Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Thursday the Republican-led Legislature is not trying to undermine the power of Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers before he takes office — but lawmakers will look at reining in some of the incoming governor's authority.
"When I picked up the paper yesterday I was like, 'I’m not sure why there’s all this discussion about, we’re trying to somehow undermine the new governor.'" Fitzgerald told reporters after meeting with Senate Republicans. "That’s not the case at all. I think there’s some stuff that’s going to be reasonable."
There is no concrete list of changes Republican lawmakers plan to make, Fitzgerald said, but he and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, spoke for about an hour Thursday morning to discuss some possibilities.
Vos told reporters Wednesday afternoon he was interested in limiting some of the governor's powers, but did not offer specifics. Fitzgerald said the way Vos's comments came across might have been "uncomfortable," but he supports what the Speaker is trying to accomplish.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said in a statement that Vos's comments were "indicative of the kind of politician who can never have the deck stacked too far in their favor."
Evers warned against any changes in a statement posted to Twitter.
"Let me be clear: the Republicans and Speaker Vos should stop any and all attempts to play politics and weaken the powers of the governor’s office in Wisconsin before I take the oath," Evers said. "This is a complete violation of the separation of powers in our system. Wisconsin voted for a change from the years of naked partisanship and divide-and-conquer politics. That must end."
Vos said in response that his goal is to ensure the Legislature's constitutional authority is "reiterated and enforced."
"Governor-elect Evers made a generous offer to work together so he should not have a problem with the legislation that may be considered. The reforms are intended to keep both sides at the table to reach a consensus," Vos said.
Under the Republican majority, Gov. Scott Walker has enjoyed broadened authority over the state rules that offer further guidance and instruction on how to enforce state laws. Fitzgerald said Republican lawmakers are interested in codifying some rules implemented under Walker's terms to give them the force of law.
For instance, state rules related to the implementation of the state's voter ID law could be codified into statute, Fitzgerald said.
The Legislature might also change the makeup of some government-appointed boards, he said, to give legislative appointees more representation. Fitzgerald said he and Vos have not discussed changing the governor's appointment powers for the Department of Natural Resources board or the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.
They are interested in curbing the governor's power of appointments to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Fitzgerald said, because Evers has said he plans to dismantle the quasi-public agency and return to a model like the previous Department of Commerce.
Fitzgerald said he has not spoken with Walker and does not know whether he would sign any of the changes into law. A Walker spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked what message the changes would send to the incoming governor about Republican lawmakers' willingness to work with him, Fitzgerald said Evers will have ample authority to push back on the Legislature.
"Tony Evers is going to have the most powerful veto pen in the nation. The idea that he’s not going to be able to keep the Legislature in check, I think you’d be naive to think that," Fitzgerald said. "It’s equal balanced government, and we’ll respect Tony Evers like we have any other governor, and we’ll work with him."
Some areas where Republicans could work with Evers include combatting the state's opioid addiction crisis, funding K-12 education and developing approaches to transportation funding, Fitzgerald said.
Evers said in a statement that he is committed to working with both sides of the aisle on health care, education, infrastructure and other issues.
"There is a lot of common ground we can find," Evers said. "But I will not tolerate desperate antics to cling to power and violate the checks and balances of Wisconsin government."