over the years laid the foundation for the most sweeping partial veto powers in the nation, contributing to the political boxing match between the Legislature and the governor.

The time is now to rebalance constitutional authority in state government. Partisan divisiveness and tricky political maneuvering paint a bleak picture of the future of democracy in Wisconsin. State governors can no longer write off the will of the people and their representatives in the legislature through partial vetoes. A constitutional amendment appears in order to heal a government plagued with dysfunction.

Jack Rogers ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying Chinese, economics and political science.

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