A Coup In Wisconsin?

In the past week, the Republican majority in the Wisconsin state legislature approved several bills that have generated a lot of controversy. Some are even calling them a coup!

For example, UW-Oshkosh Assistant Professor of Public Administration Michael R. Ford wrote “What in the World is Happening in Wisconsin?” Independent journalist Dominique Paul Noth compared the state Republicans to serial killers.

Tensions are high, insults are plentiful and there a lot of noise, as usual. Before my analysis, here is a brief summary of what happened.

Let us start with the 2018 election. Incumbent Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel, both Republicans, lost to State Superintendent Tony Evers and lawyer Josh Kaul, both Democrats. Republicans maintained control of both the Assembly and the Senate, preserving their complete control of the legislature.

As to what the bills do, the CNN summary says:

“Wisconsin is now expected to reduce its number of early voting days, restrict gubernatorial influence over a powerful economic agency Evers sought to disband and require legislative backing for certain decisions traditionally made by the attorney general and governor- a move that would likely block (Attorney-General elect) Kaul from pulling the state out of a federal lawsuit against Obamacare.”

Adding insult to injury, GOP Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald commented that:

“We trusted Scott Walker and the administration to be able to manage the back and forth with the Legislature. We don’t trust Tony Evers right now in a lot of these areas…He is going to unleash the most liberal agenda in the middle of February….You have never seen anything like this. He will make Jim Doyle look like a piker.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos defended his party’s actions on Sunday: “The extraordinary session was merely an effort to ensure that in divided government, every branch of government has a seat at the table.” He pointed out that the outgoing Democratic legislature

“held a lame-duck session in 2010, where they passed massive union contracts that were 1,900 pages long and contained millions of dollars in union concessions. Democrats even got a representative out of jail to cast the deciding vote. Their plans exceeded anything taken up this week.”

There is a lot going on here, so let us cover one point at a time. Come January, we will have divided government. The Democrats will control the governorship, and the Republicans will control the legislature. Wisconsin voters put two parties into power. Ask yourself: do you think that Mr. Evers and Mr. Kaul’s voters voted for the GOP legislature? I doubt it.

In our system, our representatives are supposed to carry out their voters’ wishes. The Democratic and Republican voters prefer distinct policies. Is it surprising that the Republicans are trying to limit Mr. Evers’ power? I do not think so. Their voters do not want what Mr. Evers promised on the campaign trail, and their representatives are fighting against it.

As Mr. Vos highlighted, these sessions are not the first in state history. The Democrats employed the same tactics in 2010 when they lost both the governorship and the legislature in those elections. Both branches of government were lame ducks then, while only Mr. Walker and Mr. Schimel are now. From what I have seen, news articles and opinion pieces have not made this distinction. Therefore, it is easy to think that the Assembly and Senate Republicans are lame ducks when they are not.

However, the Republicans are not immune from criticism. All the bills will heavily favor Republicans and conservatives. They attempt to make a principled argument about the separation of power, but they had no problem with the governor acquiring more authority while Mr. Walker held the office. This rhetoric is a smokescreen and you should roll your eyes when you hear it.

Mr. Fitzgerald’s comments are also off-putting. He should have avoided insulting Mr. Evers, instead arguing how he has to represent his voters accurately. The Republicans have set the tone for the next four years, and they cannot complain about Democratic obstruction when they started off Mr. Evers’s term in this way.

Since 2010, our state has not fostered an environment of trust and bipartisanship. From Mr. Walker’s first election, to the recall, to his re-election and in 2018, the parties have played a zero-sum game.

I really wish that the Republicans set a different tone. Unfortunately they did not. Their actions are partisan and ruthless, but hardly from a coup if you look at how politics has been conducted in the last few years. Democrats and their supporters have engaged in a lot of hyperbole and bashing, for their part. Basically, nothing new here.

The Wisconsin political system will not end, nor will democracy erode, but partisanship will get uglier and stronger.

Brace yourselves! Awful politics are coming…

Originally published at theprimacyofpolitics.blogspot.com on December 11, 2018.

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Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.