By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – Outgoing Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker on Friday signed a package of legislation aimed at weakening the powers of his newly elected Democratic successor, dismissing critics who said the move was a last-minute partisan power grab.
Democrats have said the legislation, and a similar set of measures in Michigan, undermines the results of the Nov. 6 election, when they captured the governorship in both states for the first time in eight years.
Republicans in both states, who will still have legislative majorities next year, have defended the moves as a good-faith effort to ensure the legislative and executive branches remain equals.
The Wisconsin legislation, which passed on Dec. 5 largely along party lines, will prevent Governor-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul from carrying out a campaign promise to withdraw the state from a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
It will also limit Evers’ ability to pass administrative rules and block him from killing a provision that would impose a work requirement on Medicaid recipients. In addition, the legislation will allow lawmakers to sidestep the attorney general’s office in litigation involving the state.
Evers, who takes office on Jan. 7, had called on Walker to veto the bills, and both he and Democratic lawmakers have threatened to take legal action.
At the bill-signing ceremony in Green Bay on Friday, Walker dismissed what he called the “hype and hysteria” surrounding the legislation, saying the legislation would have a minimal effect on Evers’ powers.
“The overwhelming authority that I have today as governor will remain constant,” he said.
Evers immediately criticized the move.
“Today, Governor Walker chose to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin. This will no doubt be his legacy,” Evers said. “The people demanded a change on Nov. 6, and they asked us to solve problems, not pick petty, political fights. The people of Wisconsin expect more from our government.”
The Republican-controlled Michigan legislature is expected to pass measures, perhaps as soon as next week, that would curb the powers of the incoming Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, has not indicated whether he would sign the bills.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)