Wisconsin Republicans pass bill to curb incoming Democrats’ power

By Joseph Ax and Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – The Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature passed a bill to weaken the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, voting around dawn on Wednesday after debates that lasted through the night.

Both the state Senate and Assembly passed the bill, and current Republican Governor Scott Walker has indicated he will sign it. His successor, Democrat Tony Evers, has said he may mount a legal challenge.

Wisconsin’s lame-duck Republican-majority legislature called a rare post-election session this week to pass the proposals. If they waited until Governor-elect Evers takes office in January, he would have a chance to veto the bill.

After an all-night session, lawmakers reconvened just before 5 a.m. Democrats blasted the Republican majority for trying to grab power after they lost the governorship in elections on Nov. 6, ending years of complete Republican control of government in the state.

“Republicans are very sore losers,” said Senator Fred Risser, a Democrat. “You’re trying to undo what the voters have done.”

Republicans said Democrats were distorting their intent, which they said was to fix an imbalance of power favoring the executive over the legislature. Democrats say Republicans did not complain of an imbalance when they controlled both branches.

A similar effort is underway in Michigan, where the Republican-controlled legislature is weighing new laws to hamstring incoming Democrats.

In Wisconsin, the Senate voted 17-16 to pass the central piece of the legislation shortly before dawn, with only one Republican voting against it, according to results posted on the state legislature’s website. No Democratic senators supported the bill.

The Assembly passed the bill 56-27 a short time later, according to Wisconsin media outlets.

The law would allow legislators, rather than the attorney general, to decide whether to withdraw the state from lawsuits. That measure is aimed at preventing Evers and the incoming attorney general, Josh Kaul, from following through on campaign promises to end Wisconsin’s challenge to the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

In North Carolina, Republicans took similar lame-duck maneuvers in 2016 to strip the incoming Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, of the power to appoint a majority of members to a state election-oversight board.

A court later blocked the move as unconstitutional.

This year, Republicans in North Carolina are rushing to pass a new voter identification law before they lose their veto-proof majority in January.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Rich McKay and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio)