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Disagreement between Senate, Assembly leaders leaves bills in jeopardy (copy)

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, right, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have clashed on several legislative proposals.

Opponents raced early Monday to marshal opposition to a sweeping Republican plan to increase the power of the GOP-held state Legislature, restrict an incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, curtail early voting and boost the election prospects of a conservative judge.

GOP proponents of the plan are fast-tracking it to a Monday public hearing in the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee. Votes in the full Legislature could happen as soon as Tuesday.

But it remained unclear if parts of the plan have support in the state Senate. Republicans currently hold a narrow 18-15 majority there and can lose no more than one senator with all Democrats opposed.

Two Republican senators, Rob Cowles and Luther Olsen, have spoken out against one provision that would uncouple the state's presidential primary from the April nonpartisan election and move it to March starting in 2020. 

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said part of the impetus for the change could be to help the election chances of Gov. Scott Walker's most recent appointee to the state Supreme Court, conservative Justice Daniel Kelly, who would be on the ballot in April. Democrats are expected to turn out in large numbers for the presidential primary.

Sixty of the state's 72 county clerks have said adding another election between the nonpartisan primary in February and the general election in April would be costly and confusing, if not impossible to implement. 

In a statement Monday, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, called the GOP plan "a blatant attempt to override the vote by the people of our state."

“Wisconsin Republicans’ shameful and undemocratic last-minute attempt to override the vote of the people is more becoming of a third world dictatorship than the birthplace of Fighting Bob La Follette and it must be stopped," Pocan said. 

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Earlier, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a lead architect of the proposal, tweeted a link to a CNN article titled "Americans know literally nothing about the Constitution" that found just one in four citizens can name all three branches of the government.

"As we work to ensure that the branches of government in (Wisconsin) are equal, it's important to note that far too many citizens don't understand the basics of how our republic works," Vos said.

Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul said they believe there's still time to stop the plan. They have said it would thwart the will of voters in the Nov. 6 election and could embroil state government in legal battles, hampering its ability to function. 

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin and other groups were urging opponents of the bill to bombard lawmakers with calls and emails Monday. Indivisible Madison, a liberal activist group, was organizing a rally at the state Capitol for Monday evening.

The plan comes as part of a last-chance bid by GOP lawmakers to send legislation to a supportive Gov. Scott Walker before Evers takes office next month. So far Walker has been silent about what he thinks of the plan.

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