Gov. Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald began their reign of error almost eight years ago with a “budget repair bill” that attacked public employees and the unions that represent them and paved the way for attacks on public education and public services. The impact was disastrous. While neighboring states experienced rapid growth in a period of economic recovery after the Bush-Cheney recession, Wisconsin struggled to keep up. Even now, when compared with states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin is underperforming. That’s one of the many reasons why voters swept Walker out of office on Nov. 6, in an election that saw Republicans lose every statewide race.
Walker still refuses to acknowledge that he started off on the wrong foot, and the same goes for Vos and Fitzgerald. So it should probably come as no surprise that these hyperpartisan Republican ideologues are finishing their period of absolute authority with a lame-duck attempt to undermine the ability of Gov.-elect Tony Evers and his team to clean up the mess that Walker and his henchmen made of things.
But Wisconsinites still have a right, and a responsibility, to be outraged at the move by Vos and Fitzgerald to use an extraordinary session of the Legislature to alter state tax laws, revamp rules, and generally hamstring the man that the voters of Wisconsin chose to put in charge. Walker appears to be playing along with the legislative gambit, even as he hatches schemes of his own to reshuffle state commissions and boards with the idea of packing them with cronies.
Never in the history of Wisconsin has a transition of power been so warped as this one. The damage that is done may not be as severe as the damage Walker, Vos and Fitzgerald did at the start of their shared experiment in winner-take-all governance, but what’s happening in the Capitol this week does further harm not just to the image of Wisconsin but to the fragile faith that Wisconsinites have in the prospect of functional governance.
“Our democracy is founded on having three separate but equal branches of government. The separation of powers between our legislative, executive, and judicial branches are paramount in protecting the promise of a fair and balanced state government. This concept is central to the well-being of our democracy,” explained state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison.
Yet now that Vos and Fitzgerald will not have a co-conspirator in the governor’s office, they are suddenly seeking to limit the authority of the executive branch. They are even talking about changing election dates in order to limit the vulnerability of their partisan allies.
The bottom line is beyond debate: Walker lost, yet the governor and his cronies are still grabbing at power. Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan, a former state legislator, summed things up succinctly and appropriately when he asked: "How much more (like a) Third World country can you get?"
Pocan was one of many statehouse veterans who were shocked when Vos responded to the 2018 election results by immediately proposing to undermine Evers. Even as the governor-elect was proposing partnerships and bipartisan cooperation, Vos was threatening what Pocan termed an “outrageous power grab.”
What made it all the more shocking was the fact that Vos and Fitzgerald had gone along with every effort by Walker to extend the authority of the executive branch.
Anyone who was paying attention over the last eight years would have thought that the leaders of the Assembly and Senate were enthusiastic about having a strong governor. And nothing Vos, Fitzgerald or Walker said during the course of the 2018 campaign would have led anyone to think differently.
“Republicans never mentioned a need to rein in the powers of the governor throughout the entire campaign, yet after Scott Walker lost, it became their top priority,” noted Sargent.
Sargent delivered a statewide appeal to the people of Wisconsin last week on behalf of the Democrats in the Legislature. She was spot on in her assessment.
“The people of Wisconsin have voted for a change in leadership and in direction. Sadly, Republicans are choosing to act against the will of the people,” said the Madisonian, who in November was re-elected with overwhelming support. “Rather than accepting the results of November’s election and working to collaborate with Governor-elect Evers, Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald are focused on desperate attempts to consolidate power.”
Sargent spoke not just for the Democratic caucus but for the long-suffering voters of Wisconsin when she declared: “Putting politics over the people of Wisconsin is not the way forward. Wisconsin deserves better.”
Wisconsinites know they deserve better. That’s why voters chose a new governor on Nov. 6, and that’s why voters gave so much more support to Democratic Assembly candidates on the same day. Only gerrymandering saved Vos and Fitzgerald from losing their leadership positions.
Instead of recognizing the will of the people, Walker, Vos and Fitzgerald are doing everything in their waning power to thwart it. That’s antithetical to Wisconsin values, and to Wisconsin democracy.
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