By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and Michigan are scrambling to pass last-minute legislation to limit the powers of incoming Democratic officials before their iron grip on state governments is loosened following last month’s elections.
The Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature began an unusual lame-duck session on Monday to consider bills that would undercut the power of Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul, Democrats whose victories broke six years of Republican control of the state’s executive and legislative branches.
Michigan Republicans have also introduced legislation to strip some powers from the offices of the state attorney general and secretary of state, which were both captured by Democrats, along with the governorship in the Nov. 6 elections.
The states were among four, including Kansas and New Hampshire, where voters broke Republican “trifectas,” in which one party holds the governorship and both houses of the state legislature.
In both Wisconsin and Michigan, Republicans will continue to control the legislatures but will now have Democratic governors.
Democrats have decried the bills as defying the voters’ will.
“It’s really an attack on our democratic values and structures,” Michigan Democratic Representative Christine Greig, the next minority leader in the state House of Representatives, said. “They’re changing the game, because they didn’t like who was elected.”
Evers called the Republicans’ move an “embarrassment” in a Sunday news conference and suggested he might sue to challenge the new measures.
Republicans defended the efforts.
“The No. 1 priority for us is to restore the balance of powers between the two co-equal branches of governments,” Robin Vos, speaker of the Wisconsin state assembly, said at a news conference on Monday.
LIMITING GOVERNOR’S POWER
An hours-long Monday public hearing on the bills before a Wisconsin legislative committee was repeatedly disrupted by protesters’ shouts, while Democratic lawmakers railed at Republicans.
“You guys are just going crazy here,” said state Representative Katrina Shankland. “It’s like Gremlins past midnight.”
The proposals include preventing the incoming governor from withdrawing Wisconsin from a legal challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act, sidestepping the attorney general’s power to represent the state in litigation and rescheduling a 2020 election to boost the chances of a Republican state Supreme Court Justice, among others.
Speaking to local reporters, Walker defended the decision to hold an extraordinary session but was noncommittal about the bills, saying he would review them after passage.
In Michigan, proposed legislation would allow lawmakers to intervene in legal cases. The legislature is also considering stripping the secretary of state’s office of its oversight over campaign finance law.
A spokeswoman for Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said the latter bill would transfer oversight to a “bipartisan entity, rather than a political officeholder.”
Michigan lawmakers also appear poised to weaken new minimum wage and sick time laws. The measures had been set to go to voters in a referendum in November until the legislature preemptively approved them in September.
That maneuver allows Republicans to scale back the laws with a simple majority, instead of the three-quarters vote required to change any voter-approved ballot measure.
“I am surprised at just how egregious these are,” said Greig, the incoming House minority leader, who added that any effort to rewrite those laws would be challenged in court.
A spokeswoman for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who would have to sign the bills into law, said he would reserve judgment until they land on his desk.
U.S. Republicans and Democrats have a history of using lame-duck sessions to advance priorities ahead of power shifts. Wisconsin Democrats in 2010 unsuccessfully tried to push through public union contracts after Walker won election while promising to get tough with organized labor.
In North Carolina, Republican legislators attempted to curtail gubernatorial powers after Democrat Roy Cooper was elected in 2016. The state’s lawmakers are now working on implementing a new voter identification ballot measure before January, when Republicans will lose their veto-proof supermajority.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker)