Wisconsin Republicans to vote on stripping power from Democrats

Wisconsin Republicans plan to vote late Tuesday on a controversial proposal to strip power from newly elected Democrats, drawing protesters and threats of lawsuits against the state.

The bills limit in-person early voting, remove Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers’ ability to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act, and allow legislative Republicans to hire their own attorneys instead of relying on Democratic attorney general-elect Josh Kaul. However, they dropped plans to move the 2020 presidential primary.

Republicans voted early Tuesday morning to send a package of changes to the Assembly and Senate floor. But delays dragged through the day on Tuesday, leading to uncertainty about when the bills would pass – and in what form. In the meantime, Republican Gov. Scott Walker faced a chorus of boos from protesters at an event in the state Capitol.

“Today is an absolutely horrible day for Wisconsin,” said state Rep. Gordon Hintz, the Democratic leader in the state Assembly. “This is not how a democracy works, and if these bills go through into law, we really don’t have a democracy as it stands up to be.”

GOP lawmakers are trying to pass the bills before Walker leaves office in early January. Walker has signaled his support for the legislation.

At the annual lighting of the state Capitol Christmas tree on Tuesday afternoon, hecklers booed Walker and then drowned out a high school choir as it performed Christmas carols. 

“I can handle the shouts but leave the kids alone,” Walker later tweeted.

Republicans did not advance one controversial part of the plan, moving the state’s 2020 presidential primary, after legislative leaders decided not to bring that provision up for a vote overnight.

That likely dooms the plan to change the primary date from April to March, which would have helped a conservative state Supreme Court justice. However, lawmakers could still bring the provision back on the Assembly or Senate floor with an amendment.

State election officials said holding an extra election would’ve cost taxpayers at least $6.8 million. The proposal drew opposition from 63 of Wisconsin’s 72 county clerks.

Republican lawmakers have said they are trying to assert power for the Legislature before Evers takes office in January. Amid threats of lawsuits from Democrats, the GOP vowed that their changes would be upheld in court.

“I respect the fact that Tony Evers is the governor and he’s going to be on Jan. 7. But he’s not the governor today,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. “That’s why we are going to make sure that the powers of each branch are as equal as they can be.”

Protesters descended on the Capitol on Monday trying to block a committee vote on the legislation, shouting “Shame!” and “Respect our votes!” About 1,000 people held a Monday evening rally outside the Capitol in opposition.