MADISON — With the Legislature’s fast-tracked lame-duck session work wrapped up, opponents of the legislation shifted their efforts to persuade Gov. Scott Walker to use his veto pen one last time before leaving office.
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said Thursday the governor’s office was reviewing the bills, but did not offer a timeline for when Walker might act on them. He could sign the bills as passed or veto part or all of them, something he has rarely done outside the budget process during his eight years in office.
Meanwhile, some Wisconsin residents said their calls to Walker’s office were going unanswered.
At a Wednesday news conference, Evers and other incoming Democratic officeholders urged people to contact the governor’s office to share their opinion of the bills.
Cee Cee Cohen, a retired Madison science teacher, attempted to do that on three separate occasions.
“It became clear to me they’re either overwhelmed or they’re ignoring the call,” she said, referring to Walker’s office.
After venting on Facebook — where about half a dozen other friends chimed in reporting the same difficulty — Cohen said a staffer picked up on her fourth phone call. Cohen told the staffer, who she said did not want to take down her name, that she felt her vote was being stolen.
Evenson said Walker’s office had received phone calls at a volume “a little higher than normal” over the last few days. He said one person at the front desk and three others in a constituent services division are staffing the office phones from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Evenson said multiple staffers in the governor’s office are helping those four people answer calls in response to the volume. He said he did not immediately have a tally of the number of phone calls received.
“We’re certainly happy to take everybody’s phone calls and everyone’s comments and we’re trying to keep up with the demand as best we can,” he said.
Sykes critical of Walker
Former conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes, who helped lay the groundwork for Republicans to take control of state government in 2010 but has been shunned by some for opposing President Donald Trump’s smash-mouth brand of politics, appealed to Walker, writing in The Atlantic that signing the bills would be a “huge mistake” that “will tarnish his reputation in ways that I’m not sure he grasps.”
“They have managed to energize the progressive base, expose themselves as sore losers, and undermine crucial democratic norms,” Sykes wrote. “And in return … they got extraordinarily little.”
The lone Republican state senator who voted against the most controversial of the three bills explained his dissenting vote Thursday in a statement.
Sen. Robert Cowles, of Green Bay, highlighted three parts of the last bill — limiting early voting, changing the administrative rule process and automatically rescinding guidance documents for field staff managing state programs — that he said will have unforeseen impacts on businesses, property owners, outdoor enthusiasts and voters throughout Wisconsin.
Cowles said he supported the two other bills because provisions such as establishing work requirements for adult welfare recipients had previously been introduced in the legislative process and included opportunities for the public to provide input.
“These bills do not strip powers from the incoming Governor, but instead ensure that administration doesn’t strip powers from the Legislature,” Cowles said.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, issued a statement defending the bills, saying the powers of the governor, Legislature and attorney general “are clearly defined in the Wisconsin Constitution and cannot be changed without a statewide referendum.”
“Governor Evers is not a victim,” Brandtjen said. “Changes to appointments and additional transparency are simply good government.”
Walker is in an unusual situation as Wisconsin has previously had only five extraordinary or special legislative sessions in state history, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau. Those include:
- A January 1928 session on appropriations for state colleges and public welfare;
- A December 1970 session confirming appointments;
- A November 1974 session on collective bargaining agreements for state employees;
- A December 1978 session confirming appointments and about special election laws;
- A December 2010 session on collective bargaining agreements.
The scope of the bills that passed Wednesday morning after a marathon session conducted mostly behind closed doors is far broader than the previous post-election sessions.
The various provisions limit early voting to two weeks before an election, give the Legislature oversight of state litigation including participation in a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, allow lawmakers to hire outside lawyers rather than the attorney general in legal matters, prevent Evers from banning guns in the Capitol, and codify various rules on voter ID and Medicaid work requirements.