A Peaceful Transition of Power? Republicans in Wisconsin and Michigan Say No

Republican lawmakers look to limit powers of their Democratic successors.

Wisconsin and Michigan have not experienced a smooth transition of state government power. In Wisconsin, Republicans have used the lame-duck session to push through a series of laws aimed at limiting the power of the new Democratic Governor, Tony Evers, and the incoming Democratic Attorney General, Josh Kaul. Ostensibly, Wisconsin Republicans were acting to “rebalance,” executive power.

Illustration by Annabel Driussi

“If there are areas where we could look and say, ‘Geez — have we made mistakes where we granted too much power to the executive.’ I’d be open to taking a look to say what can we do to change that to try to rebalance it,” said Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the Assembly. 

These laws would restrict early voting, which would specifically hurt the Democratic Party, which depends largely on early voters’ turnout.  Additionally, this legislation would allow lawmakers, not the governor, to control the majority of appointments on an economic development board and would not allow the banning of guns without permission from legislators.

Before legislators passed the laws, Democratic supporters descended on Madison, Wis. to protest what they saw as Republican lawmakers not respecting the will of the voters. Their efforts did not stop Republicans from passing their bills in the State House and State Senate. 

The leader of this movement did not mince words about the Republican agenda after the election of Evers. According to the New York Times, “We are going to stand like bedrock to guarantee that Wisconsin does not go back,” Vos said. 

This statement indicates that he would do everything in his power to limit the authority of newly elected Democratic governor.

 Vos, however, believes liberals are misunderstanding his intentions. He said that he had conversations with Republican Governor Scott Walker the past couple of years about limiting executive power. He also asserted that he would have pushed for these bills to be passed despite the results of the Governor’s race. However, the bills attempting to limit the executive authority of the Governor seem too specific to not target the Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers at the detriment of the Democratic Party. 

According to Dennis Dresang, professor emeritus of public affairs and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, these moves by Republican lawmakers are not unprecedented in Wisconsin. The state has a long history of deferring to the incoming administration after elections. When Scott Walker was elected Governor in 2010, the Democratic incumbent did not go forward with a $810 million grant from the federal government for a high-speed rail because Walker opposed it.  

Wisconsin is not the only Midwestern state locked in a partisan struggle. Michigan Republicans decided that they would follow suit and attempt to limit the power of the incoming Democratic Governor and Attorney General, and Secretary of State. 

One bill passed by the Michigan Assembly essentially “strips the incoming secretary of state of the authority to oversee campaign finance issues and hands it to a new bipartisan commission.”

Other bills that are likely to pass next week include proposals “that would weaken the ability of the governor and attorney general to control the state’s position in court cases,” according to the New York Times. 

The difference between the Wisconsin and Michigan attempts to limit Democratic power appears to be in their governors. Governor Walker of Wisconsin is a conservative whose values and policy beliefs align with the lawmakers who passed the legislation. In Michigan, however, the outgoing Governor, Rick Snyder, is known as a business-minded, pragmatic Republican who at times has rebuffed legislation by the conservative members of the state government. A spokesman for Snyder stated that he had not taken a position on any of the bills, nor stated whether he would sign them. 

Experts predict that Democratic lawmakers and protesters will highlight gender, given that all three of the positions they seek to strip of power will be held by women, according to the New York Times. Jocelyn Benson was elected as Michigan’s secretary of state, Gretchen Whitmer, was elected governor, and Dana Nessel is the attorney general-elect. They will be replacing the outgoing Republican governor, attorney general, and secretary state, all of whom are men.  

Elias Asher

Elias Asher

Elias Asher joined the Catalyst in August of 2018 and writes for the News Section. He is part of the class of 21'. He is a Political Science major born and raised in Montclair, New Jersey, but now resides in Austin, Texas. His grandparents and father were born in the Boston area which contributes to his devoted love of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots. He enjoys watching the Red Sox and Patriots with friends and family back home, and with Boston haters at CC. One of his favorite pastimes is walking and spending time with his dog Fenway. Can you tell he loves Boston?
Elias Asher
Elias Asher

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