Republicans in the legislature are getting some heat for their plans to have an active post-election session to settle some issues before Governor-elect Tony Evers can take office.
Some of the rhetoric from the Democrats, of course, is ridiculously overblown.
Democrats have been suffering from a politically convenient self-inflicted amnesia concerning the events of 2010 when, after Governor Scott Walker defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Democrats actually tried to ram through public employee contracts in the waning days before the new governor’s inauguration. The new contracts would have tied the hands of the incoming governor who ran on a promise of making public employees contribute to their health insurance costs and pensions in an effort to bring state spending under control. Democrats even pulled Rep. Jeff Wood (I-Bloomer) out of rehab to cast the deciding vote in the Assembly, just months after they voted against expelling him following his fifth arrest for operating under the influence, a record even for the Wisconsin legislature.
Democrats have also forgotten how former Governor Jim Doyle actually tried to make it impossible for Walker to cancel the contracts for so-called “high speed” trains that Doyle purchased without legislative approval. The Obama Administration and the Doyle Administration also conspired to try to make the so-called “high speed” rail project (that wasn’t faster than a car) between Milwaukee and Madison impossible to cancel.
Democrats tried and failed in 2010. Republicans have a much more limited agenda which continues a long-standing conservative goal of trying to reduce executive and administrative power in Wisconsin. If Republicans have their way, Evers will not be able to appoint the head of the WEDC. Evers will not be able to thwart the will of the legislature when it comes to work requirements for federal entitlement programs administered by the state. Republicans are even proposing allowing the legislature to have counsel rather than rely on the Wisconsin Attorney General, a position Evers should be sympathetic with since, as Superintendent of Public Instruction, he sued for the same right.
Republicans, unfortunately, have not been adept at the messaging part of the process. Instead of talking about the principles involved, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) have been talking about the tactics of the legislation, opening them up for criticism for seeking last-minute partisan advantage.
There are certainly legitimate reasons not to hold the presidential primary in 2020 on the same day as the April election. However, announcing that it will help Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly seek re-election is just gross political incompetence.
Despite what Democrats and some county clerks are claiming, it is neither impossible or unprecedented to move the presidential primary. In 2008 and 2004, the presidential primary coincided with the February state primary election, not the April general election. In 1996, the presidential primary was held March 19th, separate from the spring election cycle entirely.
Democrats also complaining about the cost are again employing their selective self-inflicted political amnesia considering how they clamored for an ultimately meaningless special election in the 1st Senate District this year, only to see the result of that election overturned in November by a larger electorate. Democrats have also been far from frugal with the Wisconsin tax dollar when it comes to pursuing meaningless election recounts, the cost of which can never be fully accounted for, including the time lost to our municipal clerks who have other tasks to perform other than recounting votes because Attorney General Josh Kaul and his then-client Hillary Clinton were unhappy with the election results.
On the other hand, we have to question the proposed bill’s odd decision to exempt the Department of Public Instruction from some of the bill’s provisions because of a muddled Supreme Court case outcome in Coyne v. Walker. The result, ironically, would be to make the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) less accountable and less subject to oversight by the legislature. That’s not protecting the legislature’s powers or even defending a principle, but unilateral capitulation.
When Republican legislators passed the REINS Act in 2017, a law to provide more oversight on all state agencies, the new law required more gubernatorial and DOA checks on state agencies’ rule making authority. DPI and Evers ignored several requirements of the REINS Act while relying on Coyne for cover. As a result, the case of Koschkee v. Evers is now headed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The legislature’s bizarre willingness to defer to Evers when he was superintendent should not carry over to his successor. Coyne v. Walker is unclear in its result and, hopefully, the Supreme Court will provide more clarity in the first half of 2019. Rather than cave in now, legislative Republicans should extend their oversight as far as they can while the case is pending. If the case goes the wrong way, Republicans can always fix the law with Evers’ cooperation. However, if Republicans do not attempt to assert their oversight authority now, they will never be able to do so under Evers later.
Wisconsin Democrats, egged on by much of Wisconsin’s media, are trying to claim that elections have consequences. They do, and they will. But that also includes the 2016 elections which gave Republicans the majority in both houses of the legislature again, as well as the 2018 elections which did the same thing. Wisconsin is not an elected dictatorship, and the trend in recent years has been to strip the mighty executive of his powers, including more limits on the governor’s veto powers.
Evers may be the governor-elect, but he will only control one part of state government. That has consequences, too.