My guess is that the Wisconsin Legislature's Republicans had no idea what kind of public relations blunder they had committed when they decided to pass a bunch of laws to make the jobs of the governor and attorney general the people of Wisconsin had just elected a little more difficult.
It's been clear all along that one of the reasons state schools superintendent Tony Evers was elected governor was because of his "nice guy" persona — one of those rare politicians who appeared genuine in his promises to work with political opponents.
But even though Evers announced the day after the election that he would not only work with Republicans, but even appoint some members of the party to important positions in his administration, the Republicans, led by the arrogance-personified speaker of the Assembly, Robin Vos, made their own announcement: They would take away powers from Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul.
The Republicans immediately took a beating, coming off as spiteful sore losers who have no concern for the welfare of their constituents, but only their own powers — to hell with the statewide election that had just ousted every Republican in statewide office.
And regardless of what the GOP leaders will tell you, the criticism and outrage didn't just come from Democrats, but from a host of former Republican leaders and major GOP contributors. Even former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson declined to jump in on the side of Vos, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and the lemmings in their caucuses.
It's been a hoot watching the Republican legislators and their ringleaders squirming to tell their own stories about what they "really" were doing and hoping that constituents would buy their excuses.
Many Senate and Assembly Republican members have been armed with talking points that they hope will counteract the outrage. State Rep. Tyler August of Lake Geneva, for instance, claims as an excuse that he was only voting to weaken the new governor and attorney general because of "early actions by the incoming administration" to weaken the conservative "reforms" enacted during eight years of GOP rule. He said, "I could not sit idly by and let that happen."
That, of course, is a bald-faced lie. The incoming administration has not taken any "early actions." How could it? It isn't in office until next month and, besides, when you run for office promising to make changes as Tony Evers did, shouldn't the voters' decision be the deciding factor?
Then state Sen. Howard Marklein claimed he only voted for the package because he wanted to save the people from their government. Funny. But they apparently only need saving when a Democrat is in the governor's office. Wonder what Marklein was doing the past eight years.
Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald was as bad, working hard to spin the story to bail out his fellow Republicans. He practically admitted that the voters couldn't be trusted and, after all, what's the big fuss? It's all manufactured outrage by the Democrats, he chirped. Republicans don't trust Evers, he said. Nobody bothered to point out to them that, well, if we look at the November election results maybe the voters don't trust Scott Walker.
And then at the end of last week, Walker himself showed how small he can be, signing the lame-duck power grab without a single veto and cementing his reputation as a politician whose only concern is what's in it for him. Then the ultimate chutzpah. As he was signing the unprecedented power grab he used his gubernatorial powers to channel another multi-million-dollar gift from Wisconsin taxpayers to a profitable giant conglomerate.
He was able to give a $25-$28 million bribe to Kimberly-Clark so it would keep open one of its two small plants near Neenah because of his gubernatorial powers, powers that thanks to his signature on the lame-duck bills will no longer be available to Tony Evers. That, in a nutshell, takes a lot of guts, especially from an over-the-top partisan, who claims he really, really is honoring the people, whose votes threw him out of office.
Kimberly-Clark, incidentally, made $3.3 billion in profits last year, plus this year will cash in on the huge corporate tax cut engineered by Walker's hero, Donald Trump.
Walker doesn't have to defend himself, though, because he won't be on the next election's ballot. But no one should be surprised that Republican legislators are running for cover. The lamest excuses came from the chief architect of the embarrassing lame-duck power grab, the man who specializes in secret sessions and middle-of-the-night floor votes and thinks he's the real governor of Wisconsin — Robin Vos.
He sent an op-ed to the Wisconsin State Journal after his Republicans pushed the legislation through in a matter of hours that was headlined: "Sensationalized rhetoric serves no one." This from the same guy whose sensationalized rhetoric has become his trademark. He's labeled even some of his GOP colleagues "terrorists" for opposing a budget proposal, insisted that all Dane County judges are "ultraliberal" and, in Donald Trump style, called the head of the Government Accountability Board an "embarrassment."
The New York Times last week commented that Democrats in Michigan, where the GOP is pulling strings to weaken their victorious leaders as the GOP in Wisconsin has, are wondering just what this might do to the GOP in elections down the road. Are they concentrating on the short term when they should be looking at the long term?
It's going to take lots of alibis and plenty of excuses for voters to forget how democracy was thwarted by a bunch of thugs, including a phony lame-duck governor.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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